Genetically Modified Foods and Nanofoods: Exciting, Creepy or Somewhere in Between?

Apr 11, 2007

Genetically modified (GM) foods and nanofood, which are foods produced in a laboratory to perfectly meet set genetic specifications, have some grocery shoppers wondering if food created with this technology is beneficial or harmful to them and their families, according to the National Cooperative Grocers Association (NCGA), a business services cooperative representing more than 108 food co-ops nationwide.

GM foods, also known as genetically engineered (GE) foods, have had their genes altered by scientists with the goal of improving the food in some way. Similarly, nanofoods are created by restructuring the food on a molecular or atomic level to improve food safety, enhance nutrition and flavor or cut costs.

Natural food cooperative shoppers are skeptical of gene and molecule manipulation for the creation and alteration of food. And, they believe all consumers have a right to know when a food has been created using these technologies.

“The philosophy behind GM foods and nanofoods contradicts the belief of our members and shoppers that the more natural and unprocessed a food, the better,” said Robynn Shrader, chief executive officer for NCGA. “Co-op shoppers also want informative package labeling so they can make smart choices about their food purchases. Right now, the USDA certified organic label is the best bet for finding food produced without genetic or molecule manipulation.”

Today, the U.S. allows the following GM crops in the food and feed supply: alfalfa, canola, chicory, corn, cotton, flax, papaya, potato, rice, soybean, squash, sugarbeet, and tomatoes. Nanoproducts are in some canola oils, slim shakes, breads, additives and supplements, lemonades and juices, margarines, packaging products and coatings. Companies are not required to label products that have been produced with GM food or nanotechnology.

Food Co-op Concerns over GM Foods, Nanofoods

Some of the main reasons NCGA and its food co-op members are concerned about GM foods and nanofoods include:

  • Burdensome for organic farmers, who can’t detect contaminants in the seed they buy and who have to worry about contamination of crops from neighboring farms. GM foods and nanofoods are not allowed in the production of organic-certified food.
  • GM foods and nanofoods are largely untested. Producers and the government are working under the assumption that if the original food products were safe, then the new product must also be safe. Since the organism has been significantly altered, however, there is no reason to make this assumption.
  • GM foods and nanofoods are not labeled as such. Consumers who wish to avoid these foods are not being given this option.
  • Engineered fish may alter ecosystems, perhaps even causing extinction of some wild populations.
  • Introducing GM organisms (GMOs) into complex ecosystems may cause unforeseen problems, including global side effects.
  • GMs may reduce the diversity of plants and jeopardize natural resources.
  • GMs may result in the domination of world food production by a few big companies.
  • GMs may introduce known or unknown allergens.

What Concerned Consumers Can Do

Concerned consumers should consider supporting:

  • Mandatory testing of all genetically modified foods and nanofoods before they are allowed on the market.
  • Labeling of all nanofoods and foods that have been genetically modified or that use genetically modified organisms during growing, production or packaging. People who may be sensitive to allergens as well as people who are concerned about the risks of GM foods and nanofoods should have the option of avoiding these foods.
  • Organic farmers. While there’s no guarantee that genetically altered pollen won’t make its way into organic crops, organic producers are committed to ensuring food they produce is grown without the use of GMOs.
  • Government regulations to protect the food supply and the environment from contamination by genetically modified crops.
  • Strengthened government oversight of the environmental risks of engineered foods.
  • Corporate liability for any damages resulting from the use of GMOs and nanofoods.
  • The establishment of a reservoir of pure, non-engineered seeds, as recommended by the Union of Concerned Scientists.