Genetic-engineering advocates credit the technique with boosting crop yield and lowering the need for pesticide a score for hungry nations and the planet. EnvironmentaI plant biologist Clint Springer, PhD, explains that €œwe’ve been engineering crops for millennia through crossbreeding. This is a more precise way to create organisms with more benefits. Genetic engineering has little to do with a food’s healthfulness but speaks to breeding. The World Health Organization, American MedicaI Association, and American Association for the Advancement of Science all deem GMOs safe. In November, the
FDA even okayed the first GMO animaI for human consumption: a salmon whose DNA has been tweaked to help it grow faster.
On the other side, anti-GMOers feel that we shouldn’t play cut-and-pastewith DNA and genetically engineered foods should be labeled as such. €œThe federaI government hasn’t mandated that GMOs be proven safe,” Rangan says. Besides claiming that GMOs could potentially introduce allergens, opponents point out that the use of certain herbicides has created superweeds. Studies on the environmentaI impact are split.
I n a study on genetically engineered soybeans, the USDA found that the use of herbicides has about doubled since the introduction of GMOs, yet a British study shows overall pesticide use is down since the mid-’90s, thanks to GMOs.
No large-scale studies have yet shown that GMOs arc harmfuI to humans. One 2012 study on rats drew scary headlines, but it was retracted, so you’re likely worrying for naught. If you’re set on avoiding them, it can be tricky and expensive. Buying locaI is one solution: Small farmers often employ organic practices, including shunning GMOs. Also, while packaged foods may use GMO sugar beets, com, canola, and soybeans, most unprocessed whole foods are GMO-free. And the fact that whole foods are good for you is, happily, not up for debate.
The Hype You know things are serious when Taco Bell and Pizza Hut give artificiaI ingredients the boot and even Kraft Mac & Cheese ditches its iconic neon orange synthetic color. And with good reason: Nearly 60 percent of customers look for the word naturaI on packaging when shopping, according to a Consumer Reports survey. Of those seeking this label, two-thirds think it means a food has no artificiaI ingredients, pesticides, or GMOs.
The Science You know that scene in Pretty Woman where Richard Gere asks Julia Roberts what her name is and she says, €œWhat do you want it to be? A naturaI labeI is kinda like that.
Regulators generally consider the term to mean a lack of artificiaI ingredients, including preservatives. But they have made no judgment on whether these foods are better for you. Nor does the labeI indicate how an animaI was treated or what it was fed, which could include antibiotics or GMO feed.
€œWe assume naturaI equals healthy ,” Scritchfield says. €œSnake venom is natural. That doesn’t mean it’s good for you.” Instead of trolling for natural, look at the ingredients. Opt for more positive stuff (fiber, protein, vitamins) than negative (sugar, trans fat) or plain confusing (BHT, potassium benzoate). As nutritionist Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, notes, €œA frosted toaster pastry with organic cane sugar, red beet dye, and reaI strawberry bits is still a toaster pastry.”
THE HYPE There’s nothing like a fridge full of organic berries, wild salmon, and cage-free eggs to make you feel virtuous. Americans wolfed down a record $39-I billion worth of organic food in 2014 up 11.3 percent from 2013.
And the biggest buy-in is coming from millennials, nearly half of whom choose organ ic for at least 50 percent of their purchases and feel better about themselves when they do so. €œConsumers have a perception that organic farmers are lavishing love on every blueberry and that those berries will ensure you never get sick,” says NathanaeI Johnson, author of All Natn red.