What Are GMOs and Why Is Everyone Arguing Over Them?

Genetically Modified Organisms—or GMOs—caught the public’s attention this year when the popular Mexican chain, Chipotle, became the first fast food restaurant to ban the use of all GMO ingredients in their food.  Under their slogan “Food with Integrity,” this announcement ignited a debate in which some praised the international chain for taking an unprecedented stance to put people before profits, while others dismissed it as little more than a PR stunt. But the truth is the GMO controversy has been around for 20 years without many of us really knowing what exactly a GMO is.

To start, a GMO occurs when a gene is intentionally moved from one organism and placed into another to create some type of change, also referred to as a “transgenic” meaning the transfer of genes. Though scientists have been experimenting with this technology for decades, the dispute really began for the public in 1996 when agricultural giant Monsanto genetically modified soybeans. Today, more than 90% of all corn, cotton and soybeans are GMOs.  These crops occupy more than 167 million acres of land and have catapulted GMOs to the center of the American diet.

Genetically modified corn and soy show up in everything from your cereal to salad dressing.  To break it down, 75% of the food we purchase from the grocery store is processed, and 75% of all those processed foods contain GMOs.  To get you up to speed, we took a look at both sides of the argument, broke down the most contentious issues and made you a guide.

The Safety Debate

Pro GMO

The World Health Organization and American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) have declared all the current GMO foods on the market safe.

Anti-GMO

There are more layers to the safety stamp of approval that complicate this answer. Many anti-GMOers say they are not necessarily concerned about the human health risks from GMOs but rather the way GMOs are being tested. The testing is technically voluntary; however, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can block any food from reaching the market, which makes it almost impossible for companies to bypass this regulatory hurdle.

Anti-GMO issues with the safety testing requirements

-The testing is performed by the company also responsible for the genetic modification rather than a third party. The FDA makes sure companies go through the process rather than evaluating if their testing is effective and there is no way to guarantee they are performing the right kind of tests.

-Companies are allowed to perform unlimited tests, and they are not required to present all of their findings to the FDA; therefore, they can technically show only favorable results.

 

Heath Debate

Pro-GMO

The process of genetic modification can make food more nutritious. Scientists are now able to remove naturally occurring bacteria that cause diseases and swap it out for more vitamin rich genes that add to the food’s nutritional value.  They are experimenting with adding genes that contain vitamin A and iron to foods like tomatoes and rice to increase their health benefits.

Anti-GMO

There’s too much we don’t know about transfer of genes. It’s possible that we could introduce new allergies to our food by swapping genes in and out. Individuals have different reactions to food, and adding a new gene could cause a totally new reaction. It’s also possible a known allergen could be placed in an unsuspecting food and cause a reaction where it is not expected (think genes from allergy-inducing peanuts being put in tomatoes).

Environmental Debate

Pro-GMO

GMO technology helps cut back on chemicals used in farming. GMO seeds such as corn and soy are made to be pesticide resistant by injecting a toxic gene into the seed. This enhances the productivity of large-scale industrial farming because farmers actually use less pesticide on crops.

Anti-GMO

This technology can create super weeds that become more resistant to pesticides and actually requires the use more chemicals to contain them.

Economical Debate

Pro-GMO

GMOs are necessary to feed the world. We have a rapidly increasing population and decreasing supply of food and natural resources. This technology would make it possible to meet the rising food demands by creating crops that are disease resistant and harvesting them at a much more efficient rate. One successful case is the papaya. Genetic Modification was used to make the fruit resistant to the ring spot virus that threatened to wipe out the entire Hawaiian papaya industry in the mid-90’s. 

Anti-GMO

They argue it’s not a problem with genetic modification itself; it is how the technology is being used. As of now, three companies control more than half of the global seed market. The company making the most waves in this arena is Monsanto.  Anti-GMOers say they developed herbicide resistant soybeans to sell more of the weed killer Roundup, which is also produced by Monsanto. This overlap has created a monopoly of the food system that anti-GMOers worry is driven by corporate profits rather than public needs and desires.

Where we are now and what do both sides want?

Pro-GMO

They want the media to stop spreading fear of GMOs. Proponents of genetic modification say enhanced skepticism from the public is delaying the technical advancements needed to make GMOs more viable. They believe the entire industry has been stigmatized by Monsanto’s “Rockafeller-esque” image and tout there are several other successes that make GMOs not only safe but necessary.

Anti-GMO

They want to make labeling GMO products mandatory. Sixty-four countries already require GMO labeling, but so far nothing has been passed in the U.S.  Anti-GMOers also want more independent research and testing to level out corporate control of genetically modified foods to place the stress on consumer safety over profits. In addition, they advocate for more transparency with the current testing. If more was known about the testing process, the public could make a better informed decision on their acceptance of GMO foods in their diet.

Whether you’re active in the debate or not, GMOs play a large role in our current food system and affect our lives far beyond what we put on our plate.   And now that GMOs are not just the acronym left out of your burrito bowl, you can join the debate. For another health trend hack, check out our Gluten-Free breakdown. 

Writing is the Most Marketable Skill to Master

In college, I had a roommate who chose her major, speech pathology, to avoid writing papers.  As a journalism student, not only was I confused by her attempt to avoid learning a vital communication skill by selecting major with “speech” in the title, but I also knew she would be severely limiting her job opportunities with this approach.  Yes, I know, this seems biased coming from a journalist, but even the most analytical, left-brained individuals would have a hard time communicating using only numbers and symbols.

Today, business and social media are intertwined, and sites like Facebook, which previously only existed for personal use, have now become the leading marketing and advertising tools for companies.  For those of us who have grown up saturated in these hybrid media platforms, the lines have blurred between business and casual, fragmenting our communication.

