This might surprise you, but only eight crops from GM seeds are commercially available in the United States. These crops are corn (field and sweet), soybeans, cotton, canola, alfalfa, sugar beets, papaya and squash. As a result, most of the products in the produce aisle of your grocery store are not GM, but 70 to 80 percent of the food on grocery store shelves likely contain processed ingredients from GM plants.
Alan McHughen, biotechnology specialist and geneticist, explains, “Processed foods like sugar or vegetable oil may carry ingredients from GM crops, but the modified features of the crop are not present in the food and do not change the safety or nutritional values of the food.”
Ruth MacDonald, food science and human nutrition professor and chair at Iowa State University, also provides a related discussion in another response, included below:
“There is a great deal of confusion about what foods are GMOs in the grocery store. Many people believe that the produce aisle is full of GM foods, which is not accurate. Nothing in the produce aisle in the United States is GM―with the exception of papayas from Hawaii and some squash and sweet corn. The majority of corn and soybeans grown in the United States are GM. These commodities are processed to generate food ingredients that enter the food supply. From corn we obtain corn oil and cornstarch. The starch can be converted into corn syrup, and sweeteners as well. From soybeans we obtain soybean oil and soy flour, which is further processed into soy protein. Hence, when a label includes these ingredients, it would be safe to assume that they were derived from GM plants. However, it is important to note that oil and cornstarch are extractions of the plant that contain essentially no DNA or protein (which would be the GM factors from the original plant). Hence, it would be very difficult to distinguish GM vegetable oils or cornstarch from non-GM. Soy protein does contain all the plant proteins, but the GM component is in very trace amounts. Hence, the concern about eating GM is very much diluted by understanding what happens to these commodities as they are prepared and used in foods. But overall, substantial scientific evidence has shown that GM plants are safe to consume and have no influence on human or animal health. No one should be concerned about eating foods that list corn oil, cornstarch, corn sweeteners, soybean oil or soybean protein. Please also note that if consumers wanted to avoid GMOs for their own personal reasons, products labeled ‘organic’ would not contain GM ingredients.”
GM crops have been on the market for quite some time. You can see what year each of the eight crops became commercially available in this response. More information about the history of crop modification and how we got the foods we eat today is available in our Explore the Basics section. Did you know every fruit, vegetable and grain that is commercially available today has been altered by human hands, including organic and heirloom seeds? Check out more here: [insert hyperlink to history of crop mod tile].
You also might be interested in several related questions GMO Answers has responded to, including what GM products you might find in your local grocery produce department and when GM crops became commercially available in the U.S.
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