Explore The Basics

GMO Answers was created to make information about GMOs easier to access and understand. From health and safety to a look at how GMOs are made, our Explore the Basics page will provide you with important facts about GMOs.

We invite you to click through and review each section below. Click “learn more” below each image for additional information.

If you have questions after exploring the basics, visit our Ask section to submit a question and have it answered by an independent or company expert.

    GMO Basics 

    • GMO Basics

      What are GMOs? How are they made? Why do farmers use them? This GMO 101 section will help you understand the basics.

      GMO Basics

      What are GMOs? How are they made? Why do farmers use them? This GMO 101 section will help you understand the basics.

    • What are GMOs?

      Biotechnology in plant agriculture has come to mean the process of intentionally making a copy of a gene for a desired trait from one plant or organism and using it in another plant. The result is a GMO (genetically modified organism).

      What are GMOs?

      Biotechnology in plant agriculture has come to mean the process of intentionally making a copy of a gene for a desired trait from one plant or organism and using it in another plant. The result is a GMO (genetically modified organism).

    • What's in a name? GMO, genetic modification, biotechnology, biotech seeds, genetic engineering

      Genetically modified organism (GMO) is commonly used to describe any of the terms above, but actually means that a change has been made to the DNA of an organism.

       

       

       

      What's in a name?

      GMO, genetic modification, biotechnology, biotech seeds, genetic engineering Genetically modified organism

      (GMO) is commonly used to describe any of the terms above, but actually means that a change has been made to the DNA of an organism.

    • How are GMOs created?

      How are GMOs Created?

    • Why do farmers use GMOs?

      Farmers choose seeds based on what is best for their farms, market demand and local growing environments.  Farmers select GMOs to reduce yield loss or crop damage from weeds, diseases, and insects, as well as from extreme weather conditions, such as drought. Farmers choose to use GMOs to reduce the impact of agriculture on their environment and their costs — by applying pesticides in more targeted ways, for example. Farmers have also used GMOs to save a crop – such as papaya from Hawaii — that was being threatened by a disease.

       

      Looking for more facts? The Genetic Literacy Project provides 10 reasons why we need biotech foods and crops.

      Hear from Dr. Sally Mackenzie at Best Food Facts on why farmers use GMOs.

      Why do farmers use GMOs?

      Farmers choose seeds based on what is best for their farms, market demand and local growing environments.  Farmers select GMOs to reduce yield loss or crop damage from weeds, diseases, and insects, as well as from extreme weather conditions, such as drought. Farmers choose to use GMOs to reduce the impact of agriculture on their environment and their costs — by applying pesticides in more targeted ways, for example. Farmers have also used GMOs to save a crop – such as papaya from Hawaii — that was being threatened by a disease.

       

      Looking for more facts? The Genetic Literacy Project provides 10 reasons why we need biotech foods and crops.

      Hear from Dr. Sally Mackenzie at Best Food Facts on why farmers use GMOs.

    • Where are GM crops grown in the world?

      Farmers around the world have chosen to use GMOs because of the benefits to their businesses and their local communities. As of 2013, GMOs are grown, imported and/or used in 70 countries.

       

      Get more information on the global adoption of biotech crops.

      Where are GM crops grown in the world?

      Farmers around the world have chosen to use GMOs because of the benefits to their businesses and their local communities. As of 2013, GMOs are grown, imported and/or used in 70 countries.

       

      Get more information on the global adoption of biotech crops.

    GMOs and Consumers 

    • GMOs And Consumers

      Learn which GM crops and produce are available on the U.S. market today.

      GMOs And Consumers

      Learn which GM crops and produce are available on the U.S. market today.

    • There are currently eight crops commercially available from GMO seeds in the US: Corn (field and sweet), Soybeans, Cotton, Canola, Alfalfa, Sugar Beets, Papaya, Squash

      No commercially available crops in the US were created by nature alone. Humans, over our history, have altered all of our crops, often for taste or yield or disease resistance.

      There are currently eight crops commercially available from GMO seeds in the US: Corn (field and sweet), Soybeans, Cotton, Canola, Alfalfa, Sugar Beets, Papaya, Squash. No commercially available crops in the US were created by nature alone. Humans, over our history, have altered all of our crops, often for taste or yield or disease resistance.

    •  

      379 Million lbs. 

      The reduction in pesticide applications in the U.S. from 1996-2009 as a result of GMOs, which has saved farmers time and money, while reducing their environmental footprint.

      79 Million lbs.

      The reduction in pesticide applications in the U.S. from 1996-2009 as a result of GMOs, which has saved farmers time and money, while reducing their environmental footprint

    • Did you know?

      Plant varieties developed from other breeding techniques, including thousands of conventional varieties and those used in organic production systems have been developed using mutagenesis and do not go through any formal regulatory assessment to evaluate environmental or food safety that GMOs do.

