Foods that contain genetically modified organisms (commonly referred to as GMOs) have sat at the center of a lot of controversy over the past years. The practice of genetically modifying crops refers to food scientists specifically targeting parts of a crop’s genetic makeup to enhance a specific trait. It’s a form of biotechnological engineering that has given us far greater control over the food we produce. Scientists can genetically modify crops ranging all the way from apples to cotton, to be bigger, possess different shapes and colors, or to have specific flavours.
There are several reasons for which this process of genetically enhancing food has led to such controversy. Some people are just opposed to the idea that their food has been artificially altered and would prefer everything they consume to be “natural.”
Others draw attention to the fact that GMOs can endanger biodiversity by wiping out other, naturally-occurring strains of a crop. GMOs are also able to be transferred across species, which means that an alteration introduced to one crop can migrate to another and create a chain reaction of unintended consequences.
Those who are in favor of GMOs argue that they give us the power to create stronger, more resilient crops and allow us to get the most out of our farmland and feed more mouths. Regardless of where you stand on the topic of GMOs, it’s interesting to take a look at how ubiquitous they’ve become in just a few short decades.
Many of the foods we consume every day are likely to contain GMOs. The controversy surrounding their use has led to some governments mandating that vendors clearly distinguish on the label whether or not it has been genetically modified. However, as that’s not always the case, it’s worth taking a look at the crops that are most commonly genetically modified. Here are some of the genetically modified foods you probably have sitting in your fridge!
In the USA, roughly 85% of the corn crops grown are genetically modified. Given the fact that corn is the most commonly cultivated crop in the United States, this means a lot of GMO produce.
The fact that corn derivatives are used in so many other food products means that the prevalence of GMOs through corn is truly staggering and a broad topic. To begin to tackle the subject, it can help to consult a GMO essay that talks about genetically modified food in a clear and methodical way. Otherwise it can be rather overwhelming to discuss once the sheer ubiquity of GMOs becomes apparent!
Corn is generally genetically modified to be resistant to the chemical pesticides used to kill weeds on plantations. This means that the crop is altered to produce proteins that present themselves as toxins to weeds, but not to humans, animals, or insects. Not only are consumers eating this corn regularly, but it is a major ingredient in countless food products. The majority of GMO corn, however, is used to feed livestock.
In recent years, more and more of the potatoes consumers purchase are in fact a product of GMO. A staple crop in many parts of the world, potatoes are genetically modified for a number of reasons.
Generally, the modifications are implemented to lower the susceptibility of the crop to pests and disease – ultimately producing a stronger yield. In some cases, potatoes are also being modified to protect against bruising and browning.
While the quality of the food is not impacted by a change in color, consumers may be more likely to unnecessarily dispose of food if it seems ugly or damaged. In this sense, GMO can be looked at favorably for fighting against food waste.
Apples are another crop that have undergone processes of biological modification for cosmetic reasons. Similar to the potato, several varieties of apple have been given GMO treatment so as to last longer and bruise less.
Consumers often believe that a bruised or browned apple is no longer good enough to be eaten, so producers have tried to fight this assumption by making the apples less susceptible to becoming brown and soft. Some varieties are able to refrain from turning brown for up to two weeks after being sliced open!
Of all the crops grown in the United States, soy is the one most heavily genetically modified. Almost all of the soy crops yielded in the USA are the result of genetic modification. Soy is a crop that has a whole range of uses outside of direct consumption. Much of the GMO soy grown in the USA is used to feed livestock.
Other producers derive ingredients for their own products from the soy crop, such as emulsifiers. However, some soy has been genetically modified for consumption in such a way as to replace less healthy fats with healthier ones. This shows the potential of GMO for creating products that can help humanity curb growing issues such as obesity and potentially lead to a much healthier future.
The papaya fruit came under serious threat some decades ago when a virus threatened to wipe out its cultivation on the Hawaiian islands. This would have been a devastating loss of an industry if it weren’t for GMO.
The Rainbow Papaya was a biologically modified variation of the papaya invented by scientists to resist the ringspot virus that was wiping out the fruit. Thanks to this modification, the Hawaiian islands manage to retain their papaya industry to this day.
It may come as a surprise to learn that a significant percentage of milk is also subject to the effects of genetic modification! Around one in five dairy cows in the USA are given special GMO growth hormones to promote growth and increase milk yield. What may be even more surprising is that these growth hormones have been shown to also activate in the bodies of humans who consume these cows’ dairy products.
With so much of our produce and food containing GMO, it’s clear that it’s a subject in need of addressing. Assessing the benefits and consequences of genetically modifying crops is clearly a divisive subject without a clear answer.
This is demonstrated in the vastly different policies that exist in relation to GMO products around the world. Whatever your take is on the matter, it may be worth taking a look in your fridge and paying attention to how much of your daily nutrition is the result of genetic modification!