Food has become a hot topic in the media and around the dinner table. The production and politics of food are on the minds of policy makers, special interests groups and consumers in general. One of the most talked-about subjects is the advanced science used to produce new plants and organisms through the manipulation of genetic material. Today we will look at genetically modified organisms—GMOs—and provide answers to many of the questions you may have about them.
1.) What is a GMO?
When creating a GMO or genetically modified organism, researchers copy specific genetic information from one plant or organism and introduce it into another to improve or enhance a specific characteristic or trait, such as resistance to insects. Developing special traits in plants allows for more food to be grown in more places using fewer chemicals and fewer natural resources
2.) What’s the difference between GMOs and biotechnology?
While the two terms are frequently used interchangeably, biotechnology more closely refers to the process or technology used to create GMOs. You may also see the term “GM”, which of course means “genetically modified.” When you hear farmers talk about “biotech” hybrids or varieties, they are talking about the GM seeds they plant.
3.) What is a Bt crop?
These are crops genetically engineered to carry a gene from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). This bacterium produces proteins toxic to certain pests—caterpillars, mosquitoes and corn rootworm–but do not affect humans and other mammals. The crops that contain the Bt gene can produce the toxin, thus shielding themselves from targeted pests— and reducing the need for pesticides.
4.) Is genetic modification a new thing?
Manipulating genes in plants is an approach that has been used for centuries to make bread, cheese, wine and beer. Today, nearly every food on grocery store shelves has been modified by human hands at the genetic level. The foods we eat are modified using various breeding methods. Breeding alters a plant’s genes so that it expresses new traits. That’s how we get those desirable family favorites such as, seedless watermelons and grapes, red grapefruit, peanuts, honey crisp apples and other foods. GMOs and biotechnology simply accelerate this process. “Everything about science is learning new ways to speed up evolution so that we can come up with crops faster than Mother Nature ordinarily would,” said Dr. Sally Mackenzie, Ralph and Alice Raikes Professor of Plant Science at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. “Genetically modified is a part of our future. If we want to eat with climate change, we will need technologies or we simply won’t survive, and that’s just a reality.”
5.) Are GMOs safe for humans?
To date, more than 2,000 peer-reviewed studies have confirmed that GMOs are safe for human consumption. While there have been a handful of studies that state otherwise, these studies have been roundly debunked by scientists around the world. With over 25 years of independent research, there is no documented evidence of harm to human health or deaths from consumption of GM foods. (National Research Council, European Commission)
6.) Are there GMO-free foods?
Genetically modified wheat is not grown in the United States. Genetically modified corn, soybeans and other commodities are approved for production in the U.S. As a result, trace amounts of GM products are found in many processed foods in the form of corn, soybean or canola oils—even when those foods may be labeled “GMO-free.”
7.) Is it safe to eat meat and milk from animals that were fed GMO crops?
Absolutely. A 2012 review of 24 long-term or multigenerational studies found that genetically modified corn, soy, potato, and rice had no ill effects on the rats, cows, mice, quails, chickens, pigs and sheep that ate them. Growth, development, blood, tissue structure, urine chemistry and organ and body weights were normal.
8.) How does genetic modification affect nutrition?
There is no difference. Exhaustive testing and FDA review has confirmed that GMOs are nutritionally the same as their non-GM counterparts. They have the same levels of key nutrients such as amino acids, proteins, fiber, minerals and vitamins.
9.) Do GMOs cause allergies?
No. GMOs do not create new allergens that are not already present due to other unrelated factors. If a person is allergic to a non-GMO plant, they will be allergic to the GMO variety since the two are nutritionally the same.
10.) Do GMOs cause gluten intolerance?
There is absolutely no relationship because there is no GMO wheat on the market today. If such a product were to come on the market, it could not cause new allergies because standard GM testing and FDA review ensure that GMOs are not introducing new potential allergens