If you’re involved purchasing food for yourself, your family or for your business, you’re likely aware of genetically modified crops – also known as genetically modified organisms (GMOs), GE crops or biotech crops. GMOs have been widely misunderstood. People are concerned about their health and the environment (and they should be worried about these things!). However, thousands of research studies have been conducted from scientists around the world. The consensus: GMOs are safe to consume and for our environment. Despite the fact GMOs are proven safe, labels are being slapped on more and more food products in grocery stores, indicating the foods are “GMO free.” These labels have the tendency to scare consumers rather than educate them on the importance and safety of this technology. As a farmer, a consumer and a mother, I want to help people understand where their food comes from as well as the science behind modern agricultural production. In this blog post, I want to focus on GMOs and their importance to American agriculture, which is the safest and most abundant food producer in the world.
What are GMOs?
Genetically modified organisms refer to crops developed through genetic engineering, a more precise method of plant breeding. Plant breeders will take a desirable trait found in a plant in nature and add it to the DNA of a plant they are wanting to improve. A desirable trait may include plants that are more drought tolerant (requiring less water), resistance to insect pests or diseases, or desirable traits may allow for better weed control by making plants less susceptible to herbicides. GMO plant breeding can even change the nutritional profile in crops, making our foods more nutritious for us to eat.
GMO crops must go through rigorous regulatory testing before they are allowed on the market. It typically takes 13 years for a new trait to be introduced into the marketplace. In the U.S., GMO technologies are thoroughly analyzed by organizations such as the EPA, FDA and the USDA.
As of today, there are 10 GMO crops commercially available today. They are corn (field and sweet), soybeans, cotton, canola, alfalfa, sugar beets, papaya, squash, potatoes and apples. Even though these are the only 10 GMO crops available, food manufacturers mislead consumers and spread misinformation by adding “GMO free” labels on everything from salt to bottled water…items that wouldn’t ever include GMO technology (salt doesn’t have genes!). Food companies are hoping the labels provide them with a marketing advantage and they’ll be able to sell these products at a premium…adding to the cost for consumers.
On my family’s farm, we grow corn and soybeans using GMO technology. Because of this, we are able to grow more crops with less resources. Our crops are more tolerant to drought and more resistant to harmful insects, reducing our water and pesticide use on our fields. We can also control weeds (which compete for water and nutrients) better by making our crops resistant to herbicides. GMOs also greatly help in disease control. All of these things combined help us preserve the land by growing more with less!
Are GMOs safe?
Yes! GMOs pose no risk to human health. GMOs have been commercially available for well over 20 years, and in that time have not been linked to a single illness or death. In 2016, The National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NAS) found there is “no substantial evidence of a difference in risks to human health between current commercially available genetically engineered crops and conventionally bred crops.” This study examined hundreds of scientific papers on the subject, listened to hours of live testimony from activists and experts before coming to their conclusion.
GM crops have been tested more than any other crops and have been proven safe to consume by both people and livestock. It’s also interesting to note, GMOs have never been found in milk, meat or eggs originating from animals that consumed GMO grains.
The World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the British Royal Society and others have all agreed that GMO crops are perfectly safe to consume. The great thing about this research is that it’s conducted by a variety of industry experts and independent organizations.
The term GMO shouldn’t scare you. These technologies are helping our nation’s farmers contribute to a safe and responsible food system. GM technologies also help reduce food costs at the grocery stores.
One of the greatest things about the U.S. food chain are the choices we have. There are so many products from across the country and around the world. It’s important to note, we do have a thriving organic industry in our country, which is an additional choice for consumers. I respect and appreciate consumers who choose to purchase organic products. I also want all consumers to understand the science and safety behind GM crops. As a farmer, I feed my family with GM crops on my farm, and I can assure you that these foods are extremely safe for you and your family as well!