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Food, a source of nourishment, is essential for our daily survival. We consume different kinds of food to maintain a healthy well-being. With the advent of technologies, however, our lifestyle and habits are continually being changed and the food system is not left out. The foods we consume regularly now are so processed, genetically modified, or filled with chemicals – pesticides, preservatives, and other toxins which can remain in the body system for years. It is therefore critical to have more understanding of these technologies to make informed choices.

So what are GMOs, Pesticieds and Preservatives?

Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) is a term that is used accordingly for animals, plants, and microbes. In the food system, GMOs are food products that have been scientifically altered using genetic engineering techniques. Humans have been cross-breeding plants for years, developing GMOs is just a more precise process. Instead of crossing the plants on the field, the gene(s) are inserted and modified introduced, or manipulated within the host in a lab. The main aim of this science is to develop pesticide-resistance crops, with the first success tasted when corn and soyabeans were genetically engineered to tolerate glyphosate (the primary ingredient of Roundup). Now majority – 9 out of 10 – of GMOs grown in the U.S. (and around the world) are engineered to produce their pesticides, or survive direct application of pesticides. Hence farmers now rely, at an alarming level, on the use of pesticides both before and during the growing season.

Pesticides are chemical additives designed to eradicate unwanted food threats – pests. They can be insecticides – against insects, herbicides – against weeds, rodenticides – for rodents, and fungicides – to kill fungi. Pesticide use is employed extensively in agriculture, even down to lower-scale farming in our homes. Examples of commonly used herbicides include the aforementioned glyphosate (Roundup) and 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D, found in Agent Orange defoliant).  Even if only at low levels, they are reported to be present in many of our diets.

Preservatives are chemicals added to prevent decomposition by microorganisms, keeping foods fresh and expanding their shelf life. Preservatives aim to maintain food characteristics such as appearance, odor, and taste for a long time. Practices of food preservation such as the addition of traditional oils, salts, paints, etc., have been employed right from ancient times. But preservation of food have now evolved away from those crude methods. Modern practices include packaging techniques such as vacuum and hypobaric packaging, physical techniques like dehydration, freeze-drying, refrigeration, and UV-C radiation, and the addition of sophisticated chemicals such as nitrites, calcium propionate, sodium benzoates, formaldehyde, and ethanol. Even radioactive materials like cobalt-30 are being used as a food preservative.

Risk, Concern & Safety

Over the years, different academic-backed concerns have been raised over the development of GMOs. To list a few are environmental pollution, unintentional development of wild plants, the possible creation of new viruses and toxins, religious, cultural, and ethical concerns, as well as fear of the unknown.

Based on an evaluation of some 2016 to 2020 studies,  published in the Health Science Journal, Genetically Modified foods may have a direct or indirect impact on human health. Its consumption may disturb the human microbiome. Digestion may become affected, which may lead to other health issues. Other potential side effects may include allergic reactions, negative impacts on nutrition, carcinogenicity, and toxicity.

Furthermore, Genetically modified pesticide-tolerant crops mean farmers can use certain pesticides as much as intended to kill weeds leaving the crops unharmed. Since plants may build resistance to herbicides over time, they may require higher amounts or perhaps other herbicides or combinations to keep them in check. This means that the amounts and numbers of chemical herbicides applied to GM crops become high and are reported to keep increasing into the foreseeable future.

Consequently, the most used chemical herbicides glyphosate and 2,4-D have been recently linked with cancer. the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified the former as a “probable human carcinogen” and the latter as a “possible human carcinogen.” In the same fashion, sodium nitrate (a preservative used in meats) and sodium benzoate (that extends the shelf life of tomato paste) has been linked with cancer. These are examples of numerous other chemicals that could harm the body.

With these technologies, natural traits and states of foods are being altered and can result in unpredicted danger not only to humans but also to lower forms of life in the ecosystem directly or indirectly.


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