There is increasing opposition to the use of Genetically Modified Organisms, more commonly known as “GMOs”. 

Why Genetic Modification Matters

Food may be a resource that is completely renewable, but it is always at risk because of how it delicately balances its production capacity with environmental and social factors. Agricultural sectors are capable of both saving and destroying. Food production priorities must be kept in balance with: 

  • The environment and our demands on land and water, 

  • Societal progress and the life balance of our farming labor, 

  • Economic and global trade contributions to support supply demands,

  • And the quality of products produced to our methods of production.

As such, a nation’s ability to provide food security is a relentless battle. To ensure growing populations are provided the nutrients they need there is an ever-increasing burden on farms to find ways to increase food production. Advances in food science have come up with many techniques to reduce the strain. As environmental resources are finite, GM (genetic modification) claims to help manage the demand efficiently. 

However, the production of genetically modified goods comes in contact with polarized views on the unintended costs. While coming to your own conclusions about supporting GMOs it is important to consider all the factors. First, understand the terms.

What is a GMO, non-GMO and Organic?

The terms GMO, non-GMO, and Organic are labels that inform consumers about how a product was made. Understanding this distinction is essential when making a personal choice around food purchasing or before entering the important debate on policies and labeling of genetically modified food products.

GMO vs Non-GMO 

GMO stands for “genetically modified organism” and refers to a bio-scientific technique where a plant, animal, microorganism, or other organism is modified in a laboratory using genetic engineering or transgenic technology. These cellular hybrids are artificially produced variants of plants or animals in which the genetic makeup of the organism has been altered to contain one or more genes not normally found in the organism’s DNA. 

This cell-level modification is engineered to create a specific result. GMOs have been used for decades to strengthen a food product’s resilience or provide solutions for commercial food production. It is so often used that if a product does not explicitly state non-GMO or Organic you can bet the DNA has been altered at some point in the process. GMOs claim to benefit us by:

  • Reducing the number of pesticides and herbicides required,

  • Creating crops that have been nutrient-enriched,

  • Producing greater yields, because genes are altered to solve specific growing challenges,

  • Producing seeds implanted with a herbicide to reduce a farm’s energy needs, by requiring fewer tractor passes to eliminate invasive weeds,

  • Offering less industrialized farms in developing countries, less of a need to manual weed a crop, allowing families to gain income elsewhere.

Non-GMO can sometimes be confused with organic. They are not the same. Non-GMO means that the genetic makeup of the plants and animals used has not been altered. A non-GMO may have been created with selective breeding of a related species.

Non-GMO does not indicate that the products used to support growth have not come in contact with a GMO. A non-GMO food product may have employed the use of pesticides or synthetic products to support their health. Because of the prevalence of GMOs in agriculture, for a farm to claim they produce nonGMO products means taking on the burden of rigorous testing and inspections. Choosing to produce non-GMO, farmers:

  • Choose pesticides, synthetic or natural to aid in higher food production yields,

  • Decide which seeds and animal care options are more economical,

  • Flex with supply limits, having the freedom to choose products that are more accessible,

  • Take on thorough inspections, to fulfill standards that classify their products as nonGMO, or even more strictly as organic.

  • Limit the uncertainty associated with GMOs on human and ecological unintended effects by relying on farming techniques with a much longer history.

NonGMO vs Organic

Organic. If you are looking for products completely outside of genetic modification, organically produced plants and livestock are your best answer.  Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are prohibited in organic products. This means they can not come in contact with any GMO Products. 

Organic certifications ensure little to no exposure to irradiation, synthetic substances, or pesticides. There are many “organic” certifications, to help a consumer identify how pure something was produced as there are many possible touchpoints in these growing cycles. Organic farms often produce lower production yields which might account for their increased cost. But their benefit claims are many: 

  • Organic products are rich in nutrients,

  • Animals raised organically aren’t treated with artificial drugs, growth hormones or antibiotics, known to result in some human health issues,

  • Free of artificial preservatives, flavorings, and colors in a reliably regulated way,

  • They prohibit the use of glyphosate (Roundup®), which is overused and becomes a toxic agent to ecosystems and to humans. 

  • They can supply a loyal subset of consumers.

