Debunking the Myths About GMOs
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are a promising new method of increasing agricultural output, yet they are incredibly misunderstood. There is misinformation spread about GMOs designed to create fear and outrage about your food. Here, we debunk some of the myths associated with GMOs.
What is a GMO?
GMO stands for genetically modified organism. As defined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (USDA), they are plants, animals, or microorganisms whose genetic makeup was altered in a laboratory using genetic engineering. As a result, these organisms have combinations of genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding. Under this definition, plants and animals created through selective breeding, or animals receiving hormones or antibiotics are not considered to be GMOs.
Myth: Genetic engineering is untested and imprecise.
Fact: Farmers have been technically manipulating crop genes for millennia through selective breeding. Genetic engineering is actually a more precise method to achieve the same goal of gene manipulation. Scientists will identify a trait of interest, such as an enzyme that can resist rotting. They isolate that gene, make copies of it, and then incorporate the trait into a new genome either using bacteria to deliver the new genetic material, or by shooting tiny DNA-coated metal pellets into plant cells with a gene gun. With GMOs, scientists know the precise genetic information being used and its exact location in the overall genome. That information is unknown with traditional crossbreeding.
Myth: GMOs are only good for Big Agriculture. They don’t have any real benefits.
Fact: GMOs help alleviate common agricultural obstacles such as drought, poor soil nutrient levels, and damaging insects. GMOs have higher tolerance to herbicides and are more resistant to viruses and insects. As a result, genetically modified crops can produce a higher yield, increasing the available food supply. According to USDA data, global acres used to grow corn have increased 31 percent since 1981, but corn production has increased by 93 percent. Additionally, using GMOs in animal feed improves their nutrient value.
Myth: GMOs are bad for the environment because they increase pesticide and herbicide use.
Fact: GMOs reduce farming’s impact on the environment because they are more efficient. Genetically modified crops are more resistant to weeds, so farmers do not have to spend as much time on a tractor tilling soil, reducing carbon emissions. Furthermore, genetically modified crops that can tolerate the herbicide glyphosate, one of the mildest available herbicides, have decreased reliance on more toxic alternatives. Land use is also reduced with GMOs because GMOs can produce higher crop yields with the same amount of space.
Myth: GMOs are dangerous, having been linked to cancer and chronic disease.
Fact: Based on over two decades of research and more than 1,700 studies, the overwhelming consensus from leading health organizations, including the World Health Organization, USDA, and American Medical Association, is that GMOs are safe to eat.
Myth: Everything we eat today is a GMO.
Fact: Currently, there are only 10 genetically modified crops commercially available: alfalfa, apples, canola, corn, cotton, papaya, potatoes, soybeans, squash, and sugar beets. Most GMO crops are used as livestock feed or converted into processed ingredients, like sugar or corn starch. The probability of finding genetically modified potatoes, squash, or sweet corn in your local produce aisle is relatively low. Products are allowed to advertise as non-GMO, even when there is no genetically modified option available.