Haunted houses, spooky costumes, and trick-or-treating are all scary delights of the Halloween season. But if you want to give yourself a good fright, you need to look no further than a Google image search for GMOs.

For the last post in this year’s Get to Know GMOs series, we invite you to come with us for an eerie stroll through some of the Internet’s most outrageous GMO myths and images.

Myth #1: Evil GMO scientists are injecting GMO crops with pesticides, DNA, dangerous chemicals...or stuff.

Using needles to inject crops with “stuff” is not how GMOs are made. How are they created, then? Some GMOs are made by taking a desired trait, like disease resistance, from one plant or organism and transferring it to the plant we want to improve. Others are made by helping plants use a natural process to adjust a gene expression within a plant. This can help plants protect themselves from certain viruses and pests. Learn more about this process in detail here. These modifications are done at the genetic level, with changes made to the DNA of a plant before it ever becomes a seed or a crop.  

Want to learn more about how they’re made? This video explains the process in detail, using the Hawaiian Rainbow papaya as an example.

There are only nine commercially available GMO crops in the U.S.: soybeans, corn (field and sweet), canola, cotton, alfalfa, sugar beets, summer squash, papaya, and potatoes. GMO apples have also been approved to be grown and will be coming to market soon. These papayas, potatoes and apples are examples of GMO crops that have been genetically modified by using a natural process to adjust gene expression within the plant. This technology can offer a variety of benefits, including protecting the plant from viruses, making the plant healthier for human consumption, and reducing food waste. So the next time you see a picture of some “GMO” with a needle hanging out of it, remember:

Myth #2: GMOs are so dangerous that farmers have to wear hazmat suits to grow them.

Farmers do not wear hazmat suits when growing GMO crops. But some myths come from a little bit of truth. As farmer Lawson Mozley explained when asked about hazmat suits, “For all chemicals used in any industry, from scientific research to manufacturing to agriculture, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has standards for what equipment is needed for all chemicals.” He continues to explain that for most crop protection products used by farmers (both organic and conventional) it’s typically recommended that the applicator wears normal cotton clothing (long sleeved top and pants), gloves and boots – just like you would wear for any lawn care applications.

However, farmers do not wear hazmat suits or the painter’s smocks made famous by recent documentaries to plant seeds, work in or manage their fields.

So if you’re unsure if the image you see is a real GMO farmer or a manufactured photo, remember this simple comparison:

You can also run an image search using the picture in question. It’ll likely show up on a stock photo website.
 
Myth #3: There’s something fishy about those GMO tomatoes.

Once upon a time there was an experimental tomato that contained a gene from the winter flounder to increase the tomato's resistance to frost, but that tomato was never commercialized. While that tomato did not survive, its legend continues to live on…

While there are many images online featuring fishy, creepy, leggy, or otherwise bizarre tomatoes, there are in fact no GMO tomatoes commercially available today. Additionally, no commercial GM crops on the market today contain “animal genes.”

Why is “animal genes” in quotes?

Because in the end, there really aren’t animal genes or plant genes, there is just DNA. DNA from any source is made up of the same four basic nucleotide building blocks: adenine (A), cytosine (C), thymine (T) and guanine (G), and it’s estimated that 60 percent of the genes in plants have very similar copies in animals.

Did you know: You share 50 percent of your genes with bananas?

Myth #4: GMOs are scary “Frankenfoods” stitched together in labs by mad scientists

Just like the monster in Mary Shelly’s book, the word “Frankenfood” sounds scary, dangerous and unpredictable. Because of the Frankenfood myth, many believe that GMOs are created by haphazardly “forcing” foreign, unnatural animal and plant genes together. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

“For context, it is important to recognize that random genome insertions have been naturally occurring in crops over the ~10,000-year history of agriculture. In some crops, more than 90 percent of the genome consists of these types of random insertions.” Dave Kovalic, Regulatory New Technology Lead, Monsanto Company, continues that, “unlike new crop varieties developed by other breeding methods, researchers fully characterize GM crops at the molecular level.” Read his full post for a more technical explanation.

Did you know: GMOs are more natural than you may think, Mother Nature has been “stitching” together new varieties for thousands of years.

See chart which describes the different methods of seed improvement:

While most other seed improvement methods affect tens of thousands of genes, GMOs only affect a handful – usually 1-3, and we know precisely which ones they are.  An average of 13 years and approximately $130 million in pre-market research and review helps us make sure we know exactly what those changes will do – whether or not they’ll create a new allergen, for example.

Myth #5: Is the new GMO apple a trick or treat?

There’s a new GMO apple coming to market, and despite everything you might read or see online, it doesn’t have teeth added or a tongue hiding it - in fact, it doesn’t have anything added to it at all.

The two GMO apple varieties, Arctic® Granny and Arctic® Golden were created using a natural process that adjusts how certain genes are expressed. The genes that are affected by this process in this apple keep the Arctic® Apple from turning brown when sliced (which incidentally helps reduce food waste). No genes are added or “inserted” into the Arctic® apple varieties.

So how do the Arctic® apples work? The creators of Arctic® apples explain that there are two things which create browning in apples – PPOs and polyphenolics. When you cut or bite an apple, those two things react, and browning occurs. Using RNAi (a type of gene regulation that Steve Savage explains in this post on GMO Answers), Arctic® apples produce practically no PPOs so that enzymatic browning reaction never occurs.

Voila! Non-browning apples.

We say voila! But these apples took more than 15 years to bring to market, and still aren’t quite there yet. Currently, Arctic® apples have been approved and will be available for purchase soon.

Find out more about the Arctic® apples from Neal Carter, the president and founder of the Okanagan Specialty Fruits, which is the company that developed the Arctic® apples.

What other crops have been developed using RNAi? Hawaiian Rainbow papayas, summer squash, new GMO potatoes, and even some GMO soybeans all employ this process for adjusting gene expression. As Steve Savage continues to explain, this mechanism is so common in nature that “…if you eat an organic, heirloom, locally grown fruit or vegetable or a range-fed or wild-caught animal, you are consuming small RNAs similar to those that happen to be involved in the non-browning apple.”  

Looking for more information? Check out the following links!

  • Popular Science debunks 10 common claims in this post.
  • NPR’s The Salt also “busts” their top 5 GMO seed myths in this post.
  • Reason corrects the “top five lies about biotech crops.”

If you have additional questions, feel free to search our archives or submit a new question. Continue to check out the site for more information to help you get to know GMOs and #100DaysofGMOS!

Did you know? It’s 100 Days of GMOS!
After answering more than 1,000 questions, we launched 100 Days of GMOs. GMO Answers is sharing one question per day of the 100 most asked and accessed questions posted to the website across its social platforms, using the hashtag #100DaysOfGMOs.