Have you ever wondered what foods are GMOs? Get the scoop here, and see why it’s not as bad as you’ve heard. GMOs can be helpful to farmers and to you!
What Foods Are GMO?
(Referral links are used in this post. This post was sponsored by Indiana Soybean Alliance. All thoughts and opinions are my own.)
As of 2016, there are 9 genetically modified (GMO) foods available. One more is approved, and will be available at stores soon.
If you haven’t read it yet, be sure to check out this post first to see exactly what we’re talking about:
Both field corn and sweet corn are available in GMO versions. Corn has had genes for herbicide tolerance (yes, for Roundup and the generic version, but also for a handful of other pesticides including Liberty and its generics), for pest resistance (corn root worms, corn borer, fall army worm, cutworms, and earworms), and for more efficient water use.
I’ll cover herbicide tolerant crops in detail in a future post. For now, here are the main benefits for using herbicide tolerant crops:
- Herbicides are typically applied early in the growing season, when the weeds are growing faster than the crops and before the food is actually on the plant (before corn ears start to form).
- 97% of what is sprayed on a field is water. Most herbicides are diluted so far that only 22 ounces of the concentrated weed killer is sprayed over one acre. (Check out Brian Scott’s post on that here.)
- Farmers can use no-till and other soil conservation practices because they do not have to do as much mechanical weed control (with tilling and plowing).
A corn plant being able to use water more efficiently is a huge deal. In the summer of 2012, we had a bad drought in Indiana. None of the corn crop did well, and many farmers had their worst year in a long time. Right now (in 2016), California is in the middle of a very long drought. While California is not a big corn growing state, they do grow some corn. Corn hybrids that can more efficiently use water could be a big benefit to farmers in drought-stricken areas. It would give them another option of something to plant that would produce a good yield, without using huge amounts of water, and still provide an income for their families and food for us to eat. Although we do not have to deal with water rights issues in Indiana (yet), states with water problems will benefit from being able to plant drought-tolerant corn.
Soybeans have herbicide tolerance genes (Roundup and the generic versions, Liberty and the generic versions, and some others) and pest resistance genes (for the velvetbean caterpillar and the soybean looper). Some soybeans have genes that let them produce soybean oil with a higher oleic acid content (a monounsaturated fatty acid).
One of the many uses for soybeans is to be made into vegetable oil. While all cooking oils all have the same macronutrient value (calories and fat), different oils have different fat profiles. Some are higher in unsaturated fatty acids (like olive oil, canola oil, and sunflower oil). Some are higher in saturated fatty acids (like coconut oil and palm oil). Oleic acid is a monounsaturated fatty acid; it is the primary fatty acid in olive oil and is considered to be “heart healthy.” The monounsaturated fatty acids may help to lower low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL cholesterol, the “bad” version) in people. So these “high-oleic soybeans” could be one way to make a healthier cooking oil!
(Infographic courtesy of GMO Answers.)
Canola is tolerant to some herbicides (Roundup, Liberty, the generic versions, and others). This gives the same benefits that we discussed above for corn.
Cotton has genes for herbicide tolerance (Roundup, 2,4-D, Liberty, the generic versions, and others) and for insect resistance (cotton bollworm, pink bollworm, american bollworm, spotted bollwor, cotton leaf perforator tobacco budworm, soybean looper, cabbage looper).
You have probably heard of insect resistance as the Bt trait. I’ll get into insect resistant crops in more detail in a future post. For now, here are the highlights:
- Bt stands for Bacillus thuringiensis. Bt is a bacteria that lives in soil all over the world.
- Different proteins from the Bt bacteria affect different insects.
- Genes for different Bt proteins can be incorporated into crops to only target the pests that affect that plant in that area.
- Bt proteins are not harmful to people, other mammals, or many other insects (including beneficial insects).
Alfalfa has a gene for herbicide tolerance (Roundup and the generics) and a gene that lowers the lignin content of the plants. Alfalfa with lower lignin content will stay “fresh” for a longer time in the field. This means that farmers have a more flexibility on when to harvest their alfalfa crop and still have good quality feed for livestock.
Rainbow papaya has a gene that makes it resistant to the ringspot virus. The ringspot virus nearly wiped out all the Hawaiian papaya. If not for this genetic modification, many families would have lost their farms and their entire livelihood. The first genetically modified papayas were available to purchase in 1998. As of 2010, at least 70% of papaya grown in Hawaii is genetically modified to be resistant to ringspot.
Sugar beets have a gene for herbicide tolerance (Roundup and Liberty, and the generics). Generic herbicides do work just as well as the brand-name herbicides. Farmers are not required to purchase any particular brand of herbicides, or to purchase from any specific company.
Yellow crookneck, yellow straightneck, and zucchini squash (some of the Curcurbita pepo varieties) have genes for disease resistance to the zucchini yellow mosaic potyvirus, the watermelon mosaic potyvirus, and the cucumber mosaic virus. These viral diseases cause discolored and puckered leaves, misshapen fruits, and can cause the plants to die. Infection with these viruses can be devestating for a squash crop.
Potatoes are the newest approved genetically modified food that you might find in the grocery store (the Innate potato). These potatoes have genes that will keep them from bruising and developing black spots as easily, keep them from browning after the potato is cut, and are lower in acrylamide. The reduced bruising, black spots, and browning will help to reduce potato waste.
Genetically modified apples are approved to be grown, but are not available to purchase yet. These apples (the Arctic Apple) will not brown after they are cut (like the potato described above). While this might seem like a silly or frivolous trait, it could make apples more appealing as a snack, and could decrease food waste. You can cut apples at home and toss them with lemon juice or pineapple juice to keep them from browning. But there’s a chance that your kids might not eat apples with a slightly different flavor (I know mine won’t!). With these Arctic Apples, the extra (messy) step won’t be needed.
A breed of salmon that has been genetically modified has also been approved, but is not available for purchase yet. Salmon grow quickly during the warm months, but eat less and grow less during the cold months. This breed of salmon will grow continuously during the year, instead of slowing down its growth during the winter. This will allow farmed salmon to reach market weight faster, using less resources.
What other questions do you have about GMOs? Check out these resources, and leave me more questions in the comments!