What are GMOs?
By Emily Journey / Contributor
Much has been researched and written about the use of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, in food. And the findings and opinions are fervently divided.
Whenever I’m grocery shopping, I see “non-GMO” and “GMO-free” labels on some of the food packaging. Maybe you’ve seen them too.
What are GMOs? The labels suggest that we should be concerned about them and whether or not they are present in the foods we buy.
Do you have a good understanding of what exactly GMOs are? Or why they are in our foods? I’ve done some research and want to share with you what I have learned:
“What are GMOs?” – The Official Answers
There are many sources out there that offer answers to the “What are GMOs?” question. The Non-GMO Project describes GMOs as “living organisms whose genetic material has been artificially manipulated in a laboratory through genetic engineering.” USA Today says GMOs are “plants or animals whose cells have been inserted with a gene from an unrelated species in order to take on specific characteristics.” The Institute for Reliable Technology defines it as “a result of a laboratory process where genes from the DNA of one species are extracted and artificially forced into the genes of an unrelated plant or animal.”
“What are GMOs?” – The Layman’s Terms Answer
The above definitions sound confusing to me so I will simplify the answer to the “What are GMOs?” question.
GMO stands for genetically modified organisms. That sounds awfully scientific. Lets define each of the terms individually.
Genetically relates to genes or genetics. Genes are made up of DNA that tells cells how to grow and develop.
Modify means change.
Organisms are individual animals, plants or single-celled life forms.
So in laymen’s terms, GMOs are organisms whose genes have been changed.
As described in the somewhat complicated official answers above, this change occurs in a laboratory and by scientists who have identified a desired trait in other organisms, such as withstanding drought conditions or resisting insects. The scientists isolate the specific gene that controls the desired trait and transfers it into a plant. It’s sometimes called genetic engineering or genetic modification, but both terms mean the same thing.
Genetic engineering is nothing new. In fact, farmers have been doing it for centuries through selective, or “traditional breeding” and “mutation breeding.” And genetic engineering is not just limited to plants. Scientists have genetically modified bacteria to produce medicines such as insulin to treat diabetes, or other vaccines that cure or prevent diseases.
But the process of producing a GMO is much more deliberate and purposeful than the traditional breeding practices. Instead of combining two plants in a field by mixing all of the genes together, they insert one or two genes into individual cells in a laboratory. The modified cell develops and divides with naturally occurring plant hormones, and becomes a whole plant.
So What’s the GMOs Debate?
The use of GMOs in food is a hot topic, because GMO supporters say they’ve helped farmers protect their crops from insects, weather and weeds. They say the result is a reduced pest population, and less need for pesticide spraying.
Those against GMOs cite unintended side effects, such as increased toxins, too much or too few nutrients and proteins, and the presence of allergens, carcinogens, new diseases, antibiotic resistant diseases, and nutritional problems.
So do GMOs belong in our food or not? Should our food be produced or altered in a laboratory, or should it grow naturally without scientific interference? Do you think the possible benefits of GMOs outweigh the possible risks? GMO Watch has devoted this entire website to opening the conversation, to help you determine just that.
So please comment below. What are your questions about GMOs? Let’s get the conversation started!