       

      Click on "Learn More" below to read more about food safety.

      Did you know? Plant varieties developed from other breeding techniques, including thousands of conventional varieties and those used in organic production systems have been developed using mutagenesis and do not go through any of the formal regulatory assessments to evaluate environmental or food safety that GMOs do

    • Shopping and questions?

      When shopping for produce, it can be confusing figuring out what is and isn't a GMO. Click on LEARN MORE for answers to specific produce questions.

      .

      Shopping and questions?
      When shopping for produce, it can be confusing figuring out what is and isn't a GMO.

    GMOs and Health 

    • GMOs And Health

      The health and safety of GMOs is a major topic of conversation. Learn about GMO regulation, safety testing and the scientific and governmental bodies that have affirmed the safety of GM crops and foods.

      GMOs And Health

      The health and safety of GMOs is a major topic of conversation. Learn about GMO regulation, safety testing and the scientific and governmental bodies that have affirmed the safety of GM crops and foods.

    • Extensively Researched and Studied

      Before they reach the market, crops from GM seeds are studied extensively to make sure they are safe for people, animals and the environment. Today’s GM products are the most researched and tested agricultural products in history.

      Before they reach the market, crops from GM seeds are studied extensively to make sure they are safe for people, animals and the environment. Today’s GM products are the most researched and tested agricultural products in history.

    • Precise Understanding of Plants

      When creating a GMO, researchers copy specific genetic information from one plant or organism and introduce it into another to improve or enhance a specific characteristic or trait, such as resistance to insects.

      The researchers characterize very precisely what change they are making to the plant's genome, and how it will impact the metabolism of the plant cells. The plants are then extensively tested in the greenhouse and field, andresearchers look for any difference between the GM plant and conventional plants. Plants grown in the field across a range of environments are also harvested and analyzed for their compositional makeup.

      When creating a GMO, researchers copy specific genetic information from one plant or organism and introduce it into another to improve or enhance a specific characteristic or trait, such as resistance to insects.

      The researchers characterize very precisely what change they are making to the plant's genome, and how it will impact the metabolism of the plant cells. The plants are then extensively tested in the greenhouse and field, andresearchers look for any difference between the GM plant and conventional plants. Plants grown in the field across a range of environments are also harvested and analyzed for their compositional makeup.

    • The Same as Other Crops

      Biotech crops currently available on the market are the same from a compositional and nutritional standpoint as their non-GM counterparts, for example, GM corn is the same as non-GM corn. Testing has shown and FDA review has confirmed that GMOs are nutritionally the same as non-GM crops, including the same levels of key nutrients like amino acids, proteins, fiber, minerals and vitamins.

      Biotech crops currently available on the market are the same from a compositional and nutritional standpoint as their non-GM counterparts, for example, GM corn is the same as non-GM corn.

    • No Links To Diseases

      Food from GMOs is digested in the body the same as food from non-GM crops. Hundreds of studies have and continue to demonstrate that GMOs do not present any health risk—they do not cause new allergies or cancers, infertility, ADHD or any other diseases. In the years that farmers have grown crops from GM seeds (since around 1994), there has not been a single documented instance of harm to human health resulting from genetic modifications, including new allergic reactions.

      No Links To Diseases

      Food from GMOs is digested in the body the same as food from non-GM crops. Hundreds of studies have and continue to demonstrate that GMOs do not present any health risk—they do not cause new allergies or cancers, infertility, ADHD or any other diseases. In the years that farmers have grown crops from GM seeds (since around 1994), there has not been a single documented instance of harm to human health resulting from genetic modifications, including new allergic reactions.

    History of Crop Modification 

    • History Of Crop Modification

      Learn about the origins of agriculture, the evolution of crop modification and how we got the foods we eat today.

      History Of Crop Modification

      Learn about the origins of agriculture, the evolution of crop modification and how we got the foods we eat today.

    • The evolution of crop improvement — Building on genetic diversity

      Farmers have intentionally changed the genetic makeup of all the crops they have grown and the livestock they have raised since domestic agriculture began 10,000 years ago.  Every fruit, vegetable and grain that is commercially available today has been altered by human hands, including organic and heirloom seeds.

       

      In the late 20th century, advances in technology enabled us to expand the genetic diversity of crops. For years, university, government and company scientists intensively researched and refined this process. A major result has been GM seeds that maintain or increase the yield of crops while requiring less land and fewer inputs, both of which lessen the impact of agriculture on the environment and reduce costs for farmers.

      Learn more about crop evolution from the International Food Information Council Foundation.

      The evolution of crop improvement — Building on genetic diversity

      Farmers have intentionally changed the genetic makeup of all the crops they have grown and the livestock they have raised since domestic agriculture began 10,000 years ago.  Every fruit, vegetable and grain that is commercially available today has been altered by human hands, including organic and heirloom seeds.

