Even if you don't follow the news very closely, you're likely to have heard terms like genetically modified organisms, Monsanto, GMO, and organic foods being talked about on television and by people you know. Genetically modified food is increasingly making headlines, and the subject impacts everyone, making it important that you take time to learn the GMO facts and decide where you stand on the issue.
What is a GMO?
GMO stands for "genetically modified organism" A basic GMO definition is a living organism that has been altered through the use of scientific genetic engineering. This is usually done by combining the genes of different species of plants, bacteria, viruses, and animals together. Sometimes, this is done by simple cross-pollination or cross-breeding, but other times it's done through artificial means. Most often, when GMOs are being discussed, the issue involves crops or foods that are being genetically modified.
What is a Gene?
"So what's a gene" you may be asking. A gene can be thought of as a piece of code that holds information about a living organism. Humans have about 24,000 genes. The genes contain human DNA that is passed on from parents to their children, and from children to their children, and so on. When discussing GMOs, the word gene means the parts of the living organisms that are combined or mixed to create the new organism.
What is Cloning?
Sometimes cloning gets discussed alongside GMOs. Cloning is the process of making an identical copy of a living organism by replicating all of the DNA encoded on its genes. Strictly speaking, a clone is not exactly the same as a genetically modified organism, because it isn't a completely new version of an organism, which is produced by combining genes. Still, cloning is a result of genetic engineering, so the process often gets lumped in with genetically modified organisms.
Are there Benefits for Genetically Modified Crops?
Proponents of GMOs list many reasons why it's beneficial to modify crops that are used for producing fabrics, foods, and other products. Modifications can be made to make the crops less susceptible to pests. They can also be made to make crops more resistant to drought, and to make the foods more attractive or even tasty.
Why sre GMO Foods Controversial?
The main reason why GMO foods are controversial is that the resulting food is unnatural, and we really don't know for sure whether or not it's safe. More than 60 countries have either banned GMOs completely, due to concerns that they may not be safe, or they have passed laws restricting how certain crops and foods may be genetically altered.
What is Monsanto?
Monsanto is the largest supplier of GMO seeds for crops in the world. Many people hold Monsanto largely responsible for the lack of legislation regarding GMOs in the United States. Critics of the company state that Monsanto uses lobbyists to pump millions of dollars into politicians' campaigns in order to keep them from taking action against GMOs. The company and some others in the industry are also accused of funding biased scientific studies that claim to prove GMOs are safe.
How can I tell if What I'm Buying is GMO Food?
If you live in the US right now, you really can't tell if a food contains GMOs, but most things you eat probably do. Studies show that about 80% of all processed foods contain some GMO ingredients.
What are the most Common Genetically Modified Foods?
It's not just processed foods that contain GMOs. Much of the produce that you purchase at the grocery store may be genetically modified crops. The most common GMO produced foods include alfalfa, corn, papaya, soy, zucchini, and yellow summer squash. Canola oil, aspartame, high-fructose corn syrup, xantham gum, and maltodextrin are also typically made from GMOs. If you see these ingredients on labels, but don't see any wording that says "non GMO" on the packaging, it's safe to assume that what you're eating contains genetically modified organisms.
What can I Do if I'm Concerned about GMOs?
If you are concerned about GMOs, there are a few things that you can do. First, you can contact your Congressmen and Senators to urge them to support mandatory GMO labeling laws. Secondly, you can purchase organic, non-GMO produce, and foods that are labeled as non-GMO. In addition, cutting back on processed foods, and eating more foods that you prepare yourself at home from organic ingredients will also help you avoid some GMOs.