GMO Basics

By • January 16, 2015

Excerpt from publication originally posted at Sense About Science.

"Introduction: Why Make Sense of Uncertainty?

"Scientific uncertainty is prominent in research that has big implications for our society: could the Arctic be ice-free in summer by 2080? Will a new cancer drug be worth its side effects? Is this strain of ‘flu going to be a dangerous epidemic? 

"Uncertainty is normal currency in scientific research. Research goes on because we don’t know everything. Researchers then have to estimate how much of the picture is known and how confident we can all be that their findings tell us what’s happening or what’s going to happen. This is uncertainty. But in public discussion scientific uncertainty is presented as a deficiency of research. We want (even expect) certainty – safety, effective public policies, useful public expenditure. 

"Uncertainty is seen as worrying, and even a reason to be cynical about scientific research – particularly on subjects such as climate science, the threat of disease or the prediction of natural disasters. In some discussions, uncertainty is taken by commentators to mean that anything could be true, including things that are highly unlikely or discredited, or that nothing is known. This conflict frustrates us at Sense About Science, and we know that it frustrates researchers we work with and the public we hear from. Some clearer ideas about what researchers mean by scientific uncertainty – and where uncertainty can be measured and where it can’t – would help everyone with how to respond to the uncertainty in evidence. 

"This guide has brought together specialists in many areas – climate science, clinical research, natural hazard prediction, public health, biostatistics and epidemiology. We asked them for the reasons why they are not automatically so troubled by the presence of uncertainty in the most heated debates. We have looked at what uncertainty means and doesn’t mean in science, how it is measured, when it can’t be measured and how that might change through research into the big questions. Above all we asked how other people can grapple constructively with advances in knowledge and changes in thinking, instead of despairing at ‘those uncertain scientists’."

Read the full publication, "Making Sense of Uncertainty:Why uncertainty is part of science" here [PDF].


QGood day, for what trait in GM crops are the most widly planted globally today? For example, Hetbicide tolerant, Drought tolerant, insect resistant ect. Thank you

Good day, for what trait in GM crops are the most widly planted globally today? For example, Hetbicide tolerant, Drought tolerant, insect resistant ect. Thank you

By • July 10, 2018

The following is an excerpt of an article by reporter Janaki Jitchotvisut on the Insider website detailing the eight myths about GMO crops. 

Finding great new places to eat is exhilarating, especially when you have good company to do it with.

The more you know about where — and what — you're eating, the better choices you'll be empowered to make. Whether you're looking at menus or just making casual conversation, knowledge can be the most delicious power of all.

We rounded up some of the biggest myths about restaurant food that you may still be believing.

MYTH: Only sparkling wine made according to a specific process and made in Champagne, France, can legally be called "champagne."

TRUTH: This is true everywhere else in the world — except the US, according to Vine Pair .

The reason dates back to the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I — and some complicated back-and-forth between the US and France about this touchy subject. Due to a massive loophole when the US signed this treaty — but never ratified it in the Senate — the law didn't apply to winemakers in the US .

Since the wine industry here didn't start to pick up postwar steam until the 1970s, it wasn't much of a problem until then. Once production picked up, the European Commission and the US entered trade talks about wine labeling matters in 1983.

Negotiations didn't conclude until 2005 , when the US finally agreed that "champagne" and several other 'semi-generic' wine type names would no longer appear on US winemaker labels — except if a given wine producer had already been selling them under that name. If a winemaker had used certain terms including "champagne" on labels prior to March 10, 2006 — they could continue to do so indefinitely.

MYTH: GMO crops are a relatively recent and inherently unhealthy thing created by mad scientists — and sold with wild abandon.

TRUTH: In 2015, scientists at the International Potato Center in Lima, Peru found genetic evidence that showed sweet potatoes were first genetically modified — by Mother Nature, using bacteria — around 8,000 years ago, according to NPR .

This, in turn, is likely what led farmers to domesticate this cropand turn the many varieties of sweet potato found around the world into the important global food source that they are today. For generations, humans around the world have been eating and gaining nutrition from genetically modified crops with little to no uproar about it.

MYTH: "Kobe beef" and "wagyu beef" are completely interchangeable terms that mean the same thing.

