If you walk into any grocery store, you’ll see lots of different labels plastered across a variety of food products. But without any additional context, these labels often cause more confusion than answers. Let’s dive in to what’s really behind the GMO label.
GMOs are safe.
Thousands of studies have concluded that GMOs are safe, including a recent analysis from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM). It’s also the overwhelming consensus of scientific experts and major scientific authorities around the world, including the World Health Organization, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and American Medical Association.
Although we’ve had GMOs for over 20 years, farmers have intentionally changed the genetic makeup of crops for thousands of years. GMOs allow farmers to grow more using less resources and protect crop yields. Genetic engineering only differs from other plant-breeding techniques by enabling specific, predictable changes to be made to the plant like drought or disease resistance.
Additionally, GMOs go through a strenuous approval process before coming to market. On average, GMOs take 13 years and $130 million of research and development before coming to market. The regulatory process alone can take 5–7 years.
Most foods do not have GMO equivalents.
Let’s start with the basics: there are only 10 GMO crops sold commercially in the US: alfalfa, apples, canola, corn, cotton, papaya, potatoes, soybeans, squash, and sugar beets. Some of these crops, like papaya, are typically consumed whole, while others, like sugar beets, soy beans and corn, are processed into ingredients found in common food products.
Most crops and food products don’t have a GMO counterpart. You may see water and salt labeled as GMO-free at your nearest grocery store, but the reality is that it’s not possible for either to be a GMO in the first place! Labels like these are really misleading to consumers — even though there are only 10 GMO crops commercially available in the US, many brands slap a certified GMO-free label — and additional cost — on products with no GMO equivalent.
Similarly, just because genetic changes are made to foods like cotton candy grapes, pluots and seedless watermelons, doesn’t automatically make it a GMO. The crops are developed through traditional plant breeding processes. Any new and improved plant varieties can be created from a range of seed improvement techniques — GMOs are just one of them.
GMOs benefit the environment in more ways than you think!
One of the most highly perpetuated myths about GMOs is that they aren’t environmentally sustainable. On the contrary, GMOs allow farmers to do more with fewer resources — from fewer pesticide applications, conservation tillage (which reduces greenhouse gas emissions) and water conservation: GMOs help reduce agriculture’s carbon footprint.
Learning the science behind GMOs is crucial if you’re going to make food decisions based on the label. We’re here to help you understand the science. Be a part of the conversation and arm yourself with facts. Ask tough questions, be skeptical and be open.