Genetically modified foods: Safe or not? - FOX 32 News Chicago

Genetically modified foods: Safe or not?

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Do you really know what is in your food? Probably not!

That's because a recent survey showed a majority of Americans say they have never eaten genetically engineered foods, but 75 percent of items on most store shelves contain genetically modified foods.

So, what is it and is it safe? If you have consumed packaged foods, like peanut butter, bread, soda pop, and even milk, chances are, they contained genetically modified ingredients.

The U.S. is among the leading producers of genetically engineered crops and some scientists say the practice of deliberately changing the DNA of our crops is the future.

Frankenstein may be the stuff of science fiction, but "Franken-foods" has been a reality since the 90's.

They're food crops modified in the lab by taking the DNA of one species and inserting it into another to enhance taste and quality or resist disease. Chances are, you've consumed a genetically modified organism, or GMO product.

To understand what's really in our food, FOX 32's Amara Walker went grocery shopping with Mike Durschmid of the non-profit group, Organic Consumers Association.

"It's estimated that 75-85 percent of everything that on the grocery store shelves are GMO now," says Durschmid.

Durshmidt says everything we purchase contains genetically engineered ingredients: cereal, cookies, crackers, ketchup, peanut butter, salad dressing, chips, juice and soda pop. Even milk could contain GMO's.

"The Coca Cola's and the 7-Ups and the Sprites, all those brands they use high fructose corn syrup," Durschmid explains. "High fructose corn syrup is from corn, and that's a GMO product."

Most fresh produce are GMO-free, except some Hawaiian papayas modified to resist a virus.

Now, apples genetically engineered to not turn brown or bruise, may be coming to a store and farm near you. Canadian biotech company, Okanagan Specialty Fruits says the arctic apple is expected to get U.S. approval by the end of the year. They have the same nutritional content, if not more, as non-engineered apples.

The FDA is also considering the approval of the first genetically engineered fish created by Massachusetts based AquaBounty. The salmon, or "Franken-fish," is engineered to grow more quickly.

The $64,000 question is: are GMO's safe to consume?

Dr. Michael Hansen has been studying genetically engineered foods for 20 years as the senior scientist for Consumer Reports Magazine. He says there have been no studies tracking the long-term effects.

"We don't know how safe or unsafe they are, so people are part of an experiment right now," Hansen says. "Known allergens increasing, reproductive problems, problems with the gut, and digestive system and also increased tumor productions as well."

The FDA doesn't require pre-market testing and he points to studies that have shown harmful effects on lab rats.

Bio ethics professor, Dr. Laurie Zoloth, believes some of those studies from Europe could have been flawed and argues there isn't enough evidence to prove that they're unsafe.

"The American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, all these people that I do trust to think through science carefully, they tell me they're safe," Dr. Zoloth says.

It's the answer to finding a way to feed the poor around the world, she adds.

"The point is to feed people more efficiently with less pesticide use," she continues.

If you want to avoid GMO's, Durshcmid advises that you eat fresh fruit and vegetables, buy organic products, look for the non-GMO project verified label or shop at a farmers markets, and look out for the most genetically engineered ingredients on the package label.

Several European and Asian countries have some kind of ban on genetically modified crops. More than 60 countries in the world, including the European Union, require labeling of GMO foods, with the exception of the U.S.

The five most common GMO ingredients are: corn, soy, cottonseed oil, canola oil, and sugar.

A bill that was introduced in the Illinois State Senate in February, SB 1666, would require labeling on foods that contain more than 1 percent of GMO foods. So it has become a state-by-state prerogative.

Whole Foods is voluntarily labeling GMO foods in their stores by 2018 and Whole Foods also joins Trader Joe's, Aldi in rejecting the sale of the "Franken-fish."

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