Despite their extensive history and widespread use, consumers worldwide do not always have access to sufficient and accurate information about these foods.
There is further skepticism surrounding their safety and environmental and health impacts.
In this Honest Nutrition feature, we explain what GM foods are, their importance, and what research has discovered about their safety and health implications.
GM foods have undergone
This genetic modification may be carried out to enhance the agricultural features of the crop or improve its nutritional value.
For example, “
GM foods are a subcategory of
The practice of manipulating the genetic material of crops to yield desirable traits is not new, with records dating back
To answer this question, we must consider several factors.
With an estimated world population of
Arguably, conventional farming and food production have not been able to sustain a consistent supply. At the same time, traditional selective breeding can take at least 10 years before the desirable characteristics are portrayed consistently in the domesticated crops.
However, modern-day biotechnology enables specific genes to be identified, isolated, and inserted into crops of interest to enhance their features.
Bioengineering of crops and other technological applications to
Agricultural quality and stability
A downfall of traditional farming is the susceptibility of the crop to drought, disease, and pest infestations as well as large volumes of pesticide and herbicide use.
Therefore, environmental pressures threaten consistent crop production.
For this reason, GM foods are modified to support the reliability of the food supply and consistent quality of the final crop.
They include, for example:
- GM corn plants that are resistant to drought and allow for increased yield
- GM soybeans that are resistant to herbicides and require less to be applied to the plant
- GM salmon
(AquAdvantage)that grow twice as fast, enabling greater availability
- papaya that are virus-free
- potatoes that do not brown when cut
Enhanced nutritional properties
Although agricultural improvements have been at the forefront of bioengineering and GM foods, some modifications have focused on enhancing the nutritional profile of foods.
For example, pink-flesh pineapples in Costa Rica have high levels of
The increased concentration of the essential amino acid, lysine, in corn, and beta-carotene in
These efforts are also of public health interest to make essential nutrients often lacking in the diet widely available to the population.
The Agricultural Marketing Service of the Department of Agriculture (USDA) maintains a list of bioengineered foods from around the world.
This list is publicly available and serves to inform regulating bodies about which foods they must issue food disclosure notices.
It is important to note that many of these GM foods are used as
However, according to the
These labels will make consumers aware so that they retain buying power and make informed food decisions.
Below is a compilation of the current GM foods around the world. All these foods have been evaluated by the FDA and determined to be safe for human consumption.
|GM food||Reasons for genetic modification||Countries||Food uses|
|Alfalfa||Herbicide tolerance. Reduce lignin.||U.S., Canada||Herbal supplements, alfalfa sprouts, animal feed|
|Reduce browning.||U.S., Canada||Fruit, fruit products|
|Canola||Herbicide tolerance. Reduce phytate. Pollination control.||U.S., Canada, Australia||Cooking oil, margarine, animal feed|
|Corn||Herbicide tolerance. Resistance to insects. Increased yield Pollination control. Increased lysine (essential amino acid).||U.S., Canada, European Union, Brazil, Costa Rica, Argentina, Chile, Columbia, Cuba, Paraguay, South Africa, Honduras, Philippines, Pakistan||Whole corn products, cornmeal, cornstarch, corn syrup, animal feed|
|Eggplant||Resistance to insects.||Bangladesh, India||Cooking|
|Papaya||Resistance to viruses.||U.S., Canada, China||Fruit, fruit products|
|Pineapple (pink flesh)||Increased carotenoids. No flowering.||Costa Rica||Fresh fruit|
|Potato||Reduce browning. Less black spot bruising. Resistance to viruses. Resistance to insects.||U.S., Canada||Cooking|
|Salmon (AquAdvantage)||Growth rate.||U.S., Canada|
|Soybean||Herbicide tolerance. Altered oil profile. Increased yield.||U.S., Canada, South Africa, Argentina, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil, Mexico||Cooking oil, tofu|
|Squash (summer)||Resistance to viruses.||U.S., Canada||Cooking, canned products|
|Sugarbeet||Herbicide tolerance.||U.S., Canada||Granulated sugar, beverages|
Myth: GM foods are dangerous
Three regulating bodies — the FDA, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the USDA — collaborate to rigorously test and monitor the safety of GMOs in the United States.
- The FDA maintains strict food safety standards for GM foods.
- The EPA regulates pesticides and
plant-incorporated protectantsthat make GM crops resistant to insects and viruses.
- The USDA ensures that GM foods are not harmful to other plants by monitoring for cross-pollination and planting best practices.
Myth: GM foods cause allergies
Fact: Proteins in foods are often responsible for food allergies. When genetic material is introduced to the crop, new proteins may form and be interpreted as a foreign threat in the body, initiating an immune response or allergic reaction.
This is rare, but a documented case revealed that
Myth: Cell cultured meat (lab meat) are GM foods
Fact: This is a common misconception.
Animal-free meat uses unmodified cells from the animal of interest — for example, cows — and creates a lab environment that can support the growth of these cells in a lab.
This new technology attempts to meet increased population demand for meat while offering an option that reduces the rate of foodborne illnesses and the environmental impacts of
Myth: Seedless fruits and vegetables are GM foods
Fact: Seedless fruits and vegetables are desired by some for their convenience but are received with hesitancy by others.
These foods are not genetically modified but are cross-pollinated, grafted, or undergo
Some concerns do remain regarding GM foods’ potential negative impact on the environment. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations list the following issues, among others:
- Undesired crossbreeding — when one species’ genes pass into a different plant species, potentially creating issues such as herbicide-resistant weeds. Research around the impact of such unwanted transfers remains
- The occurrence of harmful mutations, which is under investigation, though here, too, studies remain inconclusive.
- GM plant crops may end up competing with native plant populations, threatening biodiversity.
disruptionto food chains or ecosystem cycles through unintended impact on birds, insects, and soil microorganisms.
GM foods, or bioengineered or transgenic foods, have been surrounded by controversy, yet they have proven benefits to the food supply and demand chain.
These foods are shown to be safe for human consumption, although more studies are needed to define clearly their overall nutritional value and long-term health impacts.
The close monitorization of GM foods’ possible impact on the environment is also an important consideration going forward.