A genetically modified organism known as GMO is an organism that has had its DNA modified in some way through genetic engineering. In most cases, GMOs have been altered with DNA from another organism, be it a bacterium, plant, virus or animal. These organisms are sometimes referred to as "transgenic" organisms. A genefrom a spider that helps the arachnid produce silk, for instance, could be inserted into the DNA of an ordinary goat. That may sound a little extreme, but that exact process was used to breed goats that produce silk proteins in their goat milk. The milk is then harvested and the silk protein is isolated to make a lightweight, ultra-strong silk with a wide range of industrial and medical uses.
Uncertain health risks with GMO foods
The health risks associated with GMO foods have not been clearly identified yet. Given their incredible rise within the food supply, little research has been done to determine their health risks. Since genes are the blueprint for making proteins, GMO foods contain novel proteins that were not present in the food prior to its genetic modification. Since proteins are often the basis for an allergic food reaction, many scientists have speculated that novel proteins in GMO foods may cause these foods to trigger allergic reactions more frequently than their non-GMO counterparts. Moreover, some scientists believe that the altered genetic and protein composition of GMO foods may present problems for various regulatory systems in the body and may cause disruption in cell signaling or in digestive tract function.
What is genetically modified food?
Genetically modified food is produced from plants or animals whose DNA has been modified through genetic engineering. These genetically modified organisms are often called GMOs. Genetic engineering is the process of manipulating an organism's genes directly by transplanting DNA from other organisms. It's different from the conventional method of selectively breeding plants and animals to get desired traits. Genetically modified foods have been on the US market since 1994, ever since the introduction of "Flavr Savr" tomatoes that had been engineered to ripen more slowly.
Also, most of the corn and soy grown in the United States has been genetically modified to be resistant to herbicides, so that it's easier to spray fields with weed killer. Other crops have been modified to withstand pests. But genetic engineering could conceivably help create crops that can survive drought, or help produce food that's more nutritious.
There's a broad scientific consensus that the GMO foods pose no more of a health risk than regular foods. Opponents argue that genetically modified crops can lead to things like the increased use of chemical herbicides, or cite problems with the fact that GMOs are owned and patented by large companies. That has led to debates over whether GMOs should be labeled or tightly regulated.
As a result of the risks, many people worldwide are demanding non-genetically modified foods. Nearly 50 countries around the world have either banned genetically modified organisms completely, or require that food containing them be clearly labeled. However, the U.S. does not have mandatory GMO labeling, and the FDA does not require safety assessments of GMO foods or even review all GMO products hitting the market. Many American want this to change and there is a groundswell of non-GMO advocacy underway. Opponents in several states and countries continue to push for GMO labels on foods, but industry and science insists the foods are safe, labels aren't needed and they'll just confuse consumers. Only one thing is certain: The battle for and against GMO crops, and the foods containing them, isn't likely to end soon.