TRUTH: Any rancher in the US can tell you about the different breeds of cattle that are commonly found here. The same is true in Japan — "wagyu" is simply a term that means a very generic "Japanese cow."

There are four Japanese cattle breeds currently recognized as wagyu, according to Food and Wine. Japanese Black is where Kobe beef comes from, but there are also Japanese Shorthorn, Japanese Polled, and Japanese Brown cows. Plenty of other Japanese cattle breeds exist and are delicious — Miyazaki beefwas even ranked higher than Kobe at Japan's most important wagyu judging event.

It gets even more confusing once you get out of Japan. In Japan, "wagyu" refers to purebred Japanese cattle not crossed with, say, US cattle. However, in the US, "wagyu" as defined by the US Department of Agriculture refers to any cattle that is at least 46.875% comprised of a Japanese wagyu breed.

For more information on the subtle differences in your available high-end beef options, read this Food and Wine explainer . If you have additional questions about how to correctly assess the meat you're ordering the next time you're out to eat, check out this guide from food fraud expert Larry Olmsted.

MYTH: MSG makes lots of people seriously ill and no one should ever eat it.

TRUTH: There are several root causes for this persistent myth, but science has proven again and again that this umami booster is perfectly safe for most people to eat. While some people may have sensitivities to it, some people may also have sensitivities to dairy, wheat, corn, or other food products — you get the idea.

Monosodium glutamate breaks down to sodium — yes, the same sodium that's part of that shaker of salt in your kitchen — and glutamic acid. Glutamic acid, also called glutamate, is a naturally occurring amino acid. Also, it's already part of your body right now, since it's a basic building block of protein.

Glutamate also a very natural part of what gives some of your delicious favorites their distinctive flavors, including tomatoes, parmesan cheese, mushrooms, and soy sauce. Outside of its use as a flavor enhancer in Chinese and other Asian cuisines, MSG is also found in tons of packaged foods , but people seem to only complain when it's found in Asian cuisine. It can also be found in perennial snack aisle favorites including some types of Doritos, Cheetos , and Pringles .

To read the entire article, please visit the Insider website .

Genetically modified organisms, GMOs, are crops developed through genetic engineering, a more precise method of plant breeding. Genetic engineering, also referred to as biotechnology, allows plant breeders to take a desirable trait found in nature and transfer it from one plant or organism to the plant they want to improve, as well as make a change to an existing trait in a plant they are developing.  GMOs are created to achieve a desired trait, such as resistance to a pest or tolerance to drought conditions.  

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More Information for Genetically Modified Organisms 101

If Himalayan pink salt doesn't have genes, how can it be a GMO? It can't.

GMO Myths vs. Facts

There are many myths and misconceptions about GMOs. Let’s take a look at a few of the most common myths and learn about the facts: MYTH:There are dozens of GMO crops, including strawberries, bananas and wheat.There is even GMO water and GMO salt. FACT:There are 10 genetically modified crops commercially available today: alfalfa, apples, canola, corn (field and sweet), cotton, papaya, potatoes, soybeans, squash and sugar beets. This chartexplains why each of the 10 GMO crops are genetically modified. The majority of these crops, like alfalfa, field corn and soy are actually used for livestock feed. Other uses for these crops include...
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GMOs and Livestock

In the United States, livestock have been consuming feed made from genetically modified crops for almost twenty years.More than two-thirds of GM corn and half of GM soybeans are used for livestock feed. In that time,GMOs have never been detected in the milk, meat or eggs derived from animals fed genetically modified feed. Meaning livestock process GMO feed in the same way as any other feed. Many studies have been conducted on the potential for GMO DNA or proteins to be transferred into animal tissues.No intact or immunologically reactive protein or DNA has been detected in animal tissue. Alison Van Eenennaam, Animal Genomics and Biotechnology Cooperative...
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GMOs in the Grocery Store

