Understanding GMOs & What it Means for Your Food

There’s been a lot of talk about genetically modified foods (also known as GMOs or genetically engineered foods) in the news recently. In case you’re wondering why and what it’s all about, we’re here to help. Read through our simple guide to the issue and let us know if you have any questions at the end!

What are genetically engineered (GE) foods or genetically modified organisms (GMOs)?

GE foods or GMOs are plant or meat products that have had their DNA altered by the addition of genes from another species (e.g., bacteria), which are often introduced to prevent spoilage, fight against pests and insects, and breed viral, pesticide, and antibiotic resistance.

According to the Institute for Responsible Technology, Center for Food Safety, and Just Label It, the most common GE crops in the United States include soy, cotton, corn, canola, sugar beets, Hawaiian papaya, zucchini, yellow squash, and alfalfa.

What’s the hubbub about?

Currently, the FDA doesn’t require companies to provide evidence that genetically modified foods are safe for consumption before they are marketed to the public. Nor does the agency require labeling of foods with genetically engineered or modified ingredients. The FDA has determined it has no basis for concluding that bioengineered foods are different from other foods in any meaningful way or that they present different or greater safety concerns than traditionally grown foods.

In response to the lack of federal oversight, labeling bills have been proposed in more than a dozen states including California over the past year. If passed in November, California’s Proposition 37 would be the first law requiring that genetically modified foods carry a label so consumers can make an informed choice about what they buy and eat. While the United States has yet to pass any federal or state labeling requirements (although this could change with upcoming election), more than 50 countries including Japan, China, Russia, and those in the European Union require GMO labeling.

Why does this matter?

While there is ongoing debate about the impact of GMOs on your health, many advocates in favor of labeling want the biotech and food industries to be transparent about how our food is grown/made and what is actually in it. They’re especially concerned because over 70% of processed foods found in the grocery store contain GMOs, and the consumer can’t easily make an informed purchase since there are no labels.

Further underscoring the need to give consumers choice, we just don’t know enough about GMOs, the associated benefits or risks, and the consequences for our bodies and the environment. To date, no studies evaluating the long-term impact of engineered food have been conducted.  So, there’s no proof that there are health benefits or an increase in nutritional value. In fact, the two main traits that have been genetically added to crops are herbicide tolerance and the ability for the plants to produce their own pesticide.

Do GMOs trigger allergies? Increase toxicity? Impact the development of our nervous system? Hinder immunity? Have a negative impact on the environment and agriculture? All these unknowns are unsettling.

And most Americans agree. According to polls conducted over the past few years by a number of sources ranging from MSNBC to the Washington Post to Consumer Reports, approximately 90% of Americans think GMO food should be labeled.

What can you do?

- Because organic foods are not allowed to contain GMOs, try to buy and eat it when possible (look for the USDA Organic Seal and Non-GMO labels). And generally make it a goal to eat fresh instead of processed foods. This is most important for kids because their developing bodies are the most vulnerable to toxics.

- Use the Center for Food Safety’s shopping guide to determine which foods are the best to buy and which should be avoided.

- Tell the FDA that you have a right to know what’s in your food by joining over a million Americans in signing a petition.