There's a lot of talk about genetically modified foods, but we’ve been eating them for years.
The history of agriculture is based in selective breeding for "better" plants and animals -- corn, apples, bananas, cows; many of the plants and animals we eat have been carefully selected over hundreds and thousands of years to be bigger, sweeter or juicer.
Today, genetic alteration can be done in the lab over much shorter timescales. As opposed to the (relatively) slow process of breeding similar organisms, biotechnicians can insert the gene of one organism into the gene of another -- including an unrelated organism.
Recently, CTV News reported Canadian pork farmers decided to pull their financial support for the multimillion-dollar Enviropig research project, a genetically engineered pig created at the University of Guelph.
According to CTV News, the "Enviro" in Enviropig refers to the potential for the pig to pollute less by inserting “DNA material from mice and E. coli bacteria" to allow them to digest phosphorus more easily,” leaving less in their manure.
Pig manure washes away in the rain, trickling down to waterways. Phosphorus in the water leads to increased algae and, ultimately fish kills and other problems in marine ecologies.
Less phosphorus in pig manure means less phosphorus in the environment.
With funding cut, the future is unclear for the pigs, though a University of Guelph spokesperson told CTV that the program will continue, though to what degree, it hasn't yet been determined.
Health Canada surveys reveal most Canadians are “deeply suspicious of biotech and genetically modified food,” according to CTV.
Currently, according to the USDA, the top genetically engineered crops in the United States are corn, soybeans and cotton.
Submissions have been made to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Health Canada to determine if the pigs are fit for human and animal consumption. No decisions have been issued from either agency yet, and the applications will remain open.
At the same time, the Just Label It (JLI) campaign announced on its website that 1 million Americans have signed a petition telling the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to label genetically engineered (GE) foods.
They note that there are a lot of issues to consider with such legislation. For example, “Would the consumer be willing to pay for the costs associated with labeling foods containing GMO? And, is there an acceptable amount of GMO contamination that could occur during food processing? Who will detect and enforce those limits? Will consumers be willing to pay for that too?”
Their recent poll shows that 82 percent of readers who responded indicated that consumers should be allowed to know if they are eating genetically modified food.
So what do you think? Would you eat Enviropork? Would you want to know? Do you know if you are already eating genetically modified fruits and vegetables?
About this column: Want to lessen your environmental impact? So does Kim. She has questions and offers solutions in this occasional column.