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Nutrition Nuggets
 
 
Your cat's nutrition is important for a healthy & happy life. petMD experts help you to know what to feed your cat, how much food to feed, and the differences in cat foods, so your cat gets optimum nutrition.
Nutrition Nuggets is the newest offshoot of petMD's Cat Nutrition Center. Each week Dr. Coates will use her expertise and wisdom to blog about the intricacies of cat nutrition.

Genetically Modified Organisms – Do the Benefits Outweigh the Risks?

November 16, 2012 / (2) comments

Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, are becoming an ever more present part of our human and pet food supply. Have you thought about what that might mean for the health of all of us?

First a definition: According to the World Health Organization (WHO), GMOs are "Organisms in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally; e.g., through the introduction of a gene from a different organism." Here’s a brief (and oversimplified) description of how this might be done:

 

Scientists observe the world for characteristics that might be useful in a different setting — for instance, a species of bacteria that thrives despite being bathed in a pesticide. The DNA of the organism displaying that characteristic is chopped up into tiny bits that are then attached to a gene that can be used as a marker (e.g., resistance to a particular type of antibiotic). This genetic combo is then shot through a culture of cells of the organism we "wish" had the trait in question (e.g., corn) with the hopes that the genes for the potentially beneficial trait get incorporated into the DNA of the target organism. The scientists can weed out the cells that do not have the foreign genes using the marker (they won’t be antibiotic resistant in this case). The ones that survive are the genetically modified cells, which can then be grown into genetically modified organisms

Genetically engineering life forms like this for the food supply could certainly have benefits (e.g., lower cost, greater productivity, etc.), but I fear that the law of unintended consequences will almost certainly apply. WHO has the following to say about the three main concerns that are brought up in the GMO debate:

Allergenicity. As a matter of principle, the transfer of genes from commonly allergenic foods is discouraged unless it can be demonstrated that the protein product of the transferred gene is not allergenic. While traditionally developed foods are not generally tested for allergenicity, protocols for tests for GM foods have been evaluated by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and WHO. No allergic effects have been found relative to GM foods currently on the market.

Gene transfer. Gene transfer from GM foods to cells of the body or to bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract would cause concern if the transferred genetic material adversely affects human health. This would be particularly relevant if antibiotic resistance genes, used in creating GMOs, were to be transferred. Although the probability of transfer is low, the use of technology without antibiotic resistance genes has been encouraged by a recent FAO/WHO expert panel.

Outcrossing. The movement of genes from GM plants into conventional crops or related species in the wild (referred to as "outcrossing"), as well as the mixing of crops derived from conventional seeds with those grown using GM crops, may have an indirect effect on food safety and food security. This risk is real, as was shown when traces of a maize type which was only approved for feed use appeared in maize products for human consumption in the United States of America. Several countries have adopted strategies to reduce mixing, including a clear separation of the fields within which GM crops and conventional crops are grown

How do you feel about the presence GMOs in your pet’s food? What about the push to get GMO-containing products labeled so consumers can make informed purchasing decisions?

You can also shop from a wide list of GMO-free pet foods or read more about what is GMO foods at our sister site, Pet360.

 

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: Alexey Chernitevich / via Shutterstock

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Comments  2

Leave Comment
  • The Future
    11/16/2012 06:41am

    In my opinion, I don't think we'll know the effects and unknown consequences of GMOs until many years in the future.

  • Truth revealed
    11/19/2012 08:36am

    Yes, that's the idea - and by then it will be too late as complacency in this arena - kills. But they look at genocide a little differently than we do.
    WAKE UP AMERICA!!! Our pets are still dying to teach us before it's too late!

 



ABOUT NUTRITION NUGGETS

JENNIFER COATES, DVM

Photo of Jennifer

... graduated with honors from the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine in 1999. In the years since, she has practiced veterinary medicine in Virginia, Wyoming, and Colorado. She is the author of several books about veterinary medicine and animal care, including the Dictionary of Veterinary Terms, Vet-Speak Deciphered for the Non-Veterinarian .

Jennifer also writes short stories that focus on the strength and importance of the human-animal bond and freelance articles relating to a variety of animal care and veterinary topics. Dr. Coates lives in Fort Collins, Colorado with her husband, daughter, and pets.

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