GMO, A history

The first genetically engineered food product approved by the FDA for human consumption was the Flavr Savr tomato, developed by the Calgene company of California and available for sale in 1994. 

Specific genes added to the plant slowed the rotting process by acting as a partial block to enzymes responsible for ripening. Whereas unmodified tomatoes are harvested before they are ripe, the Flavr Savr fruit could be ripened on the vine and still maintain the necessary shelf life for transport. The FDA allowed stores to sell these tomatoes without GMO labeling, stating that there were “no health risks” with the Flavr Savr and that the nutritional content was “identical to unmodified tomatoes”.

Mounting costs made the Flavr Savr too expensive to produce and it came off the market in 1997, but a wave of GMO crops were to follow. Now genetically engineered plants are grown all over the world with 10% of the world's crops being genetically modified, while genetic engineering of US corn, beets and soy has increased from 65 percent in 2006 to 90 percent in 2013 according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

Terms you may hear around GMO, Non-GMO, Organic 

Sometimes it helps to identify common terms associated with genetically modified products. When you are initially researching GMOs, non-GMO or Organic practices these terms may be included with the best intentions to deepen your understanding. In the worst case to confuse or mislead you.

GMO tend to focus on the biological science of non-naturally occurring hybrids:

  • GMO. Genetically modified organism

  • Modified in a laboratory 

  • Genetic engineering

  • Genetic hybrid vectors

  • Transgenic technology

  • Genetic hybrid

  • Biotechnology. This term refers to the use of living organisms to solve problems or develop new products. Genetic modification is one example of biotechnology; 

  • The Golden Rice Project. This was a famous example of genetic modification where Scientists added vitamin A to rice through genetic modification to help prevent a rampant vitamin A deficiency in the developing world.

nonGMO tend to focus on growing conditions:

  • Non-GMO Project verified

  • Synthetic pesticides 

  • Pesticide residues

  • Organophosphates

  • Hormone disruptors 

  • Neurotoxins

  • Reproductive toxins

  • Herbicide

  • Glyphosate (Roundup®)

  • Hexane 

  • Conventional oils 

  • Neurotoxin hexane extraction 

  • Sewage sludge

  • Biosolids

  • Growth-promoting drugs

  • Ractopamine

  • Growth-promoting steroids and drugs

  • Growth-promoting antibiotics and superbugs 

  • Obesogens that trigger our bodies to store fat 

  • Antibiotics, growth hormones, pesticides, and synthetic preservatives

  • Synthetic preservatives 

  • Synthetic pesticides 

  • Growth hormones and antibiotics 

  • Organic food

  • Non-organic additives 

  • MSG – Monosodium glutamate. 

  • Excitotoxins

  • Carrageenan 

  • Natural Flavors 

  • Hybrid: The plants, animals or other organisms created through controlled breeding are called hybrids. Hybrids are not GMOs.

Organic products tend to focus on breeding naturally occurring hybrids:

  • Certified Organic

  • EWG’s Dirty Dozen Guide 

  • Natural pesticides 

  • Probiotics 

  • Nutrient absorption

  • Crossbreeding: combines genetic material from two species that are genetically compatible

  • Natural Breeding: like bees and pollen

  • Deliberate pairing by crossing a resistant variety with a high-yield variety in a lab 

  • Breeding can improve traits, providing those traits already exist in the organism.

  • Open-Pollinated

  • Controlled pollination 

  • The open-pollinated seed is produced via natural pollination between two plants 

  • Heirloom is generally varieties that have been preserved through generations

GMOs and Economics

According to Our World in Data “Over the last 50 years, the global population has more than doubled. This factor has inevitably reduced the land available per person to live and grow food.”

The solution has been global trade where agricultural rich countries can sell their excess to those countries that simply do not have the land or labor. Specializing and entering into Foreign trade agreements we make room for giant leaps in innovation and growth. Additionally, Food trade as a political tool helps nations drive change and influence foreign policy against inequalities in nonviolent interactions.

This makes efficient food production a big business drive towards progress. 

The benefits of GMOs are well-documented in scientific and policy-driven circles.

