In order to clear up some misunderstandings and outright lies about GMO, here’s a list of 10 examples of genetically modified foods with full explanations.
Humans have been meddling with GMO foods since the dawn of agriculture, using selective breeding or artificial selection. Every year, the seeds of the best plants have been set aside for a future planting season. Animals have been bred on purpose to enhance desirable qualities. Dogs are perhaps the most glaring example. All domestic dogs have a wild wolf for an ancestor. Now compare that ancestor with a French poodle and you’ll see just how far (or astray, depending on your point of view) we have taken the original concept.
These are all precursors to the modern genetically modified foods we use today. For the most part, when we talk about GMO food, we refer to plants. The methods are different and new types are created in a lab by directly modifying the DNA instead of indirectly by selective breeding, but the original intent hasn’t changed: create a type of plant that will supply bigger harvest by being better adapted to its environment. For some plants, that means being more resilient to pests, for others it means being more resilient to drought or cold or hot climate. Some plants had their shelf life increased through genetic engineering, allowing them to be shipped to areas that can’t grow them, or the ability to create nutrients that were deficient in the area, like the vitamin A in Golden Rice.
Despite all the recent Facebook hysterics, there’s yet to be a study showing harmful effects of genetically modified foods on humans. According to the Health Line, there are three major concerns about GMO foods: allergies, antibiotic resistance, and cancer. Despite the recent increase in allergy cases, a study done by Harvard University failed to find a link between it and genetically modified food. Only in the case of a strain of GMO soybeans was there an allergic reaction by people already allergic to the Brazil nut. The soybeans in question never made it to the market and were never grown commercially. Since then, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and World Health Organization have implemented mandatory procedures for testing all new GMO products in order to determine if they can trigger an allergic reaction. None have been found to do so, so far. The same goes for antibiotic resistance. None of the studies performed on the subject have proven the link between GMO and antibiotic-resistance bacteria.
The cancer link is, admittedly, harder to dismiss. There was even one study that supported the claim that genetically modified foods cause an increase in cancer cases, but it was retracted by the publisher, the Food and Chemical Toxicology journal, citing complaints about “the validity of the findings it described, the proper use of animals, and even allegations of fraud.” The study was republished in another journal, the Environmental Sciences Europe, but the controversy around it remains.
There are valid genetically modified foods concerns, but those aren’t necessarily about the food itself, but rather about business models used by Monsanto, the world largest producer of genetically engineered seeds, and their aggressive tactics when it comes to their Roundup herbicide and accompanying seeds. It goes without saying that such practices should be discouraged, to say at least. But the worst thing about Monsanto is that their image has somehow melted into a whole GMO industry, which is of course not true. Monsanto doesn’t represent every GMO producer on the planet. In fact, that image could have been created on purpose, claims Forbes. They even go one step further, claiming that if you are anti-Monsanto, you should, in fact, support GMO foods. One thing should be clear, just because someone expresses support for genetically modified foods, it doesn’t automatically make them a Monsanto mouthpiece. The technology is neither good or bad, it is the way we use it that gives such results.
On the other hand, the benefits of genetically modified foods are numerous and well-established. There are countries that are heavily dependent on GM technology, like Countries that Produce the Most Genetically Modified Crops or Countries that Consume the Most Genetically Modified Foods. We have created a list of 10 examples of genetically modified foods with full explanations of their origin and impact each of them had on human lives. Read on below to find out how.
10. Sugar Beets
Like many other crops on our list, sugar beets have been genetically modified to be more resistant to herbicides, mainly Monsanto’s Roundup and to increase sugar amounts that can be produced from them. Some 50 percent of all sugar produced in the United States comes from sugar beets and a large portion of it is of GM variety. Not everybody is happy with this, so Hershey has replaced all beets’ sugar in their products with the one produced from sugar cane.
In 2011, genetically modified corn was grown in 14 countries. GM corn comes in several varieties, herbicide-resistant corn, pesticide-producing corn, and drought-resistant corn. Each of these were developed for various regions, depending on the climate and pests presence.
Hawaii’s papaya industry was on the brink of annihilation in late the 1990s and early 2000s, with the ringspot virus causing a 50 percent decrease in production. Fortunately, the answer was found in genetically modified papaya resistant to the virus. It saved papaya farmers worldwide.
Genetically modified squash is only planted in the United States. It became commercially available in 1995. The genetic modification included higher virus resistance, mainly Squash mosaic virus, which were destroying as much as 80 percent of the harvest in the United States and Canada.
The potato is one of the most recent additions to the list of genetically modified crops. Its use has been approved by the FDA only in 2015. Designed by J. R. Simplot Company, genetically modified potatoes offer several advantages, like resistance to blackspot bruising and browning, and containing less asparagine. This is significant because asparagine turns into Acrylamide during frying, which is suspected to be cancerogenic. So far, the largest potato consumer in the United States, McDonald’s, has decided against using the GM potato, despite the J. R. Simplot claims that in their engineering they have only used genes that are already present in potato and haven’t introduced any of the foreign ones.
As with most crops on our list of examples of genetically modified foods with full explanations, the first type of genetically modified canola was Monsanto’s Roundup Ready canola. It was resistant to glyphosate, which is the main active ingredient in many modern herbicides, including Roundup. This has caused an issue because canola seeds can lay dormant up to 10 years in the ground and the plant has appeared as a weed in fields planted with other cultures. Since it is herbicide resistant, it has to be removed manually, hugely increasing cost for farmers.
The first genetically modified tomato was called Flavr Savr (Flavor Savior). It offered much longer shelf life than the original tomato. The company that produced it went bankrupt just a few years later and was purchased by, you guessed it, Monsanto. They went to produce another type by adding ACC deaminase gene, which delayed ripening, allowing tomatoes to be stored for longer periods of time.
According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), genetically modified soybeans are planted on 90.7 million hectares worldwide, which represents 82 percent of all soybean cultivation areas. That fact alone makes it one of the most used genetically modified foods in the world. The first GM soybean was Roundup Ready Soybean by Monsanto. Since their patent expired, various generic brands were developed, some of them allowing the seeds to be used for planting, something Monsanto intentionally disabled in their brand, which represents one of the biggest gripes farmers have with the company. DuPont has created a type of GM soybean that produces oil of higher quality by eliminating fatty acids from it, which allowed much wider use of soybean oil in the food industry.
While milk can’t be directly genetically modified, cows producing it can. Even before Dolly the sheep, genetically modifying animals was causing huge controversies. Herman the bull was the first genetically engineered bovine in the world. Chinese scientists claim that they have successfully integrated human genes into cows, allowing them to produce human milk. Their New Zealand counterparts have engineered a cow that produces low lactose milk, allowing people who are lactose-intolerant to consume it. But perhaps the most promising genetic modification comes from South Dakota, where scientists are trying to create a cow that produces milk with human antibodies that can be used as a treatment for various infectious diseases, including Ebola and flu.
The Golden rice is one of the oldest GM crops in the world and the last one on our list of 10 examples of genetically modified foods with full explanations. It was created in order to address the vitamin A deficiency, which killed some 670,000 children every year. The new type of rice was able to produce beta-carotene, which human body can convert to vitamin A, thus addressing the nutritional needs of over half the population on the planet that depend on rice as their main source of food. In 2005, a new type of Golden Rice was created, which provides up to 23 times more beta-carotene than the original version. We should note that this product is still in development. Other types of genetically modified rice focus on herbicide and pest resistance and there’s an effort in Japan to create a type of rice that will be hypoallergenic.