Although the mediums have changed, writing is still a foundational skill that is more important in today’s workplace than it was prior to new technology. Whether you’re composing a resume, cover letter or just sending a follow-up email, written communication is likely the first impression you will make on an employer in our digital age.

After I graduated from college, I took an internship with a magazine in my home city that quickly segued to a permanent position.  Much to my parents’ surprise, a journalism degree had actually yielded a full-time job, even more unheard of in the wake of the creeping, post-recession economy. But the relief that I had become a successful return on their college investment was short lived when I accepted an unpaid internship in New York City with no friends, relatives or living accommodations attached. When the internship ended without a full-time offer, I was forced to search for a new position and explain in many cover letters why I chose to leave a secure, full-time position in my field to accept new titles like unpaid desk clerk and hostess or “editorial intern” and “hospitality specialist,” as they appeared on my resume. Writing allowed me to explain to future employers why I took what appeared to be a step down to diversify my experience and open myself to more opportunities in a larger market. Ultimately, it got my foot in the door for interviews and allowed for upward career mobility.

However, this skill is applicable across the board. Regardless of what field you enter, you will be expected to interact with the public, clients or at the very least co-workers. Beyond the communication industry, writing is an indicator to any employer of an applicant’s ability to problem solve and reason. In the era of information overload and constant self-expression on social media, employers look for personal work samples outside of the classroom and previous positions as indicators of key skills they desire in applicants such as initiative and ambition. One way to display your work is to create a blog.  If you thought the only people who contribute to the blogosphere today are suburban moms looking to expand their recipe box, think again. According to a survey by Career Builder, 43% of employers research their candidates on social media before hiring them.  A clear demonstration of writing ability, a blog is also looked at as insight into personality, interests and entrepreneurship that can help set you apart from other candidates in the hiring process.

If you’re not a writer but still want to boost your application, try consulting a beginner’s guide to blogging like this one from The SITS girls.  As much as a polished blog can enhance your resume, a disorganized or poorly written one will have the exact opposite effect. So if you can’t quite remember where to put a semi-colon, sites like Grammar Girl provide quick tips to keep your writing in check.

Blogging is just one way to boost online presence, but honing your writing skills in all your professional communication is essential to scoring an interview.  Before employers get a chance to meet you in person, your application materials need to speak for you. This is where writing will help you “fake it till you make it.”  Your resume and portfolio should make the connections between your current skills set and those necessary for the job. A strategically written cover letter can help explain gaps in employment or other inconsistencies on your resume that may be a red flag to employers. Just as important as your application materials is your follow-up with prospective employers, which should be viewed as another chance to display your professionalism and personality outside the limited bounds of your resume.  Whether you’re typing, texting, emailing or physically picking up a pen, writing is one of the most marketable skills to master.  If you can communicate successfully, you can sell yourself to any employer.

How Do I Deal With a Co-Worker Who Takes All the Credit?

Dear DFS,

I have a co-worker with whom I collaborate closely on projects at work. Lately, in staff meetings my co-worker has been taking all the credit for “our” ideas, which are often solely “my” ideas. How do I address this so I get the credit I deserve without throwing this person under the bus or embarrassing him/her in front of staff?

Aubrey, Regina

Dear Aubrey,

Firstly, I would like to compliment you for wanting to approach this issue in a respectful way.  Regardless of the issue, we always have a choice about how we address the problem and our reactions are a reflection of who we are as individuals.  Approaching this issue in a mature and positive way will reflect well on you in the workplace.

Here are a few suggestions on how you might approach this challenge:

Get Clarification

It’s easy to become defensive when we feel that someone has wronged us.  However, in order to deal with this situation in a positive and constructive way, the best approach is to first seek to understand your co-worker’s point-of-view.  They may not be aware that they are stepping on your toes and may not be doing this with any self-serving or negative intent.  Try and go into the conversation with an open mind.  Once you have clarified your co-worker’s understanding of the issue and you’ve expressed your side of the experience, it is time to discuss possible solutions to mitigate this happening again.

Discuss Possible Solutions

If your co-worker was not aware of having taken credit for your work, or if they disagree about who was originally responsible for the work, ask them how you might work together so that you can avoid a similar issue in the future.

If, after this discussion, your co-worker continues to take credit for your work, you may choose to have another conversation with them and give them another chance to become self-aware and take responsibility for their breach.  Or, if you feel this will not be helpful, you may wish to discuss the issue with your manager.

If your co-worker expresses a lack of interest in finding a solution, or you can’t come to an agreement to resolve the issue, it may be time to escalate the issue to your manager.

Prior to escalating the issue, let your co-worker know that due to the importance of the problem, you will be seeking guidance from your manager.

Escalate if Necessary

When meeting with your manager, bring material with you to the meeting to show the work you have done.  Describe the attempt you have made to resolve the situation on your own and why you feel it hasn’t been resolved.  Seek the guidance of your manager for next steps.

Prevention

Here are some things you can do to prevent a similar issue in the future:

• Be more vocal about your ideas and involvement in projects.

• Document your work so that you have a record of what you have accomplished.

• Take the initiative to communicate with your manager on a regular basis to update him/her on your work.

• Lead by example – promote a culture of recognition for individual achievements by publicly recognizing others where it is deserved.

Approaching a co-worker with an issue can be an uncomfortable or intimidating process; however, it allows us to shift away from the concerns we felt from the original problem to focusing on a positive resolution that will, hopefully, result in  fostering a more respectful and productive working relationship.

Good luck and best wishes,

Jennifer Halinda

Executive Director

Dress for Success Vancouver