(Family Features) You may have heard of “GMO” foods before, but what you may not know is the science and purpose behind them.
“GMO” is a common term used to describe foods that have been created through genetic engineering. A GMO (genetically modified organism) is a plant, animal or microorganism that has had its genetic material (DNA) changed using technology that generally involves the transfer of specific DNA from one organism to another.
Although GMO foods are widely available to consumers, there is sometimes confusion around what GMOs are and how they are used in the United States’ food supply. As part of the Feed Your Mind education initiative, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) provides science-based information to help consumers better understand GMOs:
- Only a few types of GMO foods are sold in the United States.Soybeans, cotton, corn, alfalfa, apples, canola, papaya, potatoes, summer squash, sugar beets, pineapple and AquAdvantage salmon complete the list of GMO foods currently sold in the U.S. Only a few of these are available in the produce sections of grocery stores. Most are instead used to make ingredients that are then used in other food products like cereals and snack chips.
- GMOs can help farmers grow crops that are resistant to diseases and insects. Humans have used traditional ways to modify crops and animals to suit their needs and tastes for more than 10,000 years. Genetic engineering lets scientists take a beneficial gene, like insect resistance, and transfer it into a plant. Results can include higher crop yields, less crop loss, longer storage life, better appearance, better nutrition or some combination of these traits.
- GMO foods are as safe to eat as their non-GMO counterparts. The FDA, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Agriculture work together to make sure GMOs are safe for human, plant and animal health. GMO foods are carefully studied before being sold to the public to make sure they are safe. Some GMO plants have even been modified to improve their nutritional value. For example, some GMO soybeans contain healthier oils, which can replace oils containing trans fat.
- GMO foods are no more likely to cause allergies than non-GMOs. You will not be allergic to a GMO food unless you’re allergic to the non-GMO version of that food. For example, if you’re not allergic to foods made with non-GMO soy, you won’t be allergic to foods made with GMO soy. When developing GMOs, scientists run tests to make sure allergens aren’t transferred from one food to another.
- GMOs can reduce farmers’ use of pesticides. Some GMO plants contain plant-incorporated protectants to make them resistant to insects. This lowers farmers’ need for and use of spray pesticides.
- A “bioengineered” disclosure will be on some of the foods you eat. The National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard requires bioengineered foods to be labeled by 2022 with text on the packages that reads “bioengineered food,” the bioengineered food symbol or directions for using your phone to find the disclosure. Sometimes the terms “bioengineered,” “GMO” and “genetic engineering” are used interchangeably, but labels required under the Standard use the term “bioengineered.”
Find more answers to your questions about GMOs at fda.gov/feedyourmind .
Photos courtesy of Getty Images