There is no nutritional difference between GMOs and their non-GMO counterpart, unless the nutritional content of the GM crops has been intentionally modified, like high oleic soybeans, or biofortified crops, such as Golden Rice.
In the spring of 2016, The National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NAS) issued a report confirming the safety of GMOs and also their compositional and nutritional equivalency with non-GMO foods. The NAS confirms, “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.” Click here to read the full report.
In addition, here is an example of a compositional study on GM papaya vs non-GM papaya. The study shows that the levels of vitamins and other nutrients in GM and non-GM papayas are the same.
While most GMO crops are nutritionally equivalent to their non-GMO counterpart, enhancing a crop’s nutritional value is one of the many uses of genetic engineering. Genetically modified high oleic soybeans with an enhanced oil profile, much like olive oil, have been developed and are longer lasting and trans-fat free. Another example is the Innate potato that has lower levels of asparagine, which when heated, turns into acrylamide, a potential carcinogen. If a GMO crop’s nutritional content has been intentionally modified, that specific characteristic will be noted on the food package label.
GMO Vitamins and Crop Biofortification
Genetically modified microorganisms are used to create some of our most essential vitamins. Examples of vitamins created through genetic modification are vitamin A, vitamin B-2, vitamin B-12 (riboflavin), vitamin C (ascorbic acid), and vitamin D.
There are several ways that genetically modified microorganisms are used to create vitamins, including utilizing a natural bacteria (Bacillus subtilis), while others are derived from GM crops, such as corn, soy, and sugar beets. GMO vitamins can be found in supplements and in food.
As some companies move away from GMO products in an effort to claim to be GMO-free, their products suffer from reduced vitamin content, as they must eliminate vitamins created through biotechnology. This is especially apparent in fortified cereals.
Another example of GMO vitamins is in biofortified crops, such as Golden Rice -- a GMO rice crop enhanced with vitamin A to help combat irreversible childhood blindness. Biofortification is the process by which the nutritional quality of staple food crops is improved through genetic engineering. These crops could help to solve important global health challenges in developing countries. While no biofortified crops are available to the public yet, current public-private research involving biofortification include:
- iron-biofortification of rice, beans, sweet potato, cassava and legumes;
- zinc-biofortification of wheat, rice, beans, sweet potato and maize;
- provitamin A carotenoid-biofortification of bananas, sweet potato, maize and cassava; and
- amino acid and protein-biofortification of sorghum and cassava.
A biofortified crop that has been approved by the FDA but is not yet on supermarket shelves is the Pink Pineapple. Pink Pineapples are GMO crops fortified to contain higher levels of lycopene, a nutrient that’s essential for health and used to help slow the spread of cancer cells. Lycopene is called a carotenoid, and it helps the body protect against cell damage via its antioxidant properties.
Much like GMOs in medicine, and nutritionally-enhanced GMO crops, vitamins derived from GM methods are not only safe for you to consume, but can be good for you too!
Learn more in our Improving Nutrition in the Developing World section.
Would You Feed Your Family GM Food?