Are you afraid of GMO foods? If so, you are not alone. A 2018 survey by the International Food Information Council found that 60 percent of those surveyed believe GMO foods are unsafe, and nearly half of those surveyed actively seek to avoid any foods that are genetically modified. It’s possible that some people dislike GMO foods because they don’t understand what they are or how they are created. The following might clear up some confusion surrounding these products.

Are you afraid of GMO foods? If so, you are not alone. A 2018 survey by the International Food Information Council found that 60 percent of those surveyed believe GMO foods are unsafe, and nearly half of those surveyed actively seek to avoid any foods that are genetically modified. It’s possible that some people dislike GMO foods because they don’t understand what they are or how they are created. The following might clear up some confusion surrounding these products.

A genetically modified organism (GMO) has had elements of its DNA changed in some way so that it displays a desirable characteristic. GMOs are mostly crop plants that have been modified to make the plant easier to grow, be hardier or to survive in places they normally can’t. Some crop plants are altered to allow reduced pesticide or herbicide use in growing.

Crops have been modified for centuries through cross breeding but also by radiation or chemical exposure to create gene mutations resulting in largely uncontrolled exchanges of genetic material. There are thousands of these crops on the market today. Modern GMOs are produced by selecting a single or just a few genes with a known function and introducing them into the crop. Sometimes the new genes come from an unrelated species. Current methods for genetic modification are extremely precise, highly regulated and based on decades of research.

Since 2016, federal law mandates uniform labeling of all foods that contain any GMO ingredient. This was in response to public demand and a way to standardize labels after several states initiated different labeling methods. Unfortunately, non-GMO labels can now be found on foods that never had any GMO ingredients in the first place. This is a way for some manufacturers to capitalize on people’s fear of GMOs. Despite such labels, there are only 10 GMO crops available for sale in the United States. Seventy percent of these crops are fed to animals and not directly to humans.

These are the crops and the reasons why they have been genetically modified.
Corn. Supplies many ingredients in processed foods, including high fructose corn syrup and cornstarch. The bulk of the corn produced goes to animal feed. Genetically modified to improve drought resistance, herbicide tolerance and insect resistance (especially rootworm and corn borer).
Soybeans. Used for soybean oil and soy lecithin in processed foods, as well as animal feed. Genetically modified to improve herbicide tolerance and insect resistance.
Cotton. Used for cottonseed oil for restaurant fryers and processed foods. Genetically modified for herbicide tolerance and insect resistance.
Potatoes. Genetically modified to resist bruising and to decrease the formation of a cancer causing chemical when exposed to high heat. (Not all potatoes are genetically modified.)
Papaya. Genetically modified to resist a virus that nearly wiped out the species.
Squash, specifically zucchini and summer squash. Genetically modified for virus resistance. (Not all squash are genetically modified.)
Canola. The majority of this crop is used for oils and emulsifiers. Genetically modified for herbicide tolerance.
Alfalfa has been genetically modified for herbicide tolerance and is used as hay for cattle feed.
Apples. In February 2015, a genetically modified apple was introduced that prevents browning once cut. Sold under the trademark name Arctic Apples.
Sugar beets. Half of all granulated sugar in the United States comes from sugar beets. They have been genetically modified to be herbicide tolerant.

Genetically modified crops have been extensively studied during the last 20 years by many scientists and organizations, and there have been no adverse effects on human health. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the World Health Organization, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Medical Association and numerous other health organizations all have said GMO foods are safe to eat. In fact, according to a National Academy of Sciences report, GMO foods are just as nutritious and safe as their non-GMO counterparts.

GMO foods have the capability of adding more nutritional value to widely used foods. These biofortified foods could be used to address global health issues. One example is “golden rice,” described on the website gmoanswers.com. According to the site, adding a gene for beta carotene to rice would prevent vitamin A deficiency, a leading cause of blindness in some countries.

In addition, using GMO crops has been show to help farmers to increase yield and profits while also decreasing herbicide and pesticide use. This translates to lower prices in the store, decreased soil erosion, water conservation, and more food availability for the entire population.

Anita Marlay, R.D., L.D., is a dietitian in the Cardiopulmonary Rehab department at Lake Regional Health System in Osage Beach, Missouri.