Genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) – also referred to as genetically engineered (GE) products – have been a controversial topic of discussion for years and seem to cause both confusion and fear for many people. Here are the four things you need to know.
What Are GMOs?
A GMO is any organism that has had its genetic code – or its DNA – altered in a way that does not occur naturally. Maybe this is where the fear and confusion comes in – we’ve gotten so used to seeing product labels with claims like “all-natural” or “100% natural”, that the thought of something “unnatural” is both strange and a little scary. But GMOs are not developed by trial and error where a “mutant” organism comes out of the laboratory. Instead, it is a very deliberate process where scientists add or remove a specific gene from the DNA to create a desired trait.
How Many GMOs Are There?
Anything that has DNA can be genetically modified, not just plants. In fact, insulin used to treat diabetes is genetically engineered. To be clear, there are actually very few foods that are currently genetically modified. Today, there are twelve genetically modified crops available:
- Alfalfa (used for animal feed)
- Apples (Arctic®)
- Potatoes (Ranger Russet and Atlantic)
- Golden Rice®
- AquAdvantage® Salmon
- Sugar beets
You likely don’t eat cotton and the alfalfa is only used in animal feed, so that leaves ten foods you may eat that are genetically modified.
GMOs might seem to be a recent addition to our food supply, but we’ve actually been eating genetically engineered foods for a long time. In fact, researchers found that over 8,000 years ago, bacteria transferred one of their genes to sweet potatoes, meaning the sweet potatoes we eat today are a result of genetic modification.
Why Do We Have GMOs?
GMOs are created to solve specific problems. For example, some GMOs are created to be better resistant to insects, which means farmers can use fewer pesticides. Other GMOs require less water and are better able to tolerate drought. Some crops are known to be affected by a disease that has the potential to destroy all crops, like the papaya ringspot virus (PRSV). Scientists were able to genetically engineer papayas so they are resistant to this disease. In addition, GMOs can also produce foods with increased nutritional content.
For example, vitamin A deficiency (VAD) affects about 250 million people worldwide, especially in countries where rice makes up a large portion of daily meals, like in southern Asian. VAD is the leading cause of blindness in children and it is completely preventable. According to the World Health Organization, “an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 vitamin A-deficient children become blind every year, half of them dying within 12 months of losing their sight.” Golden rice is a type of rice that has been genetically engineered to include beta-carotene, which helps your body create vitamin A and also gives the rice its golden color. Golden rice is a GMO that has the potential to help those with VAD and is one way that GMOs are beneficial.
Are GMOs Safe to Eat?
The short answer is yes. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine reviewed almost 1,000 different studies looking at the effects of GMOs on health. In their 600-page report, they concluded that there is no evidence that foods from GMO crops are less safe than non-GMO foods. In addition, the data did not show that GMOs were linked to higher rates of cancer or “that the consumption of GE foods has caused higher rates of obesity or type II diabetes or greater prevalence of chronic kidney disease in the United States.” Finally, they “also did not find a relationship between the consumption of GE foods and the increase in the prevalence of food allergies.”
While research continues to be done on the safety of GMOs, the bottom line is that today, researchers regard GMOs as safe to eat. If you enjoyed reading this article please check out another article related to Vitamin C And Vitamin D and how it can help strengthen your immune system.