“Genetically engineered foods,” also known as genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or bioengineered foods, are those whose DNA makeup has been changed in a laboratory setting, in order to introduce desirable characteristics in the new product. Such characteristics may include taste, color, disease resistance, drought resistance and shortened growth time, among many others. The combination of traits in genetically engineered foods is not present in nature, and cannot be achieved through conventional methods of selective crossbreeding.
The process of creating a GMO-based food involves:
- Either the physical introduction of the gene with the preferred trait into a plant or animal, or
- Increasing or decreasing the copy number of a gene to enhance or silence a particular trait
Examples of bioengineered foods include:
- Papaya plants resistant to papaya ring spot virus (PRSV)
- Yellow squash and zucchini that are resistant to viruses
- Corn plants resistant to insects and herbicides that kill broad-leaved weeds
- Soy plants containing increased levels of oleic acid, that may reduce LDL cholesterol
- Salmon that grows and is ready for harvest in half the time it takes in conventional fish farming
In addition to the primary foods, those derived from bioengineered foods are also labeled GMO foods. Such foods include:
- Corn syrup
- Corn starch
- Soybean or corn oil
- Animal feeds derived from genetically modified plants
- Sugar from sugar beets
Are Genetically Engineered Foods Safe?
The general consensus among scientists is that genetically modified foods are safe to consume. However, some concerns remain, such as given below:
- Introduction of new allergens in the foods meant for human consumption
- Introduction of antibiotic-resistance trait to microflora in the human gut
- The newly introduced genes may overwhelm the wild-type population of a plant or animal species, threatening the viability of bioengineered and unmodified species
- Horizontal transfer of resistances (such as to herbicides or antibiotics) to other organisms, which may cause ecological imbalances by uncontrolled growth of undesired plants and animal species, as well as put humans at risk
- Religious and ethical concerns: Some individuals object to exchanging genes between plants and animals, stating that humans are ‘playing God,’ and that it is immoral to do so
What are Organic Foods?
Organic foods are derived from farms that do not use man-made fertilizers, pesticides, growth enhancers or regulators (which may include hormones and antibiotics), synthetic food additives (such as vitamins or minerals) to livestock feed, and industrial solvents or radiation (for product treatment). The methods used must comply with the regulations in one’s country, but generally are deemed more eco-friendly and biodiversity-oriented. If a processed food item is labeled “organic,” it should only contain organic ingredients.
Are Genetically Modified Foods Different From Organic Foods?
Per United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the use of GMOs is prohibited in organic foods farming. Thus, organic farmers are unable to use GMO seeds for their crops, or GMO feed for their animals. So, essentially, organic foods, be it plant or animal based, are non-GMO.
Therefore, if one has concerns about GMO foods in the market, checking for non-GMO labels, or, consuming organic foods may allay their worries. The final choice of food consumption may ultimately be dictated by one’s beliefs, comfort level with use of GMO products and cost.