Let's start out by talking about what GMO (genetically modified organisms) actually means. In GMO products, the genetic material has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally though mating or natural recombination. GMO seeds became commercially available in the Unites States in 1996. Since then, farmers have been planting more and more GMOs, and it is estimated that genetically modified crops are currently in over 80 percent of packaged products in the United States.
Even though they are widespread throughout the United States, more than 30 countries worldwide, including the European Union member nations, restrict or ban GMOs. These countries restrict or require special labeling for GMO products because they do not consider them safe.
Theoretically, genetic modifying could cause genes to express a protein that creates an immune response such as allergies, cancer, or other health problems. However, there have been more than 1,700 peer-reviewed studies that test GMO effects on human health and the environment. The current scientific consensus in the United States is that the foods are not dangerous.
Many times, consumers are unaware that they are purchasing GMO products. In fact, almost 85 percent of corn grown in the United States is modified.
Banned in the European Union, Japan, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia, rBGH is used by dairy farmers in the United States to increase the amount of milk each cow produces. Other common GMO products include sugar beets, tomatoes, alfalfa, papaya, rice, yellow squash, zucchini, and cotton.
Benefits of GMOs
If so many countries have restricted GMO crops, why then is the average American supermarket full of genetically altered products? By introducing genes to make plants herbicide- and pest-resistant, biologists are creating crops that can survive disease, drought, and flooding.
In regions of the world where food security is weak, genetically modified crops could dramatically increase crop output. It is estimated that over 430 million acres of genetically engineered crops are already planted in the world. By promoting certain traits, farmers are able to produce larger quantities of higher quality crops.
The debate over GMOs is highly contentious. Crops have been vandalized in Oregon, Australia, the Philippines, and the United Kingdom, and new regulations cause controversial debate. Consumers need to stay up-to-date with the latest research and this continuously evolving debate. Shoppers who are concerned about the effects of GMOs should keep their eyes out for non-GMO labeling when shopping for organic food online. As GMOs become more widespread, the non-GMO label becomes more important in deciphering exactly what’s in your food.