Late my sophomore year, I recall Googling “how to cook chicken,” and despite several valiant attempts, I opted for a salad that evening. A year later, I am making progress. I’ve graduated to making fish, roasting vegetables and I know how to successfully light and use a grill. As college students transition from the comfort and convenience of dining halls and Blue Bucks, and take on the challenges of off-campus housing, the sometimes unfamiliar responsibility to properly feed oneself is inevitable.


Lauren McCarthy

At 19 years old I was still unsure of how to prepare raw meat, much less accurately define gluten or understand the significance of a “Non-GMO” label on my favorite flavor of Kettle Brand chips. As we grow conscientious of the food and nutrition we need to fuel our day-to-day operations, the GMO debate warrants consideration.

GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, are defined as plants or animals that have been genetically engineered with DNA from bacteria, viruses or like-organisms. These are experimental combinations of genes from different species that otherwise cannot occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding. Contrary to biotech industry assurance, so far none of the GMO traits currently on the market offer any consumer benefit, rather, a growing body of evidence links GMOs with health problems, environmental damage and violation of farmers’ and consumers’ rights.

In October 2013, the Associated Press documented the dramatic and tragic increase in cancer and birth defects that have occurred in commercial farming areas of Argentina following the introduction of genetically modified crops. This data subsequently confirmed recent animal studies that suggest that GM — genetically modified — corn and the herbicides sprayed on it may cause an increase in cancer in the same strain of rats used in Food and Drug Administration drug safety tests. Yet another large study showed an increase in severe stomach inflammation for pigs fed GM crops containing insecticidal toxins, a condition that would likely lead to cancer in humans.

As a result, the European Union has tightened its GM food safety testing requirements as many consumers continue to reject GM foods. Countries such as India, Peru, Bolivia, the Philippines, Mexico, Japan and South Korea have all issued moratoria on GM food crops. Scientists in Russia believe a total ban on GM products may be necessary. So why is the United States behind the curve?

The FDA maintains that products from GMOs have been in the U.S. food supply for about 20 years, also noting that people have been modifying plants for thousands of years through breeding and selection; however, now genetically engineered plants are modified through modern biotechnology. The FDA defends their position that since genetic modification does not significantly alter the food, labeling is unnecessary.

Studies have shown that 90 percent of Americans would like GMO labels on their food, but federal and state governments do not require labeling for all genetically modified foods and have been slow to make adaptations to relevant legislation. Just as consumers are now able to ensure that products are gluten-free and dairy-free, shouldn’t they have the same right to easily identify non-GMO foods?

If the products are genuinely as safe as GMO producers claim, then identifying their products shouldn’t be any different that listing other ingredient such as sugar or flour. Research suggests that labeling will not depreciate the GMO industry, but it will provide consumers with the ability to make an informed decision about what they choose to ingest. Even if it is ultimately discovered that GMOs bear no significant harmful or long-term effects, consumers deserve the right to take genetic modification into consideration. What is the harm in erring on the side of caution? When it comes to issues of health, it is well worth it to avoid taking any risks.

Lauren McCarthy can be reached at laurmc@umich.edu.

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