Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been suggested as a way to feed the world’s increasing population, but there have also been questions about what impact—if any—they have on health. This Food Savvy Friday article will explore the safety, benefits and future of GMOs.
What’s a GMO?
Simply put, a genetically modified organism refers to a living thing—from bacteria to fungi to crops—that’s had its genetic code altered in some way. Most of the time, only a small section of the genetic code is changed and the rest is left alone, but these small changes can produce a wide range of results, like increasing the yield of corn, making potatoes resistant to insects, and preventing apples from turning brown after being cut.
Are they safe to consume?
Since GMOs are relatively new, having been introduced only a few decades ago, there have been valid questions about whether they’re safe to eat. Many brands advertise themselves as “non-GMO,” which implies that the alternative is not desirable or healthy. Fortunately, multiple studies have shown that GMOs pose no health risks to the consumer, and are in fact as healthy as conventional crops (Report: GMO Foods). GMOs are also approved by the FDA, having passed the rigorous testing required to be sold to consumers. Still, the stigma around genetically modified foods remains. In a recent study, 85% of college-age participants believed that GMOs were “at least somewhat dangerous to health,” though this did not significantly impact their food choices (Oselinsky et al., 2021).
What are their benefits?
Beyond health, the benefits of GMOs are widespread:
- Less cost
- Higher yields
- Fewer chemicals and pesticides
- Less soil erosion than unmodified crops
- Used in medicine to produce life-saving vaccines, insulin, and treatments for diseases
Future of GMOs
Beginning in 2022, food companies will be required to label products containing GMOs. Since approximately 75% of processed foods contain GMOs, buyers need not be intimidated by the new messaging and should remember that genetically modified products are just as healthy as regular ones.
While it is always important to be aware of what is in your food and to advocate for transparency in food labeling, GMOs are proven to be healthy, safe, and sustainable.
- Oselinsky, K., Johnson, A., Lundeberg, P., Johnson Holm, A., Mueller, M., & Graham, D. J., 2021, GMO Food Labels Do Not Affect College Student Food Selection, Despite Negative Attitudes towards GMOs.
- Tufts University health & nutrition letter. New York: Tufts Media LLC., 2016, Study: GMO Foods as Safe as Conventional Choices.