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The Truth Behind GMOs

Posted on April 10, 2013 at 10:01 AM by Iowa Corn

The goal of this post is to help answer your questions about GMOs and why farmers grow these types of products.  If you have a question you would like answered regarding this post, please leave it in the comments section!

What is the difference between the terms genetically modified, biotechnology and genetically modified organisms (GMOs)? 
Did you know that humans have been genetically modifying food crops for over 10,000 years?  Every cultivated crop we grow today has been genetically modified through human selection and breeding.  Farmers have been creating plant varieties and hybrids for just about as long as people have been growing plants and they continue to find ways to develop even better seeds to be used for future crops.

Biotechnology is a generic term describing the use of technology in crops that are produced and foods we eat.  This term has been used to describe the modification of the genetic composition of organisms through selection and breeding.  In recent years, it specifically refers to “genetic engineering”, which is a lab process where pieces of DNA from one organism are moved into another. Selecting traits at this level is more efficient, and allows for improvements not possible through conventional plant breeding. Crop varieties can be developed using other tools of biotechnology such as genetic markers, but the resulting varieties are not considered GMO. I bet you didn't know that biotechnology is also used in food producing organisms such as bacteria and yeasts to produce wine, cheese and yogurt and is commonly used to modify organisms to produce our drugs.

Genetically modified organisms are a unique set of organisms that have been developed using biotechnology and contain genes from a different organism.  Common forms of genetic modifications include adding or changing genes to give plants herbicide, pest, and drought resistant properties.

Are GMO foods safe? 
When referring to GMO foods, the common question people ask is, how safe is it for me and my family to eat these foods?  You should know that genetically modified foods that are currently available on the market have passed strict safety assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health.  Each new GMO hybrid must be approved by three U.S. government agencies (United States Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency and Food and Drug Administration) for animal, human and environmental safety.

According to the U.S. government, genetically modified crops are safe, resist disease better, and can provide much needed food in starving nations. GMO crops undergo much more testing than conventionally modified crops.

Should consumers have the right to know if their food is genetically modified?
Food companies are required to label foods that are substantially different in composition from similar foods. By law, if there is a significantly altered nutritional difference or if a food causes toxicity or allergies, they must be labeled. Because there is no nutritional difference between GMOs and non-GMOs and because GMOs are proven to not cause toxicity or allergies, there is not a label. Labeling GMO foods would cause more confusion for consumers because there is not a compositional or nutritional difference but labeling GMO food would imply there is. Consumers may not realize they are eating GMO foods because they are identical in composition to non-GMO foods.

On our grocery store shelves, there are about 30,000 genetically modified food products.  Products containing ingredients with soy, cottonseed, corn, canola oil, U.S. papaya, alfalfa, sugar beets, milk and aspartame are genetically modified and safe for you and your family to consume.

Why do farmers use biotechnology crops?
Farmers use biotechnology because it can make production more efficient and more manageable.  Using biotech allows farmers to make environmental improvements such as, no-till to reduce soil erosion, using fewer pesticides, improving water quality and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  Most importantly, biotech crops increase yields and improve the quality of crops, which helps to reduce food prices for the end consumer.  Farmers are always looking for ways to protect the environment and producing biotech crops allows them to do this.

Have GMOs caused farmers to increase yields? 
According to the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) genetically modified crops allow farmers to “generate higher crop yields with fewer inputs.”  It is proven that genetically modified crops have higher yields due to breeding and biotechnology.  Therefore, farmers are producing more food to feed this growing nation.  

What are the environmental factors of using GMOs?
Genetically modified crops are credited with decreasing pesticide and fuel use, facilitating tillage practices that reduce soil erosion, improve carbon retention and lower greenhouse gas emissions according to PG Economics.  Reducing these environmental inputs isn’t just a savings and convenience for farmers; it offers a great deal of environmental benefits for the consumer and society.

According to statistics from the Population Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the world population will likely increase to approximately nine billion by 2050.  A question you may ask is; if the world’s population is increasing, how will farmers produce enough food?  As American’s we know there is little remaining land for farming, without destroying valuable rainforest and wetland habitats.  Ensuring adequate food supply for this booming population will be a challenge but genetically modified foods will help meet this need.

Removing weeds by tilling is often not cost effective, so farmers often spray herbicides to destroy weeds, which is a time-consuming, not environmentally friendly and a costly process.  Crops that are genetically modified to resist powerful herbicides could help prevent environmental damage by reducing the amount of herbicides needed.

Last year many farmers worried about the drought and the need to produce enough to feed our growing population.  Creating plants that can withstand periods of drought or high salt content in soil and groundwater will help people grow crops in formerly inhospitable places.

Visit the links below for more information on GMOs:

My name is Janet Wilwerding, Communications Manager for Iowa Corn and I am the author of this post.  David Ertl, Technology Commercialization Manager for Iowa Corn assisted me in the contents.

I grew up helping raise cattle and hogs and assisted in producing corn and soybeans.  Being the second oldest of six children allowed me to gain an appreciation for agriculture as I was often the one helping plant and harvest.  I received a bachelor of science degree in marketing from Iowa State University and an MBA from Drake University.  I am lucky I to live close to my families' farm so my husband, kids and I can help out whenever possible.  

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Beauti 365 | | 12/08/2015 at 12:04 PM
That must have been a hefty check from Monsanto....too bad.
euda | | 12/30/2013 at 05:39 PM
You might want to check out to get yourself up to speed on GMO facts.
CactusWest | | 07/07/2013 at 10:35 PM
Have you read this article?
Patrik Siljestam | | 06/27/2013 at 11:35 AM
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