What is a GMO?

GMO literally stands for Genetically Modified Organism, a term that some consider overbroad because it may include any organism that has been  genetically modified by any means.  However the term GMO has long been popularly used  to denote food that has been genetically engineered, and that is how it is used here.

How are genetically engineered foods produced? 

Genetically engineered foods are produced by forcing genes from one organism - often a bacterium - into the DNA of another organism, generally a food crop, in order to introduce a new characteristic or "trait" into that target.  This process must normally take place in a laboratory.

What are Main Purposes of Genetic Engineering for Food Crops?

1.  Herbicide tolerance – this trait lets the target crop survive applications of toxic herbicides in order to kill weeds with out killing the crop.  Examples of this are Roundup Ready crops which are sprayed with glyphosate-containing Roundup.  (Note: "Roundup" and "Roundup Ready" are registered trademarks of the Monsanto Corporation).

2.  Production of Bt Toxin.   This trait is produced by the insertion of genes from a bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis, which results in the release of Bt Toxin which kills or deters certain insects.   While Bt toxin is used as a spray by organic gardeners, in this application the toxin it is produced within the  cells of a plant genetically engineered for that particular trait.  Here it is far more toxic, not subject to biodegradation, and impossible to wash off.  According to Institute for Responsible Technology (IRT), sheep in India died after grazing on fields following the harvest of cotton plants engineered to produce Bt toxin.

How do I know if I’m eating genetically engineered food?

Crops that may be genetically engineered include 94% of soy, 88% of corn, 90% of cotton, 90% of canola, 95% of sugar beets, more than 50% of Haw  (Itaiian papaya, over 24,000 acres of zucchini and yellow crookneck squash, and some alfalfa. (IRT, May, 2010).  

Other products that may be genetically engineered or involve products of genetically engineering include dairy products from cows injected with the GM hormone rbGH, meat, eggs, and dairy products from animals that have eaten GM feed, honey and bee pollen that may have genetically engineered sources of pollen, and food additives, enzymes, flavorings, and processing agents, including the sweetener aspartame (NutraSweet) and rennet used to make hard cheeses.

It is estimated that 70-80% of products on grocery store shelves have GMO in their ingredients.  Currently the only way to know your food does not have GMO ingredients is by buying certified organic products or products certified by the Non GMO Project.  Not everyone can afford to eat 100% organic, but everyone should have the choice to avoid GMOs.  Even if food is labeled as “natural,” it’s impossible to know if they are produced with GMOs.  Food companies routinely and intentionally mislead consumers by labeling products “natural” in order to attract health-conscious consumers.

How do genetically engineered foods affect health?

The American Academy of Environmental Medicine reported as early as 2009  “Several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food,” including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, faulty insulin regulation and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system. Among other things,  Physicians were urged to recommend healthier non-GMO foods. The studies reviewed here were animal studies involving the same kinds of animals, mostly rats, routinely used to conduct safety testing on pharmaceuticals and food additives. To see this report click here.

Recently the United Nations'  International Agency for Research on Cancer found glyphosate, the principal ingredient in Roundup, to be a "probable carcinogen." Other studies have pointed to health issues associated with genetically engineered foods and the toxic chemicals associated with them.  Much of this information will be found in resources on the Learn More page. http://illinoisrighttoknowgmo.blogspot.com/p/learn-more.html

Because genetically engineered crops are patented, many scientists have not been allowed to use them for their research.  However the recent work of two scientists,  and the reaction to this work,  should be noted.  Dr. Gilles-Eric Seralini in France and Dr. Judy Carman in Australia have both done important animal studies showing health concerns associated with genetically engineered foods.  Please follow links to their works at the Learn More page, http://illinoisrighttoknowgmo.blogspot.com/p/learn-more.html

Haven’t farmers modified crops for ages?

It is true that we have long bred plants using traditional methods such as hybridization, seed saving, grafting and similar processes.  But this is not the same as modern genetic engineering which must be done in laboratories and combines genetic material from organisms that would never breed together in nature.

Will labeling genetically engineered foods increase food costs?

Companies change their labeling all the time, and dozens of other countries have already introduced GMO labeling without increasing food costs.  Many companies have begun to label for GMO's without corresponding price increases.

Why doesn’t the FDA require labeling?

The FDA has ignored warnings from its own scientists and allowed the biotech industry to deceive the American people about the safety of its GMO products. This is extensively documented in the book Altered Genes, Twisted Truth by Stephen Druker.  For more on this topic, click here.

What do medical and health groups say about GMOs?

American Public Health Association, Illinois Public Health Association and the American Nurses Association have called for  GMO labeling. The American Medical Association has called for  safety testing of these foods before they are sold to consumers.

Is labeling being done other countries?

64 nations have either banned genetically engineered foods or required labeling of foods containing genetically engineered ingredients. The U.S. and Canada are the only two major industrial nations that do not require labeling.

Should people with allergies be concerned?

Yes.  The Food Allergen and Labeling Consumer Protection Act is a federal law mandating that food products containing ingredients from major food allergens MUST state it on the label. Genetic modification can introduce new and known food allergens into GMOs. Tree nuts (e.g., Brazil nuts) are a major food allergen identified by the FDA. One GMO developer inserted Brazil nut genes into a GMO soybean, which caused allergic reactions in people allergic to tree nuts. Since GMO foods are NOT safety tested by the FDA or independent third parties for human allergens, Americans with allergies are put at risk every time they eat food with unlabeled GMO ingredients. (Information courtesy of GMO Free NY)

There are many other questions associated with Genetically Engineered foods, and these will be addressed on these pages in the future.  Please watch this space, and refer to the Learn More page for further information from a variety of sources.  

Updated July, 2016