Opinion: Does Genetically Modified Equate to Safe?

genetically modified
Genetically modified fruit | Image by photka/Shutterstock

If you had to guess, how many food additives, like preservatives or dyes are banned by the FDA? If you guessed less than 20, you are right! How many do you think are banned by the European Union? Four Hundred and nine, there are 409 banned food additives all across Europe. Now, how many do you think are banned in Europe because research has linked them to cancer and other lethal diseases, but are allowed by the FDA? If you guessed at least five additives or genetic modifications are allowed to be in every American’s food, you would be correct.

Thesis: Genetically modified is not synonymous with better, healthy, or safety.

Preview of the main points: To better understand what GMO actually means, to understand what the FDA is at a basic level, and to present data from countries that have existed far before America.

First take a look at some basic, but key definitions. What is a food additive? Food additives are chemicals added to foods to increase flavor, reduce cost, or increase shelf life. Common food additives are food dyes, artificial sweeteners, emulsifiers, pesticides, and preservatives. Food additives are considered genetically modified organisms.

What exactly is a GMO? The definition of a genetically modified organism is a non-human entity that has been synthetically altered with genetic material. This form is not found in nature. This means that the DNA of the produce has been altered. This process is known as genetic or bioengineering. Genetic engineering has been occurring since the 1980’s and much, if not all, of North America’s crops are genetically engineered. The main genetically modified American crops are corn, cotton, and soybean. According to the FDA, more than 95% of the American meat we eat was previously fed genetically modified crops.

Who is in control of our food and why do they allow this? What is the FDA and how does it operate? The main federal agency that oversees all food additives and genetically modified organisms that enter the consumer market is the FDA. Here is a link to their website in case you are curious. The US Food and Drug Administration regulates most American food, for humans and cattle. It operates as an extension of the federal government. Just as it may take years for a general law to be passed, the same system is in play for the FDA. They are motivated by money, not science.

What is the EU? It is a group of 27 countries across Europe. Their goal is to make things safer and better for their countrymen. Their values are to ensure good quality of life and to boost their country’s economy. All these countries collaborate on their research to ensure that their people are safe and have the best nutrition in their products.

What 5 additives are allowed by the FDA but proven toxic by the EU? Titanium Dioxide is a powder that does not dissolve in water. It is commonly used as a color agent for candy. In 2019, it was reported by the EU that titanium dioxide may be linked to immunotoxicological effects. Brominated Vegetable Oil is commonly found in sodas. BVO preserves citrus flavors. However, the FDA reports that in 1970, they found that BVO led to heart complications in rats. Therefore, they decided to only limit the amount for humans. Potassium Bromate is an oxidizing agent. It is commonly used in baked goods. Since 1999, the International Agency for Research on Cancer has determined that potassium bromate is a carcinogen. It is linked to thyroid, and kidney cancer in animal trials. Azodicarbonamide is a whitening agent for baked goods. It is also a blowing agent used to make foam and plastic. This chemical is broken down into two other cancer-causing chemicals when bread is baked. These by-products are called semicarbazide and urethane. In 1997, the FDA saw only slight levels of urethane, a declared carcinogen, in American breads. They still refused to ban the additive. The Center for Science in the Public Interest stated in 2022 to avoid this ingredient for increased risk of cancer. Propylparaben is a food additive and preservative. The National Institute of Health has identified it as an irritant. It can cause skin corrosion, specific organ toxicity, and respiratory tract irritation.

This is a lot of scary information. Anytime cancer is mentioned, people hold their breath. In 2014, an endocrinologist found that I had stage ø thyroid cancer. This meant that I had tumors of abnormal cells in my thyroid causing a goiter. Goiter is a fancy word for swollen and irregular thyroid. My endocrinologist told me that if I waited, with the rate the tumors were growing, I would have aggressive thyroid cancer. I was 19 years old. That summer I had a total thyroidectomy. A study published by the International Journal of Cancer states, “Only in the United States mortality (due to thyroid cancer) declined up to the mid-1980s, and increased thereafter.” With no history of cancer at all in my family, I wonder if there is a link to the carcinogen potassium bromate allowed in our food.

If a food item has been genetically modified, it does not mean that the food is now “healthier.” The Food and Drug Administration has allowed modifications to be done to American crops and produce that the EU has banned and the National Institute of Health declared unsafe. The simplest solution is to make sure you buy local from the farmers market, and organic. I would also encourage you to wash all your fresh produce in a non-toxic cleaner like a water-white vinegar-lemon mixture. The bigger issue is pressing the government to protect us. We would need to write our representatives about enacting AB-418 in Texas. This California bill bans any and all foods containing titanium dioxide, potassium bromate, brominated vegetable oil, and propylparaben. Just because the FDA is not protecting you, does not mean you have to be unprotected. Do your research and fight back! Any citizen can change state law, it starts by contacting your legislator!

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