GMO – The List
There is an ongoing and rather heated debate about GMO foods. I don’t intend to address that debate in this article. I do intend to present a few facts and a list of the known GMO Foods that are grown and available in the market in North America.
What is GMO
GMO is the acronym for Genetically Modified Organism. Finding a definition of exactly what constitutes a GMO is difficult. Various agencies and groups use different definitions. The most common definition usually includes language similar or consistent with “an organism that has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating or natural recombination.”
Many organisms are genetically modified. Microorganisms, plants, and animals have undergone some GMO modifications. Not all of these involve organisms that are considered food sources. Typically, genes to produce a desired response or action are introduced into the genome of the host plant. It isn’t just the few gene sequences that are intended to produce the desired effect. The gene-splicing also adds additional gene sequences as markers, activators, and reproducers.
Before GMO food is introduced to the US market, it has to undergo certification by the Food and Drug Administration. Currently, there are a limited number of food commodity crops that have that certification. In the US, the following are the only allowable GMO food crops.
Alfalfa is a legume and is also knows as Lucerne. and is primarily grown as a forage crop for livestock, and in this way, GMO alfalfa enters the food chain. Lucerne was originally GMO’ed for glyphosate resistance, but some other modifications have been made to decrease the lignin to produce a forage that is easier for animals to digest.
Arctic apples are a group of apples created and trademarked by a private company. This variety was genetically modified to suppress the gene in the apple that causes the apple to brown or discolor after it is cut. This is attractive to commercial food producers who use large numbers of sliced apples in batch processing and the elimination of browning makes the food more attractive for longer periods.
Aquabounty salmon is the first GMO animal product to be approved for sale as a food source. The salmon are genetically modified to reach market weight faster under controlled conditions (aqua-culture). These salmon are currently only sold in Canada but are on track to be approved for sale in the US.
Canola oil is made by extraction from rapeseed, a member of the mustard family. In its unrefined form, rapeseed oil is almost inedible because of the Erucic acid content, which gives the oil a bitter taste. Canola was discovered in Canada, and the name derives from “Canadian Oil Low Acid.” The GMO versions of canola (rapeseed) are designed to be glyphosate-resistant.
Corn may be the most heavily genetically modified plant that is approved for food use. Corn has been modified for resistance to glyphosate, numerous diseases, and resistance to pests. It is estimated that more than 90% of the corn grown in the US that reaches the food market and the livestock feed market is a GMO product.
Technically not a food crop, cotton has been genetically modified almost as much as corn. The primary modification is for glyphosate resistance, but it has also undergone gene modification for insect and disease resistance in other ways, primarily by spicing genes from bacillus thuringiensis to make the plants resistant to many insect pests. While we don’t eat cotton, more and more cotton debris is being used as compost material, which is finding its way into both commercial and hobby food production.
Cottonseed oil is widely used in food production especially in frying. A recent new strain of cotton has been approved as a food source. This variety of GMO cotton has human edible seeds that can be ground into flour.
This family of potatoes uses no gene sequences from other organisms. Instead, genes from the same strain of potatoes are used to suppress various unwanted characteristics. The most prevalent is the suppression of the gene that causes the potato to be brown or blacken after cutting. Several other varieties of potatoes have modified to suppress various compounds in potatoes that can undergo chemical changes during cooking, which can affect the desirability of the end product.
A private lab in Hawaii developed a variety of papaya by genetically modification to reduce the plant’s susceptibility to a fungus that was killing large numbers of papaya trees in Hawaii. Unfortunately, the genetically modified papayas have cross-bred with the native papaya, and fewer and fewer non-GMO papayas are available. This makes finding true organic papayas harder and harder in the market.
It is estimated that 87% of the soybeans grown in the US are GMO. Soybeans are another of those species that have been heavily engineered for traits to increase yield, reduce plant susceptibility to insect and disease, and to introduce tolerance for the application of glyphosates. Soy is widely used in commercial food production and appears in a vast amount of food products.
The ubiquitous yellow squash and zucchini squash have not escaped the GMO movement. Both of these widely grown and sold vegetables have been modified for resistance to many diseases and insect problems, especially various viruses
The primary source for commercially produced sugar, sugar beets have been genetically modified for disease resistance. It is estimated that up to 50% of the sugar produced in the US comes from GMO sugar beets and the amount is growing annually.
At the time this article was written, these are all of the GMO commodity crops that are certified for sale as human food in the US. Unfortunately, there is no requirement for labeling of foods that may contain GMO products.
I don’t know where you fall in the GMO debate but I do believe that everyone should be aware of what is going into their body. You are free to draw your own conclusions and make your own decisions.
Links and Resources
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