As more Americans are starting to become more conscious about their food and where it comes from, the term GMO is getting thrown around a lot. While there is a lot of information out there surrounding GMO foods, what is true and what isn’t? Are GMO foods safe to eat? What qualifies as a GMO food? Let’s dive into the world of genetic modification and see if we can’t decipher the difference between hype and facts.
What is a GMO?
The term GMO is an acronym that stands for Genetically Modified Organism. What this means is that the biological entity, which, in our case, is food, has undergone genetic modifications to make it different than what you would find in nature. For example, there is a version of white rice that has been genetically modified to contain high amounts of Vitamin A. The process turns the rice yellow, and it has since been dubbed “Golden Rice”. But there are multiple ways to modify an organism genetically.
How are GMO Foods Made?
Two primary processes go into making a GMO. The first is through selective breeding and crossbreeding. The second method is to change an organism’s genetic makeup in a laboratory setting.
Back in the 16th century, a German Monk named Gregor Mendel discovered (by accident) how to genetically modify flowers. He selected flowers with red petals and ones with white petals, then crossbred them to make pink flowers. His experiments discovered things like recessive genes and active genes and paved the way for modern genetics.
Starting before that, however, mankind has always been in the business of changing plants and animals to suit our needs. The cow, for example, used to be a bulky, aggressive behemoth called an Auroch until humanity domesticated it and made it fatter. Similarly, almonds used to be poisonous until we bred certain varieties to come up with the almonds we know today.
With today’s modern technology, we can insert new genes and remove old ones with relative ease. If we discover the gene that makes tomatoes grow larger, for example, we can insert this gene into new crops and grow even bigger tomatoes. The above example of Golden Rice was an instance of inserting a gene into the rice plant that made it develop Vitamin A at a much higher rate.
Are GMO Foods Safe?
Unfortunately, there is no right answer to the GMO question. While we have been genetically modifying foods for centuries, with the speed and technology of making GMOs becoming faster and more dynamic, it’s hard to say if there will be any downsides. In some cases, unintended consequences of GMO foods can happen, such as having to use more pesticides because the new crops attract parasites. In other situations, however, such as the Golden Rice example, making a GMO will allow poor people in other countries to get their vitamins and minerals without having to change their diet or pay for more expensive food.
For now, it seems like GMO foods are, as a whole, a net positive, but they aren’t without their downsides. As long as we make sure to test our results properly and check for any possible adverse side effect, GMO foods should be as safe as any other thing we put into our bodies.
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Adam & Amanda
We have spent most of our adult lives training and guiding thousands of people toward better health & fitness. We have created this A4 Blog in order to better educate our friends & members. We will answer any of your health / fitness / nutrition questions as well as keeping you posted on what's new at A4.