blog May 30, 2024

In the realm of modern agriculture, knowing where your food comes from and what’s in it, is not as straightforward as it used to be. The growing number of bioengineered (BE) “foods” on the market today have sparked concern as questions come up about the health implications and potential dangers of consumption. To understand what these are what's happening, let's dive into exactly what bioengineered foods are, how they differ from traditional GMOs, and what potential health risks they pose.


According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), bioengineered food are defined as, “Food that contains genetic material that has been modified through certain laboratory techniques and for which the modification could not be obtained through conventional breeding or found in nature.” In other words, something created and/or manipulated in a lab that isn't the same as anything you would find in nature. I don't know about you, but that sends up a huge red flag for me.


Bioengineered foods are created using advanced genetic engineering techniques that allow scientists to introduce, remove, or alter specific genes within an organism’s DNA. This process aims to enhance desirable traits such as increased yield, pest resistance, or nutritional value. Unlike conventional breeding, which mixes large sets of genes over generations, (like the time I planted two different types of corn too close together and they ended up combining to create a new type), bioengineering allows for precise, targeted modifications.


The health implications of bioengineered foods are a subject of vigorous debate and research. While for some, bioengineering holds the promise of addressing food security and nutritional deficiencies, it also raises several health concerns that warrant careful consideration and scruitiny. What can happen after years of putting unnatural foods “not found in nature” into your body?


1. Allergenicity: One of the primary health concerns associated with bioengineered foods is the potential introduction of new allergens. When genes from one organism are inserted into another, there is a risk that the new protein produced could trigger allergic reactions in susceptible individuals. For example, if a gene from a nut, which is a common allergen, is inserted into a tomato, it could cause allergic reactions in people who are allergic to nuts.


2. Gene Transfer: Another concern is the potential for gene transfer from bioengineered foods to cells of the human body or to bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. This could have unintended consequences, such as the transfer of antibiotic resistance markers used in some bioengineered crops.


3. Toxicity: There is also the possibility that bioengineering could introduce toxic substances into the food supply. Genetic modifications might lead to the production of new toxins or increase the levels of naturally occurring toxins. Thorough safety assessments are crucial to ensure that bioengineered foods do not pose toxicological risks to consumers.


4. Nutritional Changes: While one of the goals of bioengineering is to enhance the nutritional content of foods, there is a concern that genetic modifications could inadvertently reduce the levels of essential nutrients. For instance, a bioengineered crop designed to be pest-resistant might have lower levels of certain vitamins or minerals compared to its non-modified counterpart.


It’s important to differentiate between bioengineered foods and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). GMOs encompass any organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques, including older methods where genes from one species are inserted into another. BE foods, however, specifically refer to those with detectable genetic modifications introduced through modern invitro techniques.


While we are told both GMOs and BE foods undergo rigorous safety assessments, we are not told what sort of testing is being done, for how long and what the specifc outcomes are and are left to go sifting through government website and documents in an effort to find answers.


Several bioengineered foods are already on the market, and their safety has been the subject of scrutiny and concern, for obvious reasons. Common bioengineered foods include:


Corn: Modified to be pest-resistant and herbicide-tolerant. It is widely used in processed foods and animal feed.

Soybeans: Primarily engineered for herbicide resistance and found in products like soy oil and soy protein.

Cotton: Engineered for pest resistance, with cottonseed oil being a byproduct used in food.

Potatoes: Modified to resist bruising and reduce acrylamide formation during cooking.

Papaya: Engineered to resist the ringspot virus, in Hawaii's papaya industry.


Regulatory agencies like the USDA, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the World Health Organization (WHO) have currently deemed these bioengineered foods safe based on current evidence. However, as there is very little, if any, long-term safety data on long-term health outcomes from ongoing consumption.


They tell us BE foods represent a significant leap forward in agricultural science, promising solutions to some of the world's most pressing food security challenges. However, the potential health risks associated with these foods should not be overlooked and therefore the public, you, have a right to know which products contain BE so that you can make an informed choice about what you are putting into your body.


As always, read your labels, especially if you notice a change in packaging on something you regularly purchase. Know where in the world your food is coming from. The USA isn't the only one using BE foods, China for example has been producing them for well over a decade. Stay informed and ask questions. After all, it's your body and you have to live with it.

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