If you're wondering what GMOs have to do with disordered eating behaviours, read on.
Dietary advice online is rife with confusing and conflicting messages. In particular, the concept of eating 'clean' or avoidance of chemicals and toxins in the name of health has created a booming industry for those creating and selling products deemed as 'natural'. This can include products that are marketed as whole foods, unprocessed foods, foods with alternative or natural sugars or foods that are labelled as organic.
The concept that chemicals, preservatives or 'unnatural' ingredients mean that certain foods fail to be morally or nutritionally superior is flawed. Undoubtedly the inclusion of whole foods in your diet will be beneficial for your health. But the idea that ingestion of unnatural products, even limited quantities, will cause you harm or is suboptimal for health is simply a myth.
Further, perpetuating food fear and unnecessary dietary restriction can be damaging to our relationship with food and can cause or exacerbate disordered eating behaviours.
There is a lot of confusion and enduring fear about GMOs, a lot of which is unfounded. It's largely based on a pretty basic concept; unnnatural = bad. But GMOs are actually not detrimental to our health, and can provide many benefits to farmers and growers, the environment and to areas or countries where nutrient deficiencies are damaging to the health of the population.
So, what's the deal?
Although the EU doesn't manufacture or grow their own GMO crops, they are the world's biggest consumer of them. Their reluctance to grow GMO crops isn't to do with health risk, it's largely influenced by trade protectionism, as well as public unease and pressure from activists.
The most common GMOs are cotton, sugar beet, soy, canola, papaya, potatoes and apples. A wide range of products contain GMOs instead of being available as whole produce, but this may change in future. However, virtually all modern crops have actually been genetically modified naturally, including organic crops.
Oh, but natural is different!
It isn't. Whether or not the cross-breeding occurs naturally or through human intervention, there is no effect on the safety of the product. In fact, a lot of the modification methods used in labs are identical to those that occur naturally.
Most GM processes involve significant backcrossing, which is where a GM crop is crossed with a modified crop several times over generations, resulting in the altered genetic line being almost identical to the original (usually around 99.2% identical). As a result, the risk of health consequences is extremely low/negligible.
Why GMOs, and what is the process?
Most commonly, products are genetically modified in order to become resistant to viruses, insects and herbicides. In doing so, farmers can increase yield, decrease the amount of pesticides used and decrease the workload for weed removal.
Genetic modification techniques have been used for a long time, but modern breeding techniques are actually more precise. They are also far more heavily regulated, which increases their safety and benefits for consumers and growers. Ironically, traditional breeding techniques (which consumers seem to not be worried about) are actual notoriously imprecise and less regulated.
Contrary to some of the information presented on GMOs regarding impact on farmers, they can actually positively benefit from growing GMO crops. Here's how:
But what about safety?
Even with the evidence presented, there is still an understandable level of distrust due to questions about relationships or financial incentives from relevant companies and the funding of the research, as well as various opinions about the ethics of various organisations. In the case of GMOs, however,
Extensive studies into their safety have been conducted by independent scientists with no links with or funding from the biotech industry. Additionally, over 280 organisations worldwide have reviewed a range of independent studies and have collectively reached the consensus that crops produced through genetic modification are as safe (if not safer!) than foods that are conventional or organic.
What about companies like Monsanto using patents for their seeds?
Patenting seeds has actually been going on a lot longer than GMOs have been around, and for many companies other than Monsanto (including patented seeds and pesticides used by organic growers). Patenting isn't some evil measure: the average process from conception to market for a GM crop takes around 13 years and costs approx US$135 million, so it makes sense to patent from an economic standpoint.
What about glyphosate?
There are a lot of misconceptions about glyphosate. It has actually replaced many harsher pesticides. Additionally, the use of GMO crops means that less pesticide is necessary, so glyphosate is used far more sparingly than people realise. Many of the images or videos you may have seen make it appear that glyphosate is being heavily and extensively sprayed on crops. In fact, it's very heavily diluted, and most of what you can see being sprayed is actually water.
GMO crops have resulted in overall pesticide use reducing significantly, both per unit and per capita.