No doubt you have likely heard the term GMO, but what does that really mean? A GMO, or genetically modified organism, is an organism that has had its genetic material altered, or modified in some way, through genetic engineering. Typically GMOs are created when an organism has its DNA altered by inserting the DNA from another host or organism, such as bacterium, plant, animal or virus. Genetically engineered foods have had genes from other plants or animals inserted into their genetic codes. This is often done so that the resulting genetically modified plant is more resistant to diseases or insects, or is more tolerant to herbicides. Apples and potatoes have been genetically modified to prevent browning. Today, there are 10 GMO food crops that are grown in the US that have been approved for cultivation. These include: field corn, sweet corn, soybean, canola, alfalfa, apple, potato, papaya, sugar beet, and summer squash.
GMO’s are in many processed and packaged foods via food additives that are made with ingredients derived from corn, soy, canola and sugar beets. Currently, US labeling laws do not require food manufacturers to indicate if their products are genetically modified, unless there is a material difference (such as nutritional profile) between the GMO product and its non-GMO equivalent. Most food labeling regarding GMOs that consumers see on food packaging is voluntary. This can be confusing to consumers who may see a non-GMO claim on a product which is not even approved to be grown with GMOs, and conversely other products that likely contain GMOs that do not have any informational GMO statements denoted.
The safety of GMOs is a hotly debated topic. Concerns have been raised about the safety of foods containing GMOs, the environmental impact of GMOs, and the regulatory process for approving GMO crops. However, many scientific organizations believe that much of the concerns about GMOs are less factual and based more on fear and misinformation. Those that support the use of GMO technology feel that currently available food derived from genetically modified crops pose no greater risk to human health, or the environment, as conventionally grown crops. As more foods are awaiting the approval process to utilize GMO technology, varying viewpoints on their use is not likely to go away. Consumers need to educate themselves and keep informed on issues related to GMOs.