LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) – In a day and age where everything is meant to be bigger and taste better, more and more food producers are relying on science to get the biggest bang for their buck.
They have been gradually turning towards genetic engineering to create, and enhance the foods we consume every day.
Experts say more than half the food we consume contains GMO's or genetically modified organisms, whether we know it or not. Many people don't know exactly what GMO's are, but cringe at the words genetically modified when it comes to food.
So we set out to find out exactly what GMO's are, and exactly what they do.
GMO is a term that is thrown around often, but rarely understood. Are they in fruits? Are they in my favorite cereal? Are they in things that say natural, enriched, or whole? Well, the answer to all of those questions is potentially yes, but first, what is a GMO?
When we asked the question, people responded saying, "Obviously bad for you." And, "People fooling around with your food when they shouldn't be. It doesn't sound very good for you."
Overall, we asked twenty people what they thought of when they heard the words genetically modified food, and all of them had the same thing to say: they didn't like it, even if they didn't know much about GMO's.
That is, all but one. Hong Lee Want said, "The GM is the future direction actually. No matter whether we like it or not, it is our future direction."
Wang is a plant physiology professor at UALR. She's been studying the effect different DNA strands have on tobacco and tomato plants. She says GMO's can give crops characteristics they're naturally not capable of. She added, "In nature plants have their limitations. So when you have extreme weather the plant may not be tolerant to it and it dies- so you do not have any yield."
In fact, experts say 60 to 70 percent of foods in supermarkets are already genetically modified one way or another- we might just not know it.
Right now, companies don't have to label products that have GMO's, but ingredients like soybean oil, aspartame, and even corn syrup are primarily modified.
In 2005 the Non-GMO Project did a study that found 88 percent of corn planted in the U.S. has GMO's, 90 percent of all cottonseed have them, and 94 percent of soybeans planted has genetic modifications, it's made for a pretty bad buzz with the public.
Matt Clardy said, "It makes you stop and look at everything in the store, but the more you look the harder it is because it's in everything. It's in everything and let's face it-- we're all on a budget."
GMO skeptics claim crossing genes will increase food allergies and lead to certain forms of cancer, citing studies that say people with three or more critical illnesses jumped six percent since GMO's were introduced in 1996, and that food allergies and other disorders are on the rise, even though none of the studies have proven that GMO's are the cause.
So if there's this much discussion about the pros and cons of GMO foods, where does the Natural State stand? Well, we went to Stuttgart to find out.
Chuck Wilson is the director at the University of Arkansas Rice Research Center. He and his team study new rice strains not born from genetic modification. They haven't studied genetically modified rice simply because the market hasn't accepted it yet. He said, "The current market does not have acceptance of GMO rice. Rice is a direct consumption food product and the consumers wish that it not be GMO."
And that goes for wheat as well, so right now direct consumption foods don't have them, including meat.
But even still, Wilson agrees that it's just a matter of time until the national market starts leaning towards genetically modified food in the future. Wilson added, "The bottom line is the population is growing exponentially. The land resources are not growing- if anything they're shrinking because of the population growth. We still have to produce food to feed these people regardless of what agricultural commodity you're talking about- it takes land. The only way to increase production is to increase the production per unit of land area. GMO's give us the best opportunity to do that rapidly."
So while genetically modified organisms may be a word that is absent on cans in supermarkets, they could still be there, all it takes is a peak at the ingredients on the back of a label.
So where does the nation stand on GMO's? It varies; the government doesn't regulate much, but states are starting to take their own initiatives. New York state, for example, is working to pass a bill that would require all foods containing GMO's to be labeled, and just last week Vermont passed a law requiring GMO foods to be labeled as well.
So even though genetically modified foods don't have any proven harmful effects, they still have a very negative place in the public eye.