GMO meaning: What is genetically modified food?
Genetically modified organisms—known largely as GMOs—are simply living things that undergo the process of genetic engineering. Oftentimes, when people think about GMOs, they think about plants and crops, but that’s not all it’s limited to. GMOs can extend to small organisms such as bacteria or fungi, or even animals such as goats and pigs.
Most GMOs these days are indeed food, and a lot of them have been appearing on your supermarket shelves for decades. The first genetically modified foods that were commercially available were FLAVR SAVR tomatoes, made available in 1992. These tomatoes were modified to be sturdier and more resistant to bruising while being transported.
These days, a lot of commercially available foods are genetically modified in some way shape or form. Most of these modifications are harmless and usually involve things like making crops more resistant to pesticides, or giving some plants a gene that lets them produce more vitamins.
What are the pros and cons of genetically modified foods?
GMO crops yield bigger harvests with more nutritional content while using less water and reducing carbon emissions. GMOs are also cheaper to produce than their natural counterparts. GM foods have been in circulation for more than two decades, and there are thousands of studies affirming their safety for consumption.
Some GMOs have the potential to introduce different toxins or allergens into foods that might have otherwise been allergen-free. GMOs are not naturally occurring organisms, and there’s a small potential for them to permanently affect our environment.
What are common GMO foods in Australia?
These days, GM foods are everywhere. Here’s a list of the most common GMO foods you’ll find on the supermarket shelf.
Genetically modified corn—or maize—is in wide circulation around the world. This kind of corn is modified to be resistant to herbicides and pests, which drastically improves the way it’s grown.
FLAVR SAVR tomatoes were the first FDA approved and commercially sold GM food in the United States. First sold in 1992, FLAVR SAVR tomatoes have been engineered to be a bit stronger than their natural brethren, meaning that these tomatoes could survive long trips and rough handling without getting damaged, arriving in supermarkets in a pristine state.
Genetically modified soybeans have taken over the total production of soybeans, with over 80% of soybeans planted worldwide being genetically modified. These soybeans were modified to eliminate a major allergen present in natural soybeans, which made them safer overall.
Potatoes have also been genetically modified, with the modified versions producing lower levels of acrylamide, which is a compound that can possibly increase the risk of cancer. GM potatoes also bruise less easily, meaning they show the damage less, though they can still be damaged. The starch that comes from these potatoes is considered GMO starch as well.
Genetically modified salmon has been in the process of production for many years and has just recently been approved by the FDA in the United States of America. This GM salmon has been engineered to grow faster and all year round. This means that the dwindling wild salmon populations won’t be overfished, while the GM salmon can be farmed for cheaper, satisfying the global salmon demand easier.
A variety of rice has been genetically modified and aptly named “Golden Rice” because of its yellow colour compared to regular, white rice. Golden rice was developed to answer the problems of malnutrition in poor countries where rice is a staple in their diet. It is engineered to produce more Vitamin A, helping combat Vitamin A deficiency, which is a huge health problem in some third-world countries.
A relatively new product, the “Arctic Apple” has hit store shelves recently, astounding the public with an apple that doesn’t brown on contact with oxygen. Regular apples, when sliced or bitten into, turn brown after a short amount of time, as a product of oxidation. Arctic apples, on the other hand, don’t brown upon oxidising, remaining crisp and non-browned even after being exposed to air.
Misconceptions about GMO wheat
There’s a growing movement of people who think that some species of wheat have been genetically modified, with some even blaming GMO wheat for the rise in celiac and gluten sensitivity. Conspiracies aside, the accepted consensus is that GMO wheat is not sold commercially anywhere in the world.