GMOs – A Refresher
Genetically modified organisms are constantly under the microscope. Because of intensive lobbying in D.C., social media, and non-GMO initiatives, you may have been misled. And now, subsequently, they have a pretty bad public reputation. But, its often hard to get the full picture. This 5 minute read will tell you what you need to know about GMO’s…
Most simply put, some protest the crop in the field, some protest the how those crops are labeled at the market.
Certified “Non-GMO” labeling
But, the interesting part is that food ingredients can originate from a GMO crop – but the final product or ingredient won’t have the GMO DNA or proteins in them. How is this possible, you ask? Because the original crop has been modified or processed into a new product.
None of the ingredients in these products have been genetically modified, but because of the GMO debate surrounding sugar, these companies are labeling their products as GMO free.
GMO corn can be grown, but the GMO gene would not be found in any of the modified starches or in any of the sweeteners. For instance, high fructose corn syrup does not contain GMO DNA or proteins but the corn that was used to create the syrup may have originated from genetically modified seeds.
Let’s take sugar for example. Sugar, or sucrose molecules are not modified— there is literally no such thing as genetically modified sugar molecule. And yet you see many anti-GMO organizations protesting “GMO sugar.”
source: genetic literacy project
The importance of DNA
These “scare tactics” are working…
The two largest genetically engineered crops in the United States are corn and soybean. The majority of these crops are produced to feed cattle, dairy cows, chickens, and hogs.
Pesticide usage, yield, and profits
A meta-analysis of 147 independent (not sponsored) studies was completed by Matin Qaim, Professor of International Food Economics and Rural Development, Germany (2014). This analysis compared pesticide usage, yield, and profits of GM and non GM crops over a period of 18 years.
- GM technology has increased crop yields by 21%.
- GM crops have reduced chemical pesticide quantity by 37% and pesticide cost by 39%. Imagine a 50-mile train full of chemicals NOT put in the soil.
- In just 2013, reduced CO2 emissions by 28 billion kg – similar to taking 12.4 million cars off the road for one year.
The safety of GE crops for human health is not in doubt. A 2013 paper by independent researchers noted that 1,783 studies, including many that had been publicly funded, on safety and health issues related to GE crops over the prior 10 years. confirmed the consensus in support of the safety of those crops. A 2011 summary report by the European Commission covering a a decade of publicly funded research, 130 research projects, and 500 research groups similarly concluded that there is no scientific evidence of higher risks of GE crops for food and feed safety, or to the environment. (Source: Sugar Industry Biotech Council)
Unfortunately, the USDA has not quite figured it out what the “non-GMO” label should encompass. There are three different ways to approach GMO labeling:
1. If an animal that produces ingredients used in a product is fed genetically engineered grain, should that final product be labeled as genetically modified? For example, if a dairy cow has been fed grain containing genetically modified corn, and that cow’s milk ends up in ice cream—should the ice cream also be labeled genetically modified, even if there are no genetically modified ingredients in the ice cream itself?
2. If genetically modified seeds are used to create a crop and that crop is then refined and processed to make a product, eliminating the genetically modified gene’s, should that final product be labeled as genetically modified, even though there is no genetically engineered DNA in the product? For example, the debate with sugar. As we demonstrated, all types of table sugar, whether they derive from organic sugar beets, GE sugar beets, or sugar cane, has the exact same DNA.
3. If a crop is created using genetically modified seeds. So, if your papaya seed was genetically engineered to protect itself against ringworm virus, should it be labeled as such?
In some countries, like Japan and Korea, if the GMO protein or DNA is not detectible in the final product then no labeling is needed (i.e. genetically modified sugar beets being made into table sugar). In Europe, that was the case as well, but there was an exception for highly refined products. However, moving forward, this may change because consumers felt they were being misled by food companies. Currently, the requirements for GMO labeling in the U.S. is not yet determined. The important point here is that all of agriculture is global. Every country imports and/or exports meat, grains, oilseeds, and produce. It does not help farmers around the world if every country has different standards.
The Bottom Line:
Trust the regulatory agencies! They have ensured that GMOs are the most heavily tested food on the planet. And trust your body to do its job. If you maintain a well-balanced diet, you don’t have to fall for gimmick marketing labels. Stay informed, if you read the scientific literature on GMO’s you will find there is nothing to be afraid of.
Grossman, Elizabeth. “Congress Passed a New GMO Labeling Bill. How Will It Work? | Civil Eats.” Civil Eats. N.p., 21 July 2016. Web. 26 Oct. 2016.
Johnson, David, and Siobhan O’Connor. “These Charts Show Every Genetically Modified Food People Already Eat in the U.S.” Time. Time Magazine, 30 Apr. 2015. Web. 26 Oct. 2016.
Larson, Rebecca. “Myth Busting: There Is No Such Thing as GMO Sugar | Genetic Literacy Project.” Genetic Literacy Project. N.p., 15 Dec. 2015. Web. 26 Oct. 2016.
“U.S. Beet Sugar Industry: National Research Council Committee on Genetically Engineered Crops.” Sugar Industry Biotech Council, 9 Sept. 2015. Web. 26 Oct. 2016.