Genetically modified organisms—GMOs—are plants or animals that have been genetically engineered to include DNA from bacteria, viruses, or other plants and animals.
GMOs differ from normal hybridization because the organisms crossed are typically from two species that cannot naturally breed, such as a corn and a strain of bacteria that is toxic to chewing insects (Bacillus thuringiensis), thus producing a strain of corn that naturally is resistant to chewing insects.
GMOs are widespread in the U.S. food supply because popular crops, such as corn and soybeans, have been genetically modified. It is estimated that 80 percent of conventionally processed foods in the United States contain GMO crops. While there is some scientific research being done on genetically modified animals, none are currently on the market.
The benefits of genetically modified plants
There is significant controversy over potential health risks associated with the human consumption of GMOs, but there is little controversy over their durability and benefits to farmers. GMO plants have increased:
- Pest resistance: Pesticide use is a major concern right now, especially with fruits and vegetables. GMOs help eliminate the use of pesticides and other chemicals by providing built-in insect resistance.
- Herbicide tolerance: Herbicides are used to kill pest weeds. Modern agriculture relies on large quantities of herbicides to improve yields. Many GMO crops are resistant to common herbicides (e.g., Monsanto’s Round-Up), so farmers can safely use it without also killing their crops.
- Disease resistance: There are many viruses, fungi, and bacteria that cause plant diseases—a genetically engineered plant might be able to avoid these diseases.
- Cold and drought tolerance: An antifreeze gene would help plants tolerate cold temperatures that normally would kill unmodified seedlings, as well as drought. This could save farmers money and reduce the risk of a food shortage.
These benefits make it highly attractive for farmers to switch to GMO crops. According to researchers at the University of Wisconsin, using GMO seed can quintuple yields of corn, for example.
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), there are more than 40 plant varieties that have completed all of the federal requirements for commercialization. Currently, though, foods don’t need to be labeled as a GMO, making it difficult for consumers to make decisions when grocery shopping. There is no pending legislation to change labeling laws.
- Genetically modified organisms—GMOs—are plants or animals that have been genetically engineered with DNA from bacteria, viruses, or other plants and animals.
- GMOs are in as much as 80 percent of conventionally processed food.
- According to the FDA and the USDA, there are more than 40 plant varieties that have completed all of the federal requirements for commercialization.
- Genetically modified plants can potentially avoid pests, diseases, and cold and drought problems.