Health Beat: 'Frankenfood' fear: The GMO debate

Health Beat: 'Frankenfood' fear: The GMO debate

NEW YORK - They're called genetically modified organisms; some even call GMOs "frankenfoods."

The U.S. is the largest producer of them. You may think you can avoid them, but in reality, most of the foods on your supermarket's shelves contain at least one GMO. 

Are they safe? Should you take genetically modified foods off your menu? When it comes to the GMO debate, things are moving too fast for people to digest.

Thousands of foods, your favorite foods, 80 percent of all foods at your local grocery store contain GMO's — your cereal, your snack food, your soda all have GMOs.

That fact scares Tara Cook-Littman, who works hard to keep her three kids away from GMOs.

"I don't want my children to be guinea pigs," she said.

Genetically modified means the DNA of a crop has been scientifically altered to make it more resistant to insects, weather and disease. Those are huge advantages that allow higher yields and lower prices at the store.

The FDA claims they're safe, but environmental researcher Jesse Ausubel thinks there needs to be more studies done to determine long-term effects.

Reports show GMOs could alter the immune system, cause cancer, make people resistant to antibiotics and contribute to obesity. The latest GMO wheat has a new protein that stimulates appetites so we consume 440 more calories a day.

"There's enough evidence to be concerned and to monitor carefully. I don't think there's enough evidence that people need to panic," said Ausubel, director and senior research associate for the Program for the Human Environment, The Rockefeller University.

"I buy these things for my family. I have full faith and trust in the process," said Nadine Pazder, registered dietician at Morton Plant Hospital.

Pazder said she believes our food choices would be limited without them.

"What that allows us to do is to get different variations in fruits, like pink grapefruit instead of a white grapefruit," Pazder said.

Holistic practioner Dolores Conte, however, has seen first-hand what happens when people eliminate GMOs from their diet.

"People don't realize that because the watermelon looks good, the tomato is beautiful and red, what it does in your body. That's what you have to worry about," Conte said.

"It may really be that one has to wait 30 or 40 years to know whether there are consequences," Ausubel said.

The GMO debate has clearly divided experts and led to confusion for consumers.

"GMOs are toxic. GMOs cause chronic illness," Conte said.

"I don't think we need to be afraid of G.E. foods," Pazder explained.

The U.S. government, the American Medical Association, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the British Royal Society all stress that GMO-based crops pose no greater risk than naturally grown crops.

But at the end of the day, it may be the mothers of the world who determine the answer for all of us.

"I think everyone should be able to know what's in their food," Cook-Littman said.

It's a lot of food for thought before your next trip to the grocery store.

Since the mid 1990s, several countries in the European Union have required all foods containing GMOs to be clearly labeled.

In the U.S., 30 states are considering labeling laws. Connecticut is the first one to pass legislation requiring special labels for genetically modified food.

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