       

      In the late 20th century, advances in technology enabled us to expand the genetic diversity of crops. For years, university, government and company scientists intensively researched and refined this process. A major result has been GM seeds that maintain or increase the yield of crops while requiring less land and fewer inputs, both of which lessen the impact of agriculture on the environment and reduce costs for farmers.

      Learn more about crop evolution from the International Food Information Council Foundation.

    • The History of Genetic Modification in Crops


      Farmers have intentionally changed the genetic makeup of all the crops they have grown and the livestock they have raised since domestic agriculture began 10,000 years ago. Every fruit, vegetable and grain that is commercially available today has been altered by human hands, including organic and heirloom seeds

    • Nature vs. Domestic Cabbage


      From the brassica oleracea, humans have bred a huge range of variation from cabbage to broccoli to brussel sprouts to kale and kohrabi.

    • Humans created today’s corn crop

      Over the past century, corn has evolved with the availability of hybrid corn in the 1930s and the planting of GM crops in the mid-1990s. Due to the insect resistance and/or herbicide tolerance of GM corn, more and more of it was planted. Contrary to popular belief, the development and increased usage of GM corn has not changed the physical appearance of corn.

       

      What has changed, due to modern plant breeding, is size, consistency, seed performance, yield, the number of ears per stalk, and the position of the ear and the leaves on the stalk. Currently, a plant has only one ear located about waist high (the height of a combine blade), and its leaves grow at a more upright angle to better catch sunrays and rain. A century ago, farmers planted about 8,000 corn plants per acre. Today they plant about four times as many plants per acre.

      Humans created today’s
      corn crop

       

      Over the past century, corn has evolved with the availability of hybrid corn in the 1930s and the planting of GM crops in the mid-1990s. Due to the insect resistance and/or herbicide tolerance of GM corn, more and more of it was planted. Contrary to popular belief, the development and increased usage of GM corn has not changed the physical appearance of corn.

       

      What has changed, due to modern plant breeding, is size, consistency, seed performance, yield, the number of ears per stalk, and the position of the ear and the leaves on the stalk. Currently, a plant has only one ear located about waist high (the height of a combine blade), and its leaves grow at a more upright angle to better catch sunrays and rain. A century ago, farmers planted about 8,000 corn plants per acre. Today they plant about four times as many plants per acre.

    GMOs and the Future of Agriculture 

    • GMOs And The Future Of Agriculture

      Explore the benefits of GMOs, including their potential to improve nutrition, the environment and our daily lives.

      GMOs And The Future Of Agriculture

      Explore the benefits of GMOs, including their potential to improve nutrition, the environment and our daily lives.

    • Key Research and New Seed Development

      Companies, academic researchers and government scientists are working on new GMOs in key areas. These emerging developments present expanded potential for GMOs.

      Key Research & New Seed Development

       

      Companies, academic researchers and government scientists are working on new GMOs in key areas. These emerging developments present expanded potential for GMOs.

    • Improving Environmental Stewardship - Adapting to Challenging Conditions

      Examples:

      • GM drought tolerant corn in the US (this is fully approved in the US and beginning limited commercial testing this year)
      • Corn seeds that require less nitrogen, a fertilizer that can be costly to farmers and can have environmental impacts

      Improving Environmental Stewardship  Adapting to Challenging Conditions

      Examples:

      • GM drought tolerant corn in the US (this is fully approved in the US and beginning limited commercial testing this year)
      • Corn seeds that require less nitrogen, a fertilizer that can be costly to farmers and can have environmental impacts
    • Improving Nutrition

      Examples:

      Improving Nutrition

      Examples:

    • Food Allergies

      Example:
      Peanuts with very low allergen levels that have the potential to eliminate life-threatening peanut allergies 

      Food Allergies

      Example:
      Peanuts with very low allergen levels that have the potential to eliminate life-threatening peanut allergies 

    • Plant Disease Resistance

      Examples:

      • A genetically modified American Chestnut tree that can withstand the blight that decimated the species in the 20th century, nearly wiping out a highly valued hardwood tree that was once prevalent in the eastern part of the country
      • Fungal resistant grapes which may enhance resistance to mildew and other fungal diseases

      Plant Disease Resistance

      Examples:

      • A genetically modified American Chestnut tree that can withstand the blight that decimated the species in the 20th century, nearly wiping out a highly valued hardwood tree that was once prevalent in the eastern part of the country
      • Fungal resistant grapes which may enhance resistance to mildew and other fungal diseases
    • Improved visual appeal to reduce waste

      Example:
      Apple varieties that have been enhanced through biotechnology so they don't brown

      Improved visual appeal to reduce waste

      Example:
      Apple varieties that have been enhanced through biotechnology so they don't brown