Know The ABCs
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), GMOs are organisms that have had their genetic material (DNA) altered in a way that doesn't happen naturally. This process is also known as modern biotechnology, gene technology or genetic engineering. Individual genes can be transferred from one organism to another or between non-related species. These methods create genetically modified plants used to grow genetically modified (GM) food crops. Sound appetizing?
In the U.S. (the world leader in production of genetically engineered crops), the three main genetically modified crops are varieties of corn, soybeans and cotton. According to the Pew Charitable Trust, in 2004 the percentage of U.S. soybeans planted in genetically engineered varieties accounted for 85% of all soy planted; corn accounted for 45% and cotton accounted for 76%. Other common GM crops include canola, squash and papaya. Some animals are fed GM feed, meaning that if you eat meat that is not 100% organic, you may also be ingesting these same GM foods.
In the U.S., before GMO food crops hit the shelves they were tested and deemed safe for consumption in 1987. Eventually, in 1992, the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved a GMO crop for commercial use -- tomatoes -- altered so they would remain firmer longer than average tomatoes. In 2000, the Food and Drug Administration ruled that GMO foods were not required to have special labels designating them as GMO foods.
The original intent for creating plants based on GMOs was to improve crop protection. Today's GM crops are very resistant to plant diseases caused by insects or viruses and are tolerant of herbicides (this allows farmers to spray for weeds without damaging their crops). Additional reasons include increasing the yield of a crop and creating crops that look more visually appealing (think picture-perfect ears of corn).
Opponents of GM plants and crops have several arguments against this type of farming including the following:
You have some choice when it comes to what you purchase. In order to avoid GMOs, plan to purchase only foods that are certified as 100% organic or look for labels that note the foods' ingredients are "free of GMOs." Opponents of GMOs would like for all food products that contain GMOs to state so on the packaging. That way, you truly have a choice in what you eat.
The other choice you have is to remain an informed consumer. Keep abreast of food trends and news as it can impact your decisions and potentially your health.