Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs for short, it is definitely a hot topic. I know you are also interested in GMOs as I speak or communicate electronically with many of you each week regarding Neocate and GMOs. In case you personally have not yet contacted us, all Neocate products contain no GMO-derived ingredients. To be REALLY specific, Neocate ingredients are certified by suppliers to be non-genetically modified through the use of modern biotechnology, compliant with EC regulations 1829/2003 & 1830/2003 (those are European regulations). Many of you that have contacted us for this information are happy to hear this fact about Neocate.
People around the world and consumers here in the US are also generally interested in GMOs, including our elected representatives in congress. The past summer there was a Federal bill passed in relation to labeling laws for GMOs, which was signed into law by President Obama. Some states such as Vermont had previously passed bills in relation to GMO labeling laws, and other countries in Europe have also passed laws in relation to labeling foods that contain GMOs.
So let’s take a closer look at what GMOs are, and why they are a hot topic. We will look at both sides of the picture so you can make your own decision on the topic of GMOs. Since there is a lot to say on this topic, we will break up the information between 2 posts and here is part #1.
I will use the term GMO, or GM crops; however you should be aware that there are other terms often used in publications when talking about GMOs if you plan to do your own research on the topic. GMOs or ingredients derived from GM crops are also referred to as Genetically Engineered (GE) foods, or even broadly as Biotechnology.
What is a GMO?
GMO, or Genetically Modified Organism, is a plant or animal variety that has been genetically altered by adding the DNA from another item. A crop resulting from this GMO is often called a Genetically Modified crop (GM crop). This genetic modification is usually done to enhance some characteristic of the plant. For example the new GMO plant may be more resilient to the elements (like drought), resistant to a particular insect or pest and thus a more hardy crop, resist a pesticide, or not require insecticide while growing. Or perhaps the new GMO plant is naturally higher in a particular nutrient or substance that is desirable or needed in our diets.
Some GMOs are created just so they are more visually appealing or maybe to simply add variety to the types of crops available. We all eat with our eyes and nose before ever tasting a food item, and so you can see why companies would want to make sure their produce is visually appealing.
Animals and plants have been genetically modified in a more traditional way for centuries. For example, breeding two horses together in an attempt for a faster or larger offspring horse is a prime example. Or perhaps you have experienced this more traditional plant modification yourself by accidentally planting your squash and cucumbers too close in the garden (also known as cross pollinating) and were witness to the resulting squacumber. Or even that cute little goldendoodle your neighbors just adopted, which is a crossbreed between a golden retriever and a poodle. All of these are examples of traditional genetic modification seen in nature.
GMOs in practice today take time out of the equation and simply combine the DNA from the 2 items together. You no longer have to wait for that baby horse to be born and grow and leave the gene selection up to the natural course. Instead through genetic modification you can start making the modification to the DNA to ensure the desirable traits are included.
GMOs today also go a large step further by combining DNA from many different species together such as DNA from an animal mixed with plant DNA, or perhaps even DNA from a virus or bacteria into plant DNA. So for example, that golden doodle we just mentioned could also be a deep purple color through GMO technology by adding in the DNA pigment from a purple grape (not a real life GMO example). I like to think of GMOs as speeding up the normal time it takes for evolution or plant cross breeding process with the added enhancement from of our scientific knowledge and skills mixed in.
Consensus & Controversy:
As you can imagine GMOs is a controversial subject. Changing the DNA of a plant in a laboratory does not sit well with many people, especially when you talk about using something like DNA from a virus or bacteria incorporated into something we eat. This is quite a jump from simply planting two similar crops close to each other or breading two fast horses. But let’s look at some of the leading experts and data published to see what they have to say about GMOs.
Most organizations agree that GMOs are safe. In fact the American Medical Association (AMA) reminds us through their 2012 publication that GMO foods “have been consumed for close to 20 years with no overt consequences on human health” based on the available reliable published research.1
Many agree that GMOs provide better plants and better food products. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) takes the official position in their 2006 publication that GMOs can “enhance the quality, safety, nutritional value, and variety of food available for human consumption and increase the efficiency of food production.”2
The National Academy of Sciences agrees that despite claims that GMO crops may be harmful to human health, a large body of research has shown the animals were not harmed when eating GMO crops with “no adverse effects” to the health of livestock associated with GMO crops.3 The National Academy of Sciences also notes that in regards to data in regards to the effect of health and disease in humans, there is “no substantial evidence that foods from GE crops were less safe than foods from non-GE crops.”3
As with many highly controversial or polarizing topics, the debate often arises from a small piece of the puzzle. While there are many things to consider in regards to GMOs, the main point that is controversial for so many is labeling foods that contain GMO ingredients and information available. Many consumers want the right to know what they are consuming and what they are feeding to their families so they can make an informed decision about their foods.
In our food allergies community, one concern in relation to GMOs is the possibility that a gene from a food allergen might be put into a food that would otherwise be “safe” for someone with that food allergy. We’ll provide more information in part #2 of this post about the steps taken to ensure this isn’t a concern.
Where to Look for Reliable Information?
If you simply Google GMOs you will get a long list of results. With so much information out there it is hard to know where to look for reliable information. This is indeed true for so many topics in relation to health, and particularly true when trying to understand research. Add in something that is controversial such as GMOs and you also have a polarizing argument which can further cloud the information.
As a health professional, I turn to reliable medical research to form an opinion about a topic and often look to larger reputable organizations for their research summaries or direction for any given health topic. We like to call this evidence based practice, and this is certainly a cornerstone of any good nutrition or general health professional.
Some of the places where I gathered the information regarding GMOs are listed below. If you would like to know more about GMOs, I encourage you to read the information referenced below and see if you agree or disagree.
Stay tuned for part #2 of this GMO blog post tomorrow where we will talk about some of the pros and cons in relation to GMOs and how they relate to our community of nutrition, food allergies, and health.
What do you think about GMOs? Share your thoughts and Neocate questions in the comments below.
--Kristin Crosby MS, RDN, LDN
American Medical Association (AMA)
AMA House of Delegates 2012 Annual Meeting: Council on Science and Public Health Report 2, Labeling of Bioengineered Foods
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND)
Position of the American Dietetic Association: Agricultural and Food Biotechnology, 2006
National Academy of Sciences
Genetically Engineered Crops: Experiences and Prospects, Executive Summary, 2016
Institute of Food Technologists (IFT)
Biotechnology and Food: Executive Summary