GMO Crops Contrary to misconceptions, only a few GMO crops in the grocery store are available as whole produce – sweet corn, summer squash, papayas, potatoes and apples.But large sections of the produce aisle are not comprised of GMOs. Seedless watermelons, for instance, are not GMOs. Other food products, however, may contain ingredients derived from GMO crops. Ingredients derived from genetically modified corn, soy, sugar beets and canola are used in a wide variety of foods including cereal, corn chips, veggie burgers and more. However, it is important to remember that genetically modified crops are nutritionally equivalent to non-genetically...
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Where GMOs Are Grown

Think only U.S. farmers grow GMO crops? You might be surprised to know that while each country has its own regulatory process for both the cultivation and sale of GM products, as of 2016, GMOs are grown, imported and/or used in more than 75 countries across the globe. As of 2016, 5.3billion cumulative hectares of biotech crops have been planted since 1996. This includes a wide [no-lexicon]variety[/no-lexicon] of crops and countries, including maize in Spain, Bt cotton in Sudan, eggplant in Bangladesh, soybeans in Bolivia and more. The top five countries planting biotech crops by hectarage are the U.S., Brazil, Argentina, Canada and India. A...
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Current GMO Crops

The 10 genetically modified crops available today: alfalfa, apples, canola, corn (field and sweet), cotton, papaya, potatoes, soybeans, squash and sugar beets. Below is a list outlining the year in which the 10 crops that are currently commercially available were launched: Squash, 1995 Cotton, 1996 Soybean, 1995 Corn, 1996 Papaya, 1997 Alfalfa, 2006 Sugar beets, 2006 Canola, 1999 Potato, 2016 Apples, 2017 The list below identifies the genetic traits expressed and uses of the 10 GMO crops approved in the U.S. These 10 crops are the only GMOs that are approved in the U.S. Many of these crops are used as processed ingredients, like sugar or cornstarch, in...
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How GMOs Are Made

Farmers have selectively cultivated plants for thousands of years, choosing a plant, for example, based on its ability to survive certain conditions or on how many seeds it produces.Farmers also sought to improve plants by crossing them with related species that had other desirable characteristics. This type of selective, or traditional, breeding involves crossing thousands of genes. Genetically modified organisms are the product of a targeted process where a few select genes are transferred into a plant to produce a desired trait. When scientists create a genetically modified plant, the process begins by identifying a desired trait.That trait may be...
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GMO Basics

What are GMOs? Are GMOs safe? Why do farmers grow GMO crops? We know there are a lot of questions regarding GMOs, Genetically Modified Organisms. Let’s start with the basics. What Are GMOs? When people refer to genetically modified organisms - GMOs - they are referring to crops developed through genetic engineering, a more precise method of plant breeding. Genetic engineering, also referred to as biotechnology, allows plant breeders to take a desirable trait found in nature and transfer it from one plant or organism to the plant they want to improve, as well as make a change to an existing trait in a plant they are developing. Some examples of...
Read More


By • June 22, 2018

The following is an excerpt of an opinion piece by former anti-GMO activist Mark Lynas on the Wall Street Journal website detailing the safety of GMO foods and the science that proves it. 

In a now-famous segment of his talk show, Jimmy Kimmel sent a reporter out to a West Coast farmers market in 2014 to ask food-conscious shoppers what they thought of GMOs. All the interviewees declared their horrified avoidance of GMOs—and then, predictably, failed to come up with an explanation for what the letters “G.M.O.” stand for.

The answer, of course, is “genetically modified organism.” First launched commercially on a wide scale in U.S. agriculture in 1996, GMOs are typically plants or animals whose genomes have been modified by the addition of one or more genes from another species. From the outset they were met with controversy and resistance, dubbed “Frankenfoods” and subject to boycotts and protests that continue to this day in many countries.

Opposition was largely inspired and led by environmentalists, who asserted that genetically modified crops and foods would cause a range of harms. They argued that GMOs would damage the environment, because some were bred to withstand weed killers, which would then be used to excess.

They claimed that GMOs were especially bad for the developing world, tying farmers to expensive new seeds that would not reproduce, thus destroying traditional agriculture. Some campaigners dubbed GMOs “suicide seeds,” pointing to cases of farmers in India who, trapped in debt, took their own lives. Perhaps most crucially, many opponents claimed that genetically modified foods were a threat to human health, causing a higher incidence of everything from cancer and autism to diabetes and obesity.

