Genetically Modified Foods and Hidden Ingredients
Products lining supermarket shelves may not be as innocent as they look.
With advances in technology, scientists have been able to manipulate the genes of common foods to bring out positive traits. Similarly, some processed foods have additives that might not be obvious.
Scientists in the Kitchen
Genetic modification got its start from selective breeding, where plants or animals are selected based on certain qualities to breed and reproduce. Selective breeding over hundreds of years gives dog owners the choice of bringing home a Chihuahua or a Great Dane and apple-eaters the option of eating a Golden Delicious or a Bramley.
Genetic modification speeds up the process by inserting specific genes into a plant or animal without going through the trial-and-error process of breeding; that is, breeding good qualities with other good qualities to get the best of both and avoid the undesirable traits. An additional use of genetic modification has been to combine traits from different plants to obtain a very different outcome. This method has been used to grow human insulin in corn for use by diabetics.
The FDA approves genetically modified foods individually based on reports submitted by agricultural companies. If the genetically modified food is shown to be as safe as its unmodified counterpart, approval is granted. The Union of Concerned Scientists has asked the FDA to require labeling of genetically altered food; however, unless reports indicate a difference between the altered and unaltered food, no label is required.
Allergies are caused by certain proteins present in different foods. Scientists are working to eliminate or reduce allergies in foods like peanut, soy, and wheat by removing the proteins. However, there is concern that different allergens might accidentally be created or proteins possibly intensified in the process.
To date, approximately 50 different engineered products have been approved. Chances are if you use canola oil or eat corn, papaya, potatoes, or tomatoes, you have tasted genetically modified food. Numerous crops such as corn, cotton, canola, and soybeans have been genetically altered to be resistant to certain insects.
Objections to the use of genetically modified foods include both environmental and health concerns. It is unsure if plants that are genetically modified for pest resistance could harm unintended and desirable insects. There is also concern that target insects could actually become immune to the pesticides.
Environmental concerns include the potential for engineered crops to cross-breed with weeds. Altering crops to resist herbicides could result in mighty weeds undeterred by herbicides. Health concerns include the potential for allergens to be introduced as part of the genetic modification, causing dangerous reactions in some people. Overall, many people are concerned with the unknown effects genetically modified food could have on their health.
Do You Know What's in Your Dinner?
Processed food is likely to contain food additives. Additives help extend the life of some foods, add nutrition, or change a food's consistency. Some additives are relatively straightforward, and by reading the label, you will know what has been added. Some, however, are less conspicuous. This is of particular concern if you have allergies or are trying to avoid certain foods like meat.
Food additives can cause extreme allergic reactions such as anaphylactic shock, which causes breathing problems and loss of consciousness. Also associated with allergies to “real” foods like peanuts, anaphylactic shock can be fatal if it is not treated.
If you are unsure whether the listed ingredient on a package is or contains an allergen, contact the manufacturer.
An example of a vegetarian food made with or containing animal products is gelatin. It sounds innocent enough, but it is made from the bones, skins, and tendons of cows, pigs, and fish. It is used in making Jell-O and candies, two foods that would appear to be vegetarian.