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Our Top 15 GMO FAQs

Genetically modified organisms (GMO) or genetically engineered foods (GE) are currently a hot topic, especially as the fight to label GMO foods intensifies. Although a confusing topic, GMOs are not completely understood by many people. Check out our GMO Q&A to learn all about GMOs, the current research and policy regulations and why this issue is important to be aware of.

What does the literature say regarding the health of animals?

A search of peer-reviewed literature and field observations of animals fed diets with GMO crops have shown no adverse results in the animal performance or health indicators (2).

What is the defense for GMO advocates?

A comprehensive analysis of 147 different studies was published by German university professors and reported that the benefits were significant not only in the US but also in the developing world. This analysis has estimated that chemical pesticide use has been reduced by 37%, increased yields by 22% and increased farmer profits by 68%.

What does GMO mean?

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) is defined as the manipulation of an organism’s genes by introducing, eliminating, or rearranging specific genes in a laboratory using genetic engineering such as recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid techniques. Genetic engineering modifies the genetic material between organisms in ways that would not take place naturally, bringing about alterations in the genetic makeup and properties of the organism.

What are some examples of GMOs?

  • Genetically modified cauliflower is orange because of a gene that was incorporated into it in order to increase its production of beta-carotene (the precursor to vitamin A).
  • Genetically modified corn, broccoli, and potatoes have received a gene from a bacterium that produces a protein that is toxic to leaf-chewing caterpillars.
  • Genetically modified potatoes can now produce a beetle-killing toxin in their leaves.

Are GMO’s safe?

The US FDA does not have a mandatory food safety assessment process for GM foods.

The FDA looks at the data that is provided by the manufacturer and does a voluntary analysis before it goes to market. Food producers are allowed to put any GMO on the market without having to notify the FDA because it considers GMO foods as “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS).

The following agencies in the United States help regulate food derived from GE crops:

  • US FDA
  • US Department of Agriculture (USDA)
  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

What agencies consider GMOs as safe?

Organizations such as the American Medical Association, World Health Organization (WHO), the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the British Royal Society among many other major science institutions and regulatory agencies have agreed on the long term safety of food grown from GMOs.

Worldwide, regulators approve GM foods as safe based on the concept of “substantial equivalence”. Substantial equivalence means a GMO food product contains similar amounts of protein, fat, and carbohydrates as its non-GMO counterpart. However, any food product that has a new substance engineered into it must meet the same safety standards that food additives do. Additionally, GMO foods that are substantially different from their traditional counterpart require labeling.

How do GMO food producers ensure safety?

According to Monsanto, genetically engineered crops go through the following process before they submit to regulatory agencies (such as the FDA) for approval:

  • Test to ensure the inserted gene is safe and the protein produced is safe.
  • Product Safety Center does further testing by conducting safety assessments.
  • Compositional Analysis: comparative safety assessment testing the GE product is compositionally and nutritionally the same as the conventional product.
  • Animal Performance Assessments are performed to ensure food and feed from GE products are safe —study the development and size of the animal as it’s fed the product with the new gene inserted.
  • Environmental Safety: a study of the plant’s impact on the environment that includes growth, development, interactions with insects, diseases and other stresses. 

Why were GMO foods introduced into the food system?

  • Make agriculture more sustainable
  • Provide higher yields to feed the world’s growing population
  • Reduce pesticide use by modifying organism to have the ability to kill insects
  • Engineer crops to withstand herbicides
  • Help meet the challenges of climate change
  • Provide more nutritious foods

What do opponents of GMO claim?

  • GMO is laboratory-made, using technology that is totally different from natural breeding methods, and pose different risks from non-GM crops
  • GMOs can be toxic, allergenic or less nutritious than their natural counterparts
  • GMOs are not adequately regulated to ensure safety
  • GMOs do not increase yield potential
  • GMOs do not reduce pesticide use but increase it
  • GMOs create serious problems for farmers, including herbicide-tolerant “superweeds”, compromised soil quality, and increased disease susceptibility in crops
  • GMOs have mixed economic effects and disrupt markets
  • GMOs harm soil quality, disrupt ecosystems, and reduce biodiversity
  • GMOs do not offer effective solutions to climate change
  • GMOs are as energy-hungry as any other chemically-farmed crops

What are the suspected long term consequences?

Opponents also argue that most animal feeding studies on GMOs are short-term or medium-term in length and are therefore not long enough to show long-term (chronic) effects such as organ failure, cancer, or reproductive problems. They feel long-term and multi-generational studies on GMOs need to be implemented to assess whether the signs of toxicity reported in shorter studies actually develop into serious diseases.

How can I avoid GMO products?

Consuming organic food is currently the best was to ensure you are not eating GMO food. The use of genetically modified organisms is prohibited in organic food products. To meet the USDA organic regulations, farmers and food processors must show they are not using GMOs and that they are also protecting their products from any physical contact with GMOs.

Additionally, the non-GMO project, a non-profit organization, verifies non-GMO food products. Many foods sold at the supermarket are labeled with the non-GMO project label certifying the product is free of GMOs.

What is the consumer stance?

According to Consumer Reports National Research Center survey, 70% of Americans say they do not want GMOs in their food and 92% want GM foods to be labeled. Due to the public’s concern about health and environmental risks associated with GMO consumption, many states are taking political action independently in lieu of the federal government’s absence of doing so. For instance, Vermont recently passed legislation requiring GMO labeling.

What foods are commonly GMO?

Corn and soy are the two crops most popular GMO crops produced in the United States.

What is selective breeding?

Selective breeding combines many genes from two varieties of the same species to produce a variety that possesses the desired characteristics.

Which states require GMO labeling?

To date, Maine and Connecticut have passed bills that will require the labeling of GMOs. For both states, the legislation will not go into effect until neighboring states pass similar labeling laws. Vermont has also passed a GMO labeling bill that will go into effect in 2016.


Sources/More Information:

The Potential Impacts of Mandatory Labeling for Genetically Engineered Food in the United States. CAST Issue Paper April 2014 (Number 54) http://www.cast-science.org/download.cfm?PublicationID=282271&File=1e309f25eb102d785a9418765c6f117f6572TR Accessed December 5, 2014.

Intelligence Squared Debates. Genetically Modify Food. December 3, 2014. http://intelligencesquaredus.org/debates/past-debates/item/1161-genetically-modify-food Accessed December 5, 2014.

Genetic Literacy Project website. http://www.geneticliteracyproject.org Accessed December 9, 2014.

Fagan J, Antoniou M, Robinson, C. GMO Myths and Truths: An evidence-based examination of the claims made for the safety and efficacy of genetically modified crops and foods, 2nd Edition. Earth Open Source. http://earthopensource.org/files/pdfs/GMO_Myths_and_Truths/GMO-Myths-and-Truths-edition2.pdf. Accessed December 9, 2014.

Rock, A. Where GMOs hide in your food. Consumer Reports Org website. October 2014. http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/2014/10/where-gmos-hide-in-your-food/index.htm Accessed December 11, 2014.

GMO Facts. Non GMO Project website. http://www.nongmoproject.org/learn-more/ Accessed December 9, 2014.

Wilson, R. Main becomes second state to require GMO labels. Washington Post. January 10, 2014 http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/govbeat/wp/2014/01/10/maine-becomes-second-state-to-require-gmo-labels/ Accessed December 16, 2014.

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