GMO Science and Non Fictions
Which sources, figures, and facts are true? Which ones aren't? Before we dispel the top 5 myths that are either completely false or seen as common misrepresentations of GMOs available to consumers, let's cover the fundamental question: what is a GMO?
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are the product of precision plant breeding techniques and scientific processes using genetic engineering. This type of genetic engineering and selective breeding allows farmers, plant breeders, bioengineers and others, to take a desirable trait (like resistance to drought, insects, weeds, and disease) from one plant or organism and transfer/develop that trait in the target plant, produce or organism they want to improve. You may have also heard of agricultural biotechnology or biotech seeds. These are terms that may be used to refer to the same thing – a genetically modified organism (GMO).
Myth #1: There are tons of GMO crops, including tomatoes and wheat.
Fact: There are only about a dozen GMO crops worldwide.
Crops and produce in the grocery stores around the world have many items labeled as "non-GMO", which can make it seem as though there are several products and foods that are GMOs or contain GMOs. But large sections of the produce aisle are not comprised of GMOs. Seedless watermelons, for instance, are not GMOs.
While ingredients derived from genetically modified (GM) produce such as corn, soy, sugar beets and canola, are used in a wide variety of foods including cereal, corn chips, veggie burgers and others, it is important to remember that GM crops are nutritionally equivalent to non-genetically modified foods. When a crop has been nutritionally enhanced, the product label will highlight what elements have been improved and which ingredients are comprised of GMO crop or their derivative(s).
Below are the 11 crops available in the United States and the year they became commercially available:
- Squash (1995)
- Soybean (1995)
- Corn (1996)
- Cotton (1996)
- Papaya (1997)
- Canola (1999)
- Alfalfa (2006)
- Sugar beets (2006)
- Potato (2016)
- Apple (2017)
- Pineapple (2020)
Myth #2: GMOs cause cancer, allergies, and other illnesses.
Fact: GMOs pose no risk to human health.
Dr. Kevin Folta from the University of Florida states it simply:
“The short answer is no, there is absolutely zero reputable evidence that GMO foods cause cancer.
Cancer is a name applied to a spectrum of diseases where cells proliferate abnormally. There is no way that the subtle and well-understood alterations of a plant’s genes can cause cancer. There is nothing about the Bt protein (used in insect resistance, also in organic pest control), the EPSPS enzyme (which confers herbicide resistance simply by substituting for the native enzyme in the plant) or the process itself that would induce such cellular changes in human cells that would lead to cancer. It is just not plausible."
We dive deeper into this serious and important concern on the page, Do GMOs cause cancer? You'll find additional scientific research, stats on GMO safety, and the 900+ studies done to determine if there were connections between GMOs and health concerns.
So, why do people think GMOs are bad? There’s a lot of information out there claiming that GMOs are harmful, but be careful what advice you trust because, for some, misinformation pays. Negative or otherwise inaccurate information about GMOs and GM products is often circulated to benefit them instead of inform consumers, families, and communities. See how to discern truth and read other reasons people think GMOs are bad.
The National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NAS) issued a report confirming the safety of GMOs while also presenting that GMOs are compositional and nutritional equivalent to non-GMO foods.
“Statistically significant differences in nutrient and chemical composition have been found between GE (genetically engineered) and non-GE plants by using traditional methods of compositional analysis, but the difference have been considered to fall within the range of naturally occurring variation found in currently available non-GE crops.” Visit the NAS website to read the full report.
Myth #3: Big companies force farmers to do things they don’t want to do.
Fact: Farmers are free to make their own decisions.
GM crops are grown around the world by approximately 17+ million farmers, most of them in developing countries. In total, more than 70 countries import or grow GMOs. Farmers are able to choose what seeds they grow and often determine what is best for their farms, the local community and what the current market needs are that match the landscape. Farmers also look for ways to grow crops using resources more efficiently and with less impact on the environment.
Lawson Mozley, a sixth-generation Florida farmer and cattle producer, uses GMO crops to help reduce his production costs and improve favorable traits for herbicide and insect resistance. As with Mr. Mozley, farmers across the globe continue to choose GMO crops to support the reduction of agriculture’s impact on their local environment and protect the land for future generations. Over the last 25 years, GMOs have helped to reduce pesticide applications by 7.2 percent and increase crop yields by 22 percent.
Myth #4: GMO crops are bad for the environment.
Fact: Just the opposite — GMO crops can help the environment.
Crops improved through the means of biotechnology save land in two ways. One way is “land sparing” which refers to farmers producing more output per planted acre; and with that, there is reduced pressure to add more farmland in order to keep up with growing food demands. The second way that biotech crops “save land” is more literal. Particularly when farmland is tilled (plowed) for weed control, it is very susceptible to erosion by water or wind.
By growing crops where they are most suitable to grow, farmers can optimize production based on natural systems. Farming sustainably with GMOs means minimal use of fertilizer, pesticides, water and fuel needed to produce a crop or increase yields. Check out our article on myths around biodiversity.
Myth #5: We don’t know enough about GMOs.
Fact: GMOs have been studied for over 30 years.
In the last 25 years, GMO crops are one primary agricultural tool, helping consumers, farmers and rural communities survive droughts, global warming, famine and food insecurity. However, the science of GMOs and selective breeding goes back much further to the advent of crop cultivation and the industrialization of agriculture. While it has only been in the last few decades that GMOs have become commercially available, farmers have been intentionally cultivating the genetic makeup of all domesticated crops for over 10,000 years.
Every fruit, vegetable, and grain that is commercially available today has been altered, modified, and/or engineered by human hands, including organic and heirloom seeds. Through bioengineering and GM technology, real-world problems of food insecurity, reduced water supplies, insect or pest damage, health concerns and many others, can be remedied.
For example, in the past, a GM tobacco plant has been used to develop a treatment for the Ebola virus. While genetically modified citrus may directly fight citrus greening, a plant disease that is devastating the citrus industry. A research center is developing BioCassava Plus; this version of cassava is scientifically more nutritious, higher-yielding, and more marketable. Cassava is a staple crop consumed by more than 700 million people worldwide.
To mark the 25th anniversary of GMOs becoming available, GMO Answers recently developed a list of 25 things to know about GMOs, from current GMOs to GMOs in development that could solve problems like malnutrition and blindness.
For even more myths and the science that shows the truth of GMOs value to the world, visit our GMOs: Myths vs Facts