What is genetically modified food? GMOs or Genetically Modified Organisms. Farmers and ranchers have been practicing genetic engineering for thousands of years. Selective breeding of animals to encourage desirable characteristics and cross-pollination of plants are pretty basic. So how can genetically modified foods be bad?

There are fundamental differences between traditional animal husbandry and farming practices and what scientists can do in labs. Using traditional methods, cross-breeding will only work with very closely related species. You can’t insert fish DNA into a tomato plant anywhere except in a lab.

DNA is incredibly complex and information in a strand of DNA may influence multiple traits or characteristics and they may interact in unpredictable ways. In one instance, Brazil nut DNA was added to a line of soy beans. This proved deeply troublesome when soy eaters who were allergic to Brazil nuts experienced reactions to a previously safe food.

GMO experimentation is on the rise, and in an absence of strict controls, we have no way of knowing exactly what it is we might be eating. Here are four big reasons to avoid GMO foods:

1. Genetically Modified Foods are Driven by Profit

GMOs are being pushed by massive multinational corporations as a way to end world hunger and improve nutrition. In fact, profit may be their true motive. GMO crops do not seem to produce greater yields than traditionally grown crops, and many require extensive use of chemical agents like herbicides and pesticides in order to grow at all. The corporations often have strict licensing agreements that prevent independent examination of their products. They seem to be doing all they can to corner the market on food and prevent examination and study of exactly what it is they are feeding us.

2. You Can’t Unring a Bell

Once GMO products make it to fields, that genetic material becomes a part of the biome. Even if a plant turns out to be toxic, once it has been grown in open air its genes are out there. GMO crops can cross-breed with non-GMO crops whether their makers intend them to or not. In fact, a recent study found that 80% of wild canola plants in North Dakota contained genes that had been genetically modified. Somewhere, somehow, the GMO plants had contaminated the native flora.

3. Dubious Safety of Genetically Modified Food

Despite food corporations’ insistence that GMO foods are completely safe, no independent entity exists to verify those claims. And the results can be devastating. In Japan, a bacteria was genetically modified for food use. It turned out that they were producing an entirely new protein we had never encountered before. Used in nutritional shakes, the amino acid caused severe metabolic damage in consumers. Many people died. Studies proving these foods safe have not been done. It would be ridiculously naive to think that we can meddle with the very stuff of life with impunity. Yet corporations do, and as long as a few cursory studies show no short-term side effects, they are allowed to feed these things to all of us.

4. You Can’t Consent to Eating (or Not Eating) GMOs

It’s probably true that many genetically modified foods are perfectly safe. But many are not, and we need to know whether they are present in our food so that we can exercise our own best judgment in feeding them to our families. The worst part of the introduction of GMOs into our food supply is that we don’t know when we’re eating these products. In Canada, as well as in the United States, genetically modified ingredients in our food do not need to be labeled. In Europe, consumers have been granted the right to know what they are eating.

That’s four good reasons to avoid genetically modified food, which is all fine and good, but if you these foods aren’t labelled, you’ll want to read the next post about what you can do to avoid GMOs.