There is a lot of buzz out there about GMO foods and some of it sounds really scary. GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organisms, so right there you are probably saying ‘no way do I want to eat that!’ The fact is that GMO is a process of changing the way a plant or animal expresses genes. Farmers have been putting in and taking out genes from living things for ages using hybridization and selective breeding. Red Delicious apples, seedless watermelons and broccoli do not grow in the wild. They are cultivated crops, as are the wide variety of fruits and vegetables in our grocery stores. In fact, almost all of our food is created through genetic manipulation. Modern technology allows these changes to be done more precisely.
So how do GMOs end up in food? You may have heard that ‘70% of all foods contain GMO’. This is due to the fact that many foods use corn, soybean or canola oil, corn-derived sweeteners or starch, soy proteins, or other compounds produced from these plants – and almost all of the corn and soybeans grown in the US, and the canola grown in Canada are GMO. But should that be a concern? No and here is why. This may come as a surprise, but we eat DNA whenever we consume a plant or animal food! Strawberries, carrots and eggs contain DNA and when we eat those foods our digestive system breaks the DNA down into basic components. We do not absorb the DNA into our bodies. This is the same for GMO DNA. It is broken down along with all the other DNA in the food when we eat it. Claims that eating GMOs will alter DNA or reproductive health or cause cancer are unscientific and false. The other fear that sometimes is linked to GMO foods is that the DNA produces a protein in the plant or animal which could cause an allergic reaction. Rest assured that no allergenic response to a GMO food has ever been documented and the FDA and USDA make sure that no potential allergenic proteins are used in GMOs that could end up in the food system. One last reason to not worry about GMO in foods, especially oils and sweeteners, is that these ingredients are highly purified and contain no DNA or proteins at all.
Major health organizations around the world have reviewed the safety of GMO foods and have concluded that there is no reason to worry. GMO foods have been part of the food supply for over 20 years now with no link to any illness or disease. You can be confident that eating foods that have GMO ingredients or have been developed using GMO technology are healthy and safe for you and your family. Some food producers are taking advantage of consumers’ misunderstanding of GMOs and using the non-GMO label as a marketing tool. You do not need to buy higher priced, non-GMO foods or avoid foods that have GMO ingredients. If you want to learn more go to www.GMOanswers.com
Dr. Ruth MacDonald
Professor and Chair
Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition
Iowa State University