This wide-ranging indictment took its toll. In a matter of years, the main developer and proponent of GMO seeds, the Missouri-based agrochemical and biotech company Monsanto, became a byword for corporate evil in much of the world.

I am a science writer by profession, and I know these arguments well because, in those early years of GMO development, I was also an outspoken activist against the new technology. Along with green-minded British colleagues, I trespassed to destroy test fields of GMO crops, lobbied to have foods containing genetically modified ingredients banned in supermarkets, helped to organize the world’s first campaign targeting Monsanto, and even participated in an unsuccessful attempt to steal the world’s first cloned farm animal, Dolly the Sheep.

I have since reversed my views on GMOs, as the evidence debunking almost all of these claims has accumulated over the years, but there’s no denying the remarkable world-wide success of our campaign.

Numerous countries, from Peru to Russia, now entirely ban genetically modified crops from being cultivated. Only one GMO food crop, an insect-resistant corn, has ever been approved for use in Europe, and most European countries ban it anyway. Only a handful of African countries permit any GMOs at all. China and India allow their farmers to grow genetically modified cotton but little else.

Early research on genetically engineered wheat, potato and rice was shelved due to worries from food processors and retailers, and strict regulations were introduced making it extremely difficult and expensive to get genetically engineered crops approved anywhere in the world.

In the U.S., the anti-GMO movement initially saw only a limited impact as farmers rapidly and overwhelmingly adopted genetically modified soy, corn and cotton. More recently, laws passed in several states and by Congress have mandated labeling for GMO foods. Though transparency in these matters is a good thing, it is often paired with campaigns of disinformation against GMOs, such as the claim that they might transfer allergenic proteins (they don’t). Meanwhile, the voluntary butterfly emblem of the Non-GMO Project has proliferated on products across grocery shelves, proudly displayed as a banner of supposed purity.

The problem isn’t just that almost all of the alarms about GMOs were false. It’s that the anti-GMO campaign has deprived much of the world of a crucial, life-improving technology—and has shown the readiness of many environmentalists to ignore science when it contradicts their prejudices. That’s not the example we need just now as the planet faces the very real threat of climate change.

Contrary to our initial fears, the overall impact of genetically modified crops has been to dramatically reduce the amount and toxicity of pesticides sprayed by farmers. Crops such as Bt corn, so called because it incorporates proteins toxic to insects from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, have enabled farmers to rely less on sprayed insecticides. A meta-analysis, combining the results of nearly 150 peer-reviewed studies, was published in 2014 in the highly regarded journal PLOS One. It concluded that GMO crops used 37% less chemical pesticide (that is, both insecticide and herbicide) than conventional versions of the same crops, thanks largely to the new crops’ internal biological protection against insects.

Pesticide reductions have been especially notable in developing countries. In Bangladesh, for instance, I have seen firsthand how smallholder farmers have benefited from Bt varieties of eggplant. In the past, they often sprayed their crop with toxic chemicals as many as 100 times in a season to fight off pests. The GMO eggplant has enabled them to dramatically reduce insecticide spraying, in some places almost to zero.

And the GMO seeds reproduce perfectly well. Those Bangladeshi farmers save and share their new Bt eggplant seeds, helping their neighbors and extended families also to reduce pesticide spraying. Many crops now in development in African countries, such as drought-tolerant corn and disease-resistant banana and cassava, will be sold royalty-free by local seed companies in an effort to improve the livelihoods of subsistence farmers and reduce poverty.

Nor is there any truth to the charge that GMO crops have driven Indian farmers to suicide. The Bt cotton introduced to India in 2002 has turned out to be a boon. It now accounts for over 90% of Indian cotton acreage, with 800 different competing Bt cotton varieties on the domestic market. Farmer suicide in India, while undoubtedly tragic in each individual case, occurs at a rate similar to that of such countries as Scotland or France, which don’t use GMOs. The German researcher Matin Qaim estimates that the reduced use of insecticides by Indian farmers, thanks to GMO cotton, may have avoided as many as 2.4 million cases of poisoning a year.

