What Is GM Food?

Also known as GE (genetically engineered) foods or bioengineered foods, GM foods (genetically modified foods) are foods that are produced by using GMOs (genetically modified organisms). GM foods have been in existence since 1994 in the US when FLAVR SAVR or the delayed-ripening tomatoes were introduced in the market by Calgene researchers. If you want to know more about what is GM food continue by reading this article!

What Is GM Food? 

Certain foods contain ingredients that have been genetically modified or are made using ingredients that are obtained from GM organisms. Typically, GM ingredients are derived from GMOs, which are produced by making changes to the DNA of organisms by inserting a gene from some external source such as bacteria, viruses, plants or animals into an unrelated species using genetic engineering. 

The process of genetic engineering is quite different from the traditional methods of genetic modification like selective or mutation breeding that allow the introduction of new and desired traits with greater control over the traits. 

How Does Genetic Modification Work? 

What Is GM Food

Genetic engineering is much faster compared to traditional breeding methods. It offers different ways to introduce very precise alterations to genetic material, which results in the production of desirable traits. 

The modifications may involve the transference of properties on one gene from one organism to the other. Genetic engineering can be used for different purposes to produce pest-resistant, herbicide-resistant or drought-resistant crops, to improve crop yields or to produce more nutritious foods. 

Most of the GM Foods are cash crops including soybean, canola, corn/maize and cotton. The AquAdvantage salmon was the only animal that was approved by the FDA for commercial production and human consumption as of 2015. 

GM Food Sources 

What Is GM Food

As we discussed earlier, the main GM crops grown in the US are corn, soybeans, canola and cotton and they are used to manufacture ingredients that are used in other foods including: 

  • Corn starch, which is used in sauces, soups, etc. 
  • Corn syrup, which is used as a sweetener in many beverages and foods 
  • Granulated sugar from sugar beets 
  • Oils from canola, corn and soybean 
  • Livestock feed 

Other GM crops include: 

Pros And Cons Of GM Foods 

Most often, GM foods are crops such as potatoes, corn, soybean, etc. that have been genetically engineered to increase the quality and yield of food. While most broadly according to scientific consensus, GM foods available on the market do not pose health risks, however, they are controversial and there are concerns that GM foods can be harmful to health. Here are some pros and cons of GMO foods and whether they should be avoided. 

Pros Of GM Foods 

What Is GM Food

Some of the advantages of GMOs include: 

  • Increased Crop Yields: GMOs can help to increase the rate of crop production, which can help to combat famine, food shortages and malnutrition in countries across the globe. 
  • Enhanced Crop Protection: GMOs help to produce greater yields of crops by modifying the plant genes, making them less vulnerable to diseases. For instance, many GMO crops such as Bt-corn, which has the gene added from the soil bacteria, Bacillus thuringiensis that helps to boost the effectiveness of insecticides and prevent the crops from being affected by insects and pests, making them safe for human consumption.
  • Cheaper Food: GMO crops are typically bred to grow efficiently, which means that compared to traditional crops, the same amount of food can be produced using lesser land, water and pesticides. The saved resources, in turn, results in the cost of foods becoming cheaper by 15-30%.
  • Boosts Nutrients: Some GMO crops contain more nutrients such as vitamins and minerals, which provide health benefits and can also help people in countries suffering from nutritional deficiencies. For example, scientists have created a modified version of African corn that contains 169 times the beta carotene, 6 times the vitamin C and twice the amount of folate as compared to conventional crops. 
  • Reduces Harmful Ingredients: Genetic modification helps to modify or eliminate some factors that can be dangerous for people, by reducing allergens, harmful chemicals, etc. For instance, the development of gluten-free wheat has made it suitable for people who are allergic to gluten. 
  • Regulated By FDA: GMOs are regulated by regulatory bodies in the US including the USDA, FDA and EPA to ensure that these foods are safe to consume. According to the FDA, GMO foods are just as safe as non-GMO foods. 
  • Helps To Prevent Wastage Of Food: Around 40% of the food that is produced in the US is wasted and results in wastage of resources too, thus in turn, harming the environment. GM foods have helped to create foods with longer shelf-lives, thus reducing food waste. 

Cons Of GM Foods 

What Is GM Food

While GM foods have their benefits; however, it has been argued that genetically modified crops can lead to many problems and some of the cons of GM foods include: 

  • May Cause Allergic Or Toxic Reactions: GM foods contain foreign genes and so there is a widespread concern that these genetically engineered foods can cause allergic or toxic reactions. For instance, a study revealed that when a protein from Brazil nuts was added to GMO soybeans, it triggered an allergic reaction in people who were allergic to Brazil nuts.
  • Increased Risk Of Cancers: There is a widespread belief that consuming a diet with GM foods can increase the risk of toxicity and can cause an increased risk of cancers such as colon, lung or breast cancer. However, research does not support the claims that eating GM foods can cause adverse health effects.
  • Environmental Concerns: There are concerns that GMOs may become tolerant to herbicides and insecticides, leading to increased crop invasiveness and it is feared that this, in turn, can lead to more reliance on pesticides. There is also a possibility that the GMOs can move from the controlled crop area into the wild, and the modified genes can be passed on to the natural population. 

In conclusion, GM foods have been modified by making use of genetic processes. Most of the foods today contain GMO ingredients because not only are GM foods easier to produce and cost effective for the farmers, but they are also much cheaper for the end consumer. 

Today, many foods are grown using GMO methods and while research claims that GM foods, in general, are safe for consumption, there are concerns about the potential health effects of these foods, although more research is needed to support these claims.