GMO Definition: What is GMO?

December