Perhaps the most egregious and now-exploded myth is that GMO foods are somehow bad for human health. Doctored graphs showing purported correlations between rates of autism and GMO crop adoption, or suggested links between genetic engineering and cancer rates, have become widespread internet memes. A 2015 study by the Pew Research Center found that only 37% of U.S. adults in the general public believe that it is safe to eat genetically modified foods, as compared with 88% of American scientists.

The reason for this gap is clear enough: Anti-GMO activists have peddled a great deal of misinformation to the general public, while the scientific community, in the U.S. and elsewhere, has known for years that there is no basis for the health concerns that have long bedeviled GMOs.

A massive 2016 report by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences concluded that “the data do not support the assertion that cancer rates have increased because of consumption of products of [genetically engineered] crops.” Moreover, “patterns of change in cancer incidence in the U.S. are generally similar to those in the United Kingdom and Europe, where diets contain much lower amounts of food derived from [these] crops.” The NAS reached the same conclusion for obesity, diabetes, celiac disease, various allergies and autism, pointing to no evidence of higher rates in countries that use GMOs.

The view that GMO foods have no discernible impact on health is now the well-established consensus across the international scientific community. It includes not just the NAS but the American Medical Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the U.K.’s Royal Society, the French Academy of Science, the African Academy of Sciences and numerous others.

Even the usually GMO-skeptic European Commission admitted in a 2010 report: “The main conclusion to be drawn from the efforts of more than 130 research projects, covering a period of more than 25 years of research, and involving more than 500 independent research groups, is that biotechnology, and in particular GMOs, are not per se more risky than … conventional plant breeding technologies.”

Particularly striking to me was the strongly worded statement issued in 2012 by the board of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. It declared, “The science is quite clear: Crop improvement by the modern molecular techniques of biotechnology is safe.“ This language was almost identical in form to the 2007 statement by the AAAS on climate change, which stated: “The scientific evidence is clear: Global climate change caused by human activities is occurring now, and it is a growing threat to society.”

To read the entire article, please visit the Wall Street Journal website.

By • June 21, 2018

This post was originally published on GMO Answers' Medium page.

We have a feeling that the well-known yogurt company Fage based their recent decision to go non-GMO on consumer misinformation around the nutrition and safety of GMOs.

In case you missed it, Fage is one of the latest brands to join the Non-GMO Project with a new commercial that recently aired. Responding to a consumer shout out on Twitter asking if its yogurt is non-GMO, Fage announced in the commercial that the brand is now Non-GMO Project verified because it feels right.

The trend of consumers voicing their opinions about GMOs on social media is not new. We’ve seen it with Betty Crocker, Stonyfield, and others. Consumer demands, particularly on social media, force brands to take a stand and either counter with education or feed into the fears.

In fact, an upcoming panel discussion at this year’s IFT Expo, “The Clash Between Consumer Demands and Responsible Food,” will discuss how consumer demand is more powerful and persuasive than ever before. Often rooted in trying to do what’s “right” or “healthy,” these demands can result in unintended — yet harmful — consequences like increased food waste, fossil fuel usage or threats to food safety.

But here’s the thing: While consumers have the right to make whatever food choices feel best to them, not all food choices — and the expression of these choices to brands — are fact-based. The conversation around GMOs is all too often clouded by misinformation, and GMO foods are often demonized despite the fact that they’re safe to eat and sustainable to grow.

Food brands have two options:

  1. Give in to fear and misinformation, as demonstrated by Fage, Stonyfieldand others.
  2. Respond to uninformed consumer demands with scientific facts, as seen by companies like Campbell’sBetty Crocker, and more.

The question is, “which of these options feels right to you?

By • June 18, 2018

The following is a post by Carmen Baskauf and Lucy Nalpathanchil on the WNPR website featuring a radio conversation discussing GMOs and the evidence behind their health and safety. 

The USDA recently proposed recommendations that would require foodmakers to label their products if they contain genetically modified ingredients.

Genetically modified crops have been portrayed as everything from a dangerous health risk to a miracle solution to tackle world food shortages. But among all this debate, many of us may not really know what a “genetically modified organism” (GMO) even is.

To read the entire article and listen to the conversation, please visit the WNPR website.
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