Many people are concerned about consuming genetically engineered (GE) foods, more commonly known as GMOs (genetically modified organisms).
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While GM/GE technology is well understood by science, misinformation and a lack of public understanding can leave consumers feeling skeptical.
What is GM/GE foods?
Humans have been modifying the genetics of crops and livestock through selective breeding since the dawn of agriculture. Recent scientific advances have allowed modern agriculturalists to target more precise genetic changes than is possible through selective breeding.
Using GE technology, scientists can insert genetic sequences from one organism into another or alter existing DNA by deleting or silencing genes. A genetically engineered (or genetically modified) organism is defined as an organism that has had its genetic material (DNA) modified using techniques that permit the direct transfer or removal or genes.
Why are GM/GE crops created?
Genetic modification can result in the expression of desired traits that are not present in the original crop. Scientist may want to develop virus resistance in squash, insert pest resistance in potatoes, introduce herbicide resistance in soybeans, improve the flavor of tomatoes, or increase the shelf stability or apples.
What GM/GE foods are currently available?
There are currently only a few species of commercially produced GM/GE crops available on the U.S. market. Current GM/GE crops grown in the U.S are corn, soybeans, canola, sugar beets, potatoes, papaya, summer squash, apples, alfalfa, and cotton. Of course, only animals eat alfalfa and cotton is worn as a natural fiber, not eaten.
Are there any GM/GE animals?
The FDA has recently approved an application for a GM/GE variety of Atlantic salmon after finding that it was equally nutritious and safe compared to non-GMO salmon and did not significantly impact the environment.
The vast majority of livestock used for meat and milk in the U.S. are fed GMO crops like corn and soybeans. To be clear, this does not mean that these animals are themselves GMOs, the DNA in food does not transfer to the animal (or human) that eats it, nor does the DNA from GMO animal feed make it into their meat, eggs, or milk.
Is GM/GE food safe?
Since the introduction of GM/GE crops into consumer markets three decades ago, there have been thousands of studies investigating the health and safety of these crops with the consensus finding no difference between GM/GE crops and their conventionally bred counterparts.
The US National Academy of Sciences conducted an in-depth evaluation concluding that the consumption of GM/GE crops is not correlated to increases in cancer, obesity, GI illness, kidney disease, autism, or allergies.
How are GM/GE crops regulated?
In the United States three federal agencies, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA APHIS) work together to regulate most GMOs.
The FDA is tasked with making sure that all foods, including GMOs, or those with GE ingredients, meet the same strict food safety standards. The EPA regulates the use of pesticides and the safety of plant-incorporated protectants, the substances that make some GM/GE crops resistant to pest and disease. USDA APHIS protects U.S. agriculture from the threat of pests and disease and assures that GM/GE crops do not pose a risk to other organisms.
How can you tell if you are eating products made with GM/GE ingredients?
While food marketers have long used non-GMO labeling to sell their wares, consumers may not have always been aware of when they were consuming products that were made with GE ingredients. Starting in January, certain types of GMOs will have to be labeled as “bioengineered food” (a term that Congress chose when it passed the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard).
Bioengineered foods are defined as those that contain detectable genetic material that has been modified and cannot be created through conventional breeding or found in nature.
When it comes to deciding what kind of food you want to purchase, having an abundance of choice is a good thing. Having a better understanding of the science behind new food production techniques will hopefully allow you to make more informed decisions the next time you are in the grocery store.
For more information on genetically engineered crops, please visit fda.gov/food/consumers/agricultural-biotechnology
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This article originally appeared on Daily Commercial: How much do you know about GMOs?