genetically modified food

Genetically Modified Foods in Your Diet

Genetically modified foods are those foods that have had a portion of their DNA changed for a specific purpose. Adding a gene to the plant has given producers the ability to add a trait normally not found in the species like resistance to herbicides or viruses or a toxin to kill insects that harm them. Growing larger and better crops is the end desire but are they all safe? GMO labels are not mandatory in the US or Canada though 50 other countries do have them. Starting in 2018, Whole Foods Market began adding GMO labels to products in the US much like it already does in Britain. This article explains which foods are already on the market with genetically modified varieties.

Corn

In the US, around 90% of corn grown each year is genetically modified. Producers have modified corn to resist certain herbicides and to produce a protein that will kill certain insects.

genetically modified foodSoy

Much like corn, about 90% of the crop each year is GMO with 98% of it being used as livestock feed. The remaining two present is used to create soy flour, soy protein isolate and soy protein concentrates which are used in a variety of food sources. Soy is a genetically modified food more than any other food in the US. It is modified to create high levels of oleic acid, an omega-9 fatty acid that has several health benefits including the lowering of bad cholesterol.

Papaya

One of the largest issues with papaya crops is the fight against the ringspot virus. There is no known organic or conventional method to control the virus. Once a land is infected, the crop cannot be grown there again. Hawaii has changed regions three times and have quarantined each new location. GMO varieties have been developed that have saved the industry resulting in 80% of the yearly Hawaiian crop being genetically engineered.

Zucchini

Much like the papaya varieties, genetically modified zucchini contain protein genes to fight against viruses.

Canola

Genetically modified canola makes up around 90% of the yearly crop. It was approved in 1996 in the US and Canada and contains a gene making it resistant to Roundup, a broad based herbicide widely used by farmers to control all plants in an area.

Alfalfa

Approval was granted in 2011 for GMO alfalfa to contain the same gene as canola that is resistant to Roundup herbicide.

Sugar Beets

USDA approval was given in 2005. Genetically modified sugar beets are glyphosate-resistant (a common herbicide). Sugar beets account for 50% of the US sugar production with sugarcane making up the other half. The sugar beet market now contains 95% GMO plants. When refined, no proteins or DNA are in the final product, only pure sucrose sugar.

genetically modified foodMilk, Cheese, Eggs

GMO livestock feed is used for poultry and cows that produce milk, cheese and eggs. At this point in time, there is no test that can determine if these products came from livestock that were fed GMO feed.  Recombinant bovine somatotropin (bovine growth hormone) is legal in the US but not in Canada and several other countries. It is used to increase milk production but has been found to have no effect on humans. The milk has been tested and found to contain lower levels of protein, higher fat content and somatic cell counts which can make the milk spoil faster.

The genetically modified foods list does not contain meat. There has not been approval for any species but there is an application for GM salmon to be approved. As of November 2013, it has not been granted.

Other crop producers are trying to seek approval for genetically modified apples. Okaganan Specialty Fruits has developed a way to de-activate the gene that causes sliced apples to turn brown. There is a drawback though as it may leave the apple tree open to disease.

Crop

Properties of the genetically modified variety

Modification

% modified in US

% modified in world

Alfalfa

Resistance to glyphosate herbicides

New genes added/transferred

Planted in the US from 2005–2007; 2007–2010 court injunction; 2011 deregulated

Canola

Resistance to herbicides like Roundup

New genes added/transferred

87%

21%

Corn

Resistance to glyphosate herbicides. Insect resistance using proteins. Added enzyme to convert starch into sugar for ethanol production.

New genes added/transferred

86%

26%

Cotton (cottonseed oil)

Kills insect pests

gene for Bt crystal proteins transferred into plant genome

93%

49%

Papaya (Hawaiian)

Resistance to the papaya ringspot virus.

New gene added/transferred

80%

Rice

genetically modified to contain beta-carotene (source of vitamin A)

under development in 2014. Genes from maize and a common soil microorganism.

Forecast to be on the market in 2015 or 2016

Soybeans

Resistance to glyphosate (Roundup Ready soybean) herbicides; make less saturated fats; Kills susceptible insects

Herbicide resistant gene taken from bacteria inserted into soybean; knocked out native genes that catalyze saturation; gene for one or more Bt crystal proteins transferred into plant genome

93%

77%

Squash (Zucchini/Courgette)

Resistance to watermelon, cucumber and zucchini/courgette yellow mosaic viruses

Contains coat protein genes of viruses.

13%

Sugar beet

Resistance to glyphosate herbicides

New genes added/transferred into plant genome

95% (2010); regulated 2011; deregulated 2012

9%

Sugarcane

Resistance to specific pesticides, high sucrose content.

New genes added/transferred into plant genome

It is quite clear that the FDA sees no issue with the current genetically modified crops on the market as they have all been given clearance as safe for human consumption. Studies are ongoing to see if they really are safe and time will tell if other products are allowed on the market or if GMO foods really are harmful to our health.

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