As parents with 5 mouths to feed, my husband and I often debate the merits and affordability of food: local vs. organic vs. conventional vs. non-GMO. We make semi-informed decisions about what to feed our family on a daily basis, but last month’s spotlight on genetically modified foods has given us pause. Americans from Connecticut to Oregon are calling for transparency and truth in the ever-expanding GMO food industry.
Public concerns about genetically modified foods link back to the early days of biotech seed introduction. Take food allergy for example. A 1996 article in the New England Journal of Medicine highlighted soybeans genetically engineered to contain a Brazil nut protein as a means of improving the nutritional quality of soy animal feed. Researchers showed that humans allergic to Brazil nut had similar reactions on allergy testing to modified soy (containing Brazil nut protein), while testing negative to conventional soy. By showing that allergenic proteins could be transferred from one plant to another, that particular GMO soy product never made it to market. Enhanced screening procedures have prevented any other known allergens from being genetically introduced into our food supply.
But what about new allergens? Comparisons between GMO and non-GMO soy have shown them to be similar in protein composition, but GMO products do contain some unique proteins. Conversely, scientists are working to remove naturally occurring allergens in commonly allergenic food. It is unknown if these protein additions or deletions could result in food allergy.
This uncertainty can leave parents of kids with food allergies wondering if they should avoid genetically modified foods, but there is no current recommendation to do so. Still some parents may prefer to go non-GMO, and this requires thinking beyond the label. Some ways to side-step the issue include: growing your own food, buying local and/or organic, and avoiding industrially-produced foods commonly containing GMO.
For our family, growing some of our own food has been rewarding and relieves a bit of that parental guilt about whether or not we’re making the “right” food choices all the time. Even better, “growing your own food is like printing your own money,” according to Ron Finley. The guerilla gardener of South Central LA plants seeds anywhere he can, growing food for his neighbors to share. If you’re ready to take a stand, toss a few seeds, and teach your kids to grow their very own local, organic, non-GMO food.
Amber M. Patterson, MD, works in the Section of Allergy and Immunology at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. As a wife and mother of three, she is passionate about harnessing efficiency to create time. Dr. Patterson wants to teach her patients how to feel better quicker and stay healthy longer.
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