I promise they are not as scary as they sound! GMO stands for genetically modified organisms, and they are more common than you think. Farmers have changed species DNA for thousands of years using different types of genetic modification (1). Most of the foods we eat were wild species that we evolved to make them more appealing or easier to grow (1). Some ways farmers have modified their crops are:
genetic engineering, GEO’s
Choosing parents that have traits we like in hopes their babies will also have those traits (2.) Farmers have selectively bred plants and animals for many years to create breeds with characteristics that help us. Crops have been manipulated to make them easier to grow, make them more palatable, or even more nutritious (2.)
Some examples of selective breeding are:
Cows bred to make more milk or be meatier (2).
Dogs bred to help with hunting (2).
Wheat plants bred to produce more wheat (2.)
Happens when one plant pollinates another plant (3). When this happens to two different plant species, a new variety is made (3). Farmers do this on purpose to create new types of vegetables, fruits, or flowers (3). It can also occur naturally by wind or bees (3). In nature, cross-pollination increases the likelihood of survival for wild plants. Farmer’s cross-pollinate by hand to create new types of produce with desirable traits like improved taste, size, or disease resistance (3). Cross-pollination helps to increase the different types of plants or animals in a species (3).
Some examples of cross-pollination are:
Honey crisp apples made to be sweeter (4).
Blueberries to improve yield and size
Cherries to improve taste (5).
Genetic Engineering, GEO:
GEO’s and GMO’s are often confused by people. Scientists create a GEO when they take one trait found in nature and change it to make something new (1, 6). They can do this two ways. They can take one gene from one species and put it into a new one (1, 6). They can also alter a gene already in the species to make a change (1.6). There are many reasons scientists do this, such as to improve immunity against diseases, weeds, and pests (1, 6).
Genetically engineered crops are highly regulated and monitored by three different agencies, the FDA, USDA, and the EPA (1). There were several concerns when GEO’s were introduced to the food system. There was so much we did not know, like how our environment and bodies would react to these new freaky foods. Several studies have been conducted since their conception, though, and the ten crops in circulation have proven to be safe.
The Ten Genetic Engineered Crops are:
What foods are genetically engineered?
Corn- Stronger against insects and weeds and use less water (1).
Soybeans- Stronger against insects and weeds (1).
Cotton- Stronger against insects and weeds (1).
Canola- Stronger against weeds (1).
Alfalfa- Stronger against weeds (1).
Sugar Beets- Stronger against weeds (1).
Papaya- Improved immunity against disease (1).
Summer Squash- Stronger against insects and weeds (1).
Apple- Non-browning (1).
Potato- Less bruising and black spots, non-browning (1).
While most shoppers would prefer to avoid genetically engineered food, those that do buy it can rest assured it is safe to consume. Genetically modified food producers claim to be beneficial to farmers and our food chain because they should use fewer pesticides and have higher-yielding crops. Several experts are concerned about biodiversity and the impact these crops could have on wildlife (9).
The use of modified genetic crops is still very controversial amongst consumers and experts. It is always best to understand where and how our food is grown and delivered to us. Stay tuned for more blog posts about how your food is grown, stored, and delivered to your plate.
1. Beyond Labels: 10 Things you Should Know About GMO’s. GMO Answers. https://gmoanswers.com/current-gmo-crops. Accessed July 21, 2019.
2. MacDonald, R. Science on Your Plate. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach website. https://moodle.extension.iastate.edu/mod/page/view.php?id=1375. Published March 20, 2017. Accessed July 14, 2015.
3. What is selective breeding? Facts. https://www.yourgenome.org/facts/what-is-selective-breeding. Published August 17, 2017. Accessed July 21, 2019.
4. ModernAg. Why Plants Will Never Stop Pollinating. ModernAg. https://modernag.org/biodiversity/plants-will-never-stop-pollinating/. Published October 17, 2018. Accessed July 21, 2019.
5. Sandhyarani N. Cross-Pollination. BiologyWise. https://biologywise.com/cross-pollination. Published February 26, 2018. Accessed October 17, 2019.
6. Rhoades H. Cross Pollination In Plants: Cross Pollinating Vegetables. Gardening Know How. https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/vegetables/vgen/cross-pollination.htm. Published May 5, 2018. Accessed July 21, 2019.
6. Vinje E. Honeycrisp Apples: Hybrids NOT GMOs. Planet Natural. https://www.planetnatural.com/honeycrisp-apples/. Published March 28, 2018. Accessed July 21, 2019.