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It is very likely you are eating foods and food products that are made with ingredients that come from GMO crops. Many GMO crops are used to make ingredients that Americans eat such as cornstarch, corn syrup, corn oil, soybean oil, canola oil, or granulated sugar. A few fresh fruit and vegetables are available in GMO varieties, including potatoes, summer squash, apples, papayas, and pink pineapples. Although GMOs are in a lot of the foods we eat, most of the GMO crops grown in the United States are used for animal food.
Corn is the most commonly grown crop in the United States, and most of it is GMO. Most GMO corn is created to resist insect pests or tolerate herbicides. Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn is a GMO corn that produces proteins that are toxic to certain insect pests but not to humans, pets, livestock, or other animals. These are the same types of proteins that organic farmers use to control insect pests, and they do not harm beneficial insects, such as ladybugs. GMO Bt corn reduces the need for spraying insecticides while still preventing insect damage. While a lot of GMO corn goes into processed foods and drinks, most of it is used to feed livestock, like cows, and poultry, like chickens.
Most soy grown in the United States is GMO soy. Most GMO soy is used for food for animals, predominantly poultry and livestock, and making soybean oil. It is also used as ingredients (lecithin, emulsifiers, and proteins) in processed foods.
GMO cotton was created to be resistant to bollworms and helped revive the Alabama cotton industry. GMO cotton not only provides a reliable source of cotton for the textile industry, it is also used to make cottonseed oil, which is used in packaged foods and in many restaurants for frying. GMO cottonseed meal and hulls are also used in food for animals.
Some GMO potatoes were developed to resist insect pests and disease. In addition, some GMO potato varieties have been developed to resist bruising and browning that can occur when potatoes are packaged, stored, and transported, or even cut in your kitchen. While browning does not change the quality of the potato, it often leads to food being unnecessarily thrown away because people mistakenly believe browned food is spoiled.
GMO canola is used mostly to make cooking oil and margarine. Canola seed meal can also be used in food for animals. Canola oil is used in many packaged foods to improve food consistency. Most GMO canola is resistant to herbicides and helps farmers to more easily control weeds in their fields.
Similarly, the DNA from GMO animal food does not make it into the meat, eggs, or milk from the animal. Research shows that foods like eggs, dairy products, and meat that come from animals that eat GMO food are equal in nutritional value, safety, and quality to foods made from animals that eat only non-GMO food.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is the primary regulatory agency responsible for ensuring the safety of GMO and non-GMO food for animals. The FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine manages this responsibility. FDA requires that all food for animals, like food for human foods, be safe for animals to eat, be produced under clean conditions, contain no harmful substances, and be accurately labeled.
Yes. FDA has approved an application allowing the sale of the AquAdvantage Salmon to consumers. The AquAdvantage Salmon has been genetically modified to reach an important growth point faster. FDA has also approved an alteration in the GalSafe pig for human food consumption and potential therapeutic uses. The GalSafe pig was developed to be free of detectable alpha-gal sugar on its cell surfaces. People with Alpha-gal syndrome (AGS) may have allergic reactions to alpha-gal sugar found in red meat (e.g., beef, pork, and lamb). FDA has determined that food from the AquAdvantage Salmon and the GalSafe pig are as safe and nutritious to eat as food from non-GMO salmon and pigs.
The first step is making an informed decision by understanding exactly what it means for a food or product to be certified non-GMO. There are a few respectable standards and labels to look for. One is a verification from the Non-GMO Project, a nonprofit organization that incentivizes brands to refrain from using genetically modified organisms [GMOs] in their agricultural and product development processes. Most goods verified by the Non-GMO Project display a logo with the name of the organization printed next to a simple illustration of an orange butterfly perched on a blade of grass.
Some GMO foods can have increased nutritional value, according to Stephanie Simms Hodges, a registered dietician. Hodges cited Golden Rice, a GMO iteration of rice that contains increased amounts of Vitamin A that can prevent poor eyesight and blindness in children.
The growing presence of GMOs in the food system has been closely tied to discussion of the scientific research on their safety and effects. A review of studies examining GMO safety found that results were fairly evenly split between those indicating that GM versions of many crops are entirely safe and those that felt that bioengineering was a concern and requires more thorough long-term testing (7). As a result, rather than confirming that a scientific consensus on the safety of all GMOs has been reached, large groups within the scientific community assert the need for thorough evaluation of each individual GMO, as well as rigorous epidemiologic studies on the effects of GMO consumption (8).
A similar study conducted in Turkey examined the knowledge of a population with somewhat higher scientific knowledge implied: nursing students. Specific knowledge about GMO use was still moderately low; when asked which GMO was the most cultivated, just 32.4% correctly identified the soy, corn, and cotton option, whereas others believed incorrectly that other crops were the most cultivated GMOs (tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, potatoes, wheat, eggplant). The low knowledge was accompanied by heightened feelings of precaution, with over 70% believing that GM food production is risky for all living things and that it could be dangerous to consume GMOs. In addition to the objective measures of GMO knowledge, the students also self-rated their GMO knowledge, and although the majority seemed aware that GMOs were widely used and that they may be purchasing GM products, they felt overall uninformed; 82.9% felt that society was not adequately informed about GMOs, and only 16.8% felt that they themselves had sufficient knowledge about GMOs (15).
Consumers with high self-reported GMO knowledge have also shown lower willingness to pay for GM products compared with those with low self-reported knowledge, according to a study involving an auction of both GM and non-GM consumer goods. Researchers first asked participants to self-rate how informed they were about GM food before participating. A total of 42% reported being informed to some degree (only 3.5% of whom felt extremely well informed), whereas the remaining 58.1% felt uninformed. To gauge the impact of new information on consumer choice, researchers provided the participants with some combination of pro-GMO industry perspective, anti-GMO environmental perspective, or impartial third-party perspectives before asking them to bid on food products with and without GMO labels. Overall, participants were willing to pay an average of 14% less for food items labeled as GM, with those with prior knowledge of GMOs (the informed group) bidding 18% less for the GM product and the uninformed groups bidding just 11% less. Because the informed group bid less on GM products than the uninformed group, those in that group appeared to hold negative opinions of GMOs. They were also less likely to change their valuation of GM versions based on new information throughout the study than the uninformed group, the members of which altered their bids based on the content and perspective of new information. This implies that a lack of prior information and opinion may increase consumer susceptibility to the sway of novel information (29).
Interestingly, consumer attitude may be affected by the potential for improved nutritional qualities in bioengineered foods. Only 8.7% of Turkish students approve genetic modification for improved nutritional content, compared with 68.2% who oppose modification for nutritional purposes and 22% who remain undecided (15). However, a meta-analysis of food valuation studies found that consumers are willing to pay smaller premiums for non-GM foods when they are informed of GMO benefits such as improved nutrition, indicating that nutrition may increase the acceptability of GMOs (19).
High scientific knowledge was also tied to more positive attitudes toward GMOs in a study of Danish consumers by Mielby et al. (31). Participants with college preparatory education scored higher on a test of objective biology knowledge than those without the same schooling background (with an average of 6 out of 8 questions correct compared with just 4.5 questions), and higher scientific knowledge was greatly associated with acceptance across varied applications of genetic modification, including as human food, medical use, or animal feed.
Labeling of GM foods is not currently mandatory in the United States. In 1992, the FDA published a Statement of Policy announcing that GE foods did not require labeling because they were not materially different from nonmodified versions, and under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, only material information (that which would lead to health issues, en