GMOs (genetically modified organisms) are living organism whose genetic makeup has been altered through genetic engineering. This engineering creates combinations of genes that do not occur on their own in nature. In addition to crops that are created to withstand herbicide and insecticide application, scientists are working to engineer genetically modified crops that will hopefully be drought tolerant and heat and pest-resistant as well. Here’s what you need to know about GMOs.
9 How are GMOs created?
Tiny bits of DNA are joined with the DNA of existing organisms to transfer specific qualities from one organism to another. Scientists are able to isolate specific parts of plant DNA and insert them into a host plant, giving the host certain desirable traits: plants that are resistant to heat, drought, frost, bugs, parasites, insecticides, and herbicides.
This sounds like a great idea, right? In theory, farmers can spray their fields with pest and weed killers that won’t damage their crops. One cause for concern, however, is whether this will cause pests to evolve into super-pests – bugs and parasites that are eventually able to withstand even the strongest chemical pesticide – spurring the need for the development of even stronger, and potentially more dangerous, pesticides.
8 What foods contain GMOs?
You’d be surprised by how many foods you eat that have probably been genetically modified. Several of the largest food and beverage labels support the use of GMOs in their products. Campbell’s recently became the first company to voluntarily label products with GMO ingredients. Other companies, like Pepsi and Kellogg, have refused, saying this would add unnecessary costs. Other big companies that use GMOs and are resisting consumers’ call to label their products? Nestle, Coca-Cola, Hershey, and more.
7 Are they safe?
Many anxious consumers immediately say no. However, the World Health Organization and American Medical Association both claim that GMOs are safe. Some scientists cite studies that say without a doubt that GMOs are safe. Other groups, like the Center for Food Safety, continue to question the safety of GMOs for both people and the environment.
6 How do GMOs affect the environment?
Those who are pro-GMO claim that genetically engineering plants to be able to withstand pests and diseases are better for the environment: no chemical pesticides or fertilizers needed, so no chemical run-off into soil or water. However, there are concerns that insects and weeds will evolve to become resistant to the chemicals currently being used, which would require heavier and more frequent chemical applications. There are also concerns that insects, such as bees and butterflies, will be harmed by the more widespread use of chemicals.
5 How will GMOs impact farmers?
Some farmers who are planting GMO crops are hit hard by the rising cost of seeds – GMO crops are often more expensive to plant. Some farmers claim that the seeds are also result in a lower yield than traditional seeds. Some also say that they have to adjust the amount of pesticides that they use as worms and bugs adjust to the new crops. Farmers are also catching on to consumer anxiety, and are eager to fill the demand for non-GMO foods. As a result, many farmers are going back to planting traditional crops.
4 Does the U.S. require labeling of GMOs?
Currently, 64 countries require that all genetically modified products carry an identifying label. The U.S. is not one of them. While some states have passed mandatory GMO labeling laws, federal anti-labeling legislation passed the House of Representatives in 2015. This legislation, known by consumers as the DARK (Denying Americans the Right to Know) Act, would prevent states from requiring GMO labels and make it harder for large corporations to voluntarily disclose the presence of GMOs in their products. Vermont is the first state to require labeling with a set effective date of July 1, 2016. However, several large companies and organizations, including the Grocery Manufacturers Association, oppose the new law and have threatened to file suit against the state to stop it.
3 GMO Pros
Longer shelf life of seeds and plants
2 GMO Cons
Concern that there has been little long-term testing
Possible evolution of super weeds & pests
Increase in food allergies
Lowered resistance to antibiotics (some GMOs have naturally-occurring antibiotic properties, and eating them could lower the effectiveness of antibiotics)
1 How can I avoid GMOs?
In order to avoid foods with bioengineered ingredients, the Council on Science and Public Health recommends buying foods labeled “USDA Organic.” You can also look for products labeled with the “Non-GMO Project” seal, which indicates that products have gone through an additional inspection and certification process.
It can be hard to avoid GMOs altogether because so many foods and beverages – even ones we consider to be healthy – can contain corn, soy, and canola, the most common GMO crops. The USDA reports that 88% of corn crops have been genetically modified. These GMOs are often lurking in the ingredients list of your food in the form of high fructose corn syrup, regular corn syrup, corn oil, dextrose, sucrose, and xylitol.
If your food isn’t labeled organic and contains any form of corn, soy, or canola, chances are it has been genetically modified.
Here’s a list of some popular GMO-Free brands.
1. What else can I do?
There are several benefits and risks associated with GMOs. It’s up to you as the consumer to read, educate yourself, and make what you think is the best decision for yourself and your family.
World Health Organization – Food Safety – GMOs
Library of Congress – Restrictions on GMOs