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GMO Fact or Fiction, Part 1

I bought a box of Cheerios last week and noticed that they are labeled as GMO free. Chipotle Restaurants also recently announced that their menu is going GMO free (more on that later). Add these to news articles, blog posts, etc that I have seen in the past few weeks, GMO foods are definitely a hot topic in the nutrition world. Unfortunately, I feel like many people are making decisions without all the information. In light of that, I’m going to do a series of posts about GMO foods over the next few weeks. Hopefully, you will come away better able to make an informed decision.

Part 1: What are GMOs?

GMO stands for genetically modified organisms. GMOs are also referred to as GEs (for “genetically engineered”). GMOs are organisms (usually plants, but sometimes animals) that have had their DNA altered in some way to give it a more desirable characteristic. A plant can be made to be more hardy and withstand drought, heat, or other nature extremes. Resistance to herbicides or pesticides are also common traits used in genetic engineering. Nutrients can also be added, such as beta-carotene added to rice in the product Golden Rice.

GMOs are a modern extension of centuries-old practices in agriculture of breeding. Farmers have been cross-breeding plants for a long time. GMOs take that practice and add a dose of modern science. Instead of just breeding plants together, scientists can add genes directly into a plant that could not be added through breeding. For example, a gene from fish can be added to tomatoes to make them last longer post-harvesting.

GMOs are regulated by the government. The Food and Drug Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, and Department of Agriculture all have roles in the regulation of GMOs. Food products are not required to be labeled if they contain GMOs. However, all food certified by the USDA as “organic” is GMO free. The USDA also recently announced a voluntary certification program for labeling foods as GMO free.

Corn, soybean, sugar beets, squash, papaya, and canola are the only commercial GMOs in the food supply in the US. Most of us consume these products in processed foods, such as corn oil, soybean oil, and high fructose corn syrup. It is estimated that 70% of processed foods contain at least one genetically modified ingredient.  Animal feed often contains GMOs as well.  I was unable to find information on how this changes the composition of the meat or poultry we consume.  But it is another way GMOs can enter our diet.

I hope some of this information is helpful. My next installment will discuss the pros of GMOs. Until then, happy eating!

Have any nutrition questions? Need help with meal planning or a special dietary need? Send your questions to me at kimberlykmarsh(at)gmail(dot)com, and I will answer them in upcoming posts!

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