As an international student I get asked a lot what the biggest difference is between my home country, Switzerland, and the United States. Although I have noticed many things are different than what I am accustomed to, I am always amazed at the sight of the sizable bright red apples in the Boston University dining halls.
It got me thinking about genetically engineered foods, or genetically modified organisms. GMOs are foods that have been modified on a cellular level in a scientific way, and then cloned in order to create specific positive conditions, such as a more disease-resistant grain, or a fruit or vegetable that has a longer viability. On the surface this seems like a wonderful idea, especially as the population of our planet continues to grow exponentially. However, GMOs are suspected to lead to higher instances of allergies, as well as a higher resistance to plant diseases and competition with natural plant species.
At the end of September, Poland became the 14th European nation to officially ban GMOs. It joins Slovenia, Serbia, Croatia, Latvia, Italy, Germany, Scotland, Wales, Lithuania, Austria, Ireland, France and Greece in their decision to stop growing genetically modified crops, disallowing in particular the genetically modified maize that is a product of the Monsanto corporation of the United States. This maize has been suspected of contaminating natural crops bordering its fields.
I was surprised to see that my own country was not in the list above, and did a little more research. It seems that Switzerland is not averse to GMOs, however we do want to know which of our products contain genetically modified foods and which do not. The Swiss laws are clear: regulations require our foods to be labeled if they contain GMOs. However, there is a moratorium in place until 2017 in regard to GMOs actively used in Swiss agriculture.
Here in the United States things are a bit murkier. There are presently no clear laws in place that force a producer of genetically modified foods to label their products for the end consumer. An apple could be an apple, or … it could be an Arctic apple, the newest GMO apple which is set to hit the marketplace any day now. Even the apples in our dining halls are modified to a certain extent, although not scientifically. These apples have been cross-bred over many generations in order to make them redder and larger, but unfortunately not necessarily tastier or crunchier. Beauty on the outside may not necessarily mean goodness on the inside.
On Oct. 16 and 17 there is a march in Washington, called March Against Monsanto #FoodJusticeMarch. It may be worthwhile to take a closer look at what we put in our bodies, and who exactly is in charge of growing it. I for one will be following this dialogue closely, and taking a good long look at what goes in my mouth.