The most common use of GMOs is in the farming industry, where crops can be made resistant to parasites, frost and even herbicides. As such, there are many applications for the modification of organisms and the same biotechnological processes used to create corn impervious to Roundup® herbicide are used to produce Bovine Growth Hormone (rBST) to increase milk production in dairy cows, just as potatoes are modified to produce the effects of anti­cholera vaccine and spider genes are inserted into goat DNA to produce milk proteins that are stronger than Kevlar.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations that leads international efforts to defeat hunger, It also provides a voice on food security by monitoring and making public data on trade. They also advocate for the benefits of GMO. 

GMOs and Society

Agriculture touches not only personal health but also contributes to many economic and social factors. As a globally traded resource, a decision to trade in food has wide implications on the lives of a nation’s workers. In some regions, the time taken to maintain an agricultural product has an inverse relationship with its communities’ attention to social needs. Education and investment in diversifying a nation’s workforce are often sacrificed to fil the high labor requirements of farm producers in securing wealth. 

Such decisions are felt the greatest in developing countries where time-intensive tasks such as weeding are often left to the family, specifically women and children. Time to weed is traded for investment in a household’s priorities on education or women entering the workforce to support their family’s path out of poverty.  

Food is a primary need. When the alternative is starvation at a national level, few would fault an organic farming community for prioritizing food production over advancing their city’s technological advances or delivering on mandates for equality in the workforce. 

To ease this burden, the invention and adoption of GMO seeds, with weed resistance, have come to offer one support. 


GMOs and Health

Companies that produce GMOs claim that the processes are benign, that science has shown there are no ill effects from consuming genetically engineered (GE) food. They cite 1700 research studies that indicate GMOs are safe to consume. With Genetically Modified Organisms, supporters claim, we could end world hunger if more people accepted the technology as safe and more farmers were willing to switch to GE seeds.

However, many countries have resisted the push by large agricultural concerns to endorse the use of GMO seeds and 90% of the world's GMO produce is grown in just four countries, the US, Canada, Brazil and Argentina. 

Elsewhere, humans have chosen to use the same processes of breeding to modify crops and farm animals that have been in place for thousands of years. Contrary to what the supporters of GMOs would have you believe, the process of manufacturing GM seed is not at all like traditional methods of plant breeding. The methods traditionally used by farmers for modifying plants and animals utilize selective breeding whereby naturally occurring traits are brought out or suppressed by selective breeding. 

With genetically engineered seeds, however, traits are forced into the seed by inserting foreign genes into the plant’s DNA. Could this potentially have unknown repercussions on the plant's genetic makeup, altering its nutritional value, possibly producing toxicity, or resulting in poor crop performance? With only a few decades of implementation, we can’t accurately predict.


Fruit and vegetables shot from above


GMO In practice, it’s not a simple solution 

Claims of GMOs reducing the number of pesticides and herbicides

Use of GMOs does not reduce the number of pesticides and herbicides as the makers claim. As GMOs are made resistant to glyphosate, the active ingredient in most herbicides, it has been shown that farmers use more herbicides, bringing an increase in the worldwide allowed residue limit of the chemical. 

Monsanto advertises its glyphosate product, Roundup®, as being safe for the environment and low in toxicity, but critics say these claims are based on outdated and questionable studies and new legislation is underway.   In a notice of intent published by the California EPA’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, glyphosate (the main ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup®, a chemical) will soon likely require a warning and be labeled as “known to cause cancer.”

Nature adapts to everything and it is adapting and compensating for the increased usage of pesticides and herbicides, as well as for GMO crops. The inevitable end result of this will be glyphosate-resistant superweeds and pests that are immune to the pest resistance of GMO plants. When this happens, the producers of GMO seeds will simply earn more as farmers become more and more dependent on new strains of increasingly modified plants, putting manufacturers of GMOs such as Monsanto in total control of our food production.

Claim: GMO as a way to end world hunger

In addition, though GM seeds are promoted to end world hunger and assure crop security, no GMO plant has been shown to increase yield for the farmer. In fact, the increased use of Roundup® and other glyphosates and pesticides that result from the use of GMO seeds kills the natural nutrients and organisms present in the soil, which can cause plant diseases and reduced yields in many cases. 

The increase in herbicide and pesticide use has also had a devastating effect on non­pest plants and organisms, such as the Monarch butterfly population that has been decimated in North America in part because of the use of glyphosate-resistant corn and soybeans as well as the subsequent disappearance of the milkweed plant on which the butterflies feed.

Glyphosate in products such as Roundup®has also been linked to SDS, Sudden Death Syndrome in plants, causing them to yellow and die.

Genetically modified organisms are touted by those who manufacture and sell them as the cure for world hunger, but world hunger is not a problem that can be solved by creating new and better species of plants, it is a question of worldwide allocation of resources. 

The use of GMOs does not promote crop and food security and is essentially an untested gamble that could result in a worldwide disaster. There have been no conclusive safety studies since independent researchers are not permitted to use patented GM crops in their studies and the results are criticized by the GMO producers as insufficient and inconclusive.

Claim: GMO seed use also claim that the seeds are more energy efficient 

Supporters of GMO seed use also claim that the seeds are more energy efficient because the herbicide implanted into the seeds allows the farmer to make fewer tractor passes to eliminate weeds. However, GMO crops are still heavily dependent on glyphosate herbicides such as Roundup® that require fossil fuel in their production, offsetting the reduction in air pollution from less tilling. Furthermore, GM plants use nitrogen-based fertilizer which is a source of greenhouse gases that deplete the ozone.

GMO Labeling

Even in the countries that have embraced GMO products the most, there is a movement to at least force farmers and stores to label genetically engineered products. Many consumers fear that there are risks with using genetically engineered products. 

In the USA, 20 states are considering enacting GM labeling laws, and although the FDA does not believe there are health risks with genetically modified foods, they have proposed guidelines for labeling GM products to inform consumers who want their diet GMO­free. The same movement to label GMO foods is happening in Canada where consumer action groups have created a voluntary Non­GMO certification for products that use no engineered ingredients.

Critics of genetic engineering say that many of the articles cited by proponents as evidence of the safety of GMO products in fact show evidence of risk? Even though relatively few biologists are raising questions about the safety of GM crops, the research into these issues is primarily funded by GM companies that have a vested interest in positive and supportive results. 

Opponents also claim that those promoting GMOs are glossing over important science-based disagreements about the effects of consuming genetically modified organisms. They point to several studies that contradict the idea that GMO products are without health risk, studies in which rats fed a diet of genetically engineered corn varieties suffered damage to the kidneys and liver after just 90 days.

Non-GMO Options

Despite the increasing concern of consumers, North American companies find it hard to go GMO-free. After two decades of using GMO crops, they are so prevalent in the supply chain that securing large and reliable quantities of Non­GMO ingredients is nearly impossible. Furthermore, even farms that refuse to use GM seed often find that their crops have been contaminated by cross­pollination from neighboring farms that do use the engineered seed, making labeling less reliable.

However, despite these difficulties, there are many companies that are trying to free themselves from reliance on genetically engineered crops. "A lot of food manufacturers are looking at switching over to Non­GMO. The demand is out there," said Aaron Skyberg, director of SK Food International, a North Dakota­ based bulk ingredient supplier to U.S. and foreign food companies. "But it is a huge learning curve for them."

Since there is as yet no federal standard for Non­GMO labeling, many companies are signing up for a third-party verification program known as the Non­GMO Project. 

nonGMO Project logo

The Non-­GMO Project, started by natural and organic food retailers in 2007 in Bellingham, Washington, grants manufacturers a license to use a seal signifying their products have been audited to assure that they contain no more than 0.9% GMO. The number of such Non­GMO "verified" products increased to 14,800 in 2013, up from 4,000 in 2011, and 1,000 more products are in the verification pipeline, according to the Non­GMO Project Executive Director Megan Westgate. In a single year sales of verified products hit $5 billion, up from $1.7 billion in 2011, she said.

Since GMO labeling still has a long way to be fully implemented, consumers need to practice their right to urge policymakers to make it happen. 

Final Thoughts around GMO, non-GMO, Organic Products

For the time being, those who are concerned about GMO products have choices to ensure that no genetically modified plants or microorganisms have been used in production. The Intengine Directory lists many products that are Non-GMO or Organic certified, which ban the use of genetically engineered products. 

Intengine supports these consumer choice and listings that are identified as nonGM

Tags: GMO