9 Investigates: 70 percent of processed foods have genetically modified ingredients

WAXHAW, N.C. — Experts said 60 to 70 percent of processed foods on U.S. grocery store shelves have genetically modified ingredients. 

Many major crops like corn and soybeans are grown using genetically engineered seeds.

Dr. Deborah Thompson, with the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, explained the process to Channel 9 anchor Tenkka Smith.

"We insert a piece of DNA that will create a protein that we think will improve the crop in some way," Thompson said.

The added genes can impact crops in a number ways.  They can produce higher crop yields, allow crops to withstand severe weather and climate conditions, or make them resistant to herbicides, viruses and pests.

Vani Hari is a food blogger and organic food advocate. Hari wants the U.S. to require manufacturers to label genetically engineered food.  Right now, the FDA lets companies do it on a voluntary basis.

"We have a fundamental right to know what's in our food," Hari said.

More than 60 other countries ban the foods or require specific labeling.  Many of those countries are in Europe.

"United States food manufacturers reformulated their foods without GMO's so they could sell them to Europeans ... and still selling us this genetically engineered food -- and whose disease rates are going up, skyrocketing? Ours," Hari said.

Several major companies in North Carolina develop genetically engineered seeds, including Bayer CropScience and Syngenta.  Thompson said these companies do extensive testing on the safety and nutrition of their modified plants, then give their findings to the FDA for evaluation before the foods are sold to the public.

"They are safe to eat." Thompson said, "Genetically engineered crops are nutritionally equvialent to conventionally raised crops."

But Hari wants to see more independent research versus testing done by the companies themselves.

Marianne Battistone owns Poplar Ridge Farm, a USDA-certified organic farm in Waxhaw.

"We are not allowed by law to use GMO seeds," she said.  "We know it's a healthier product with more vitamins and minerals."

Battistone believes consumers should know exactly where their food comes from.  "As a supporter of local organic farmers in your area, you will never have to face the GMO question."

All sides agree you should do your own research to determine the best option for what's on and in the menu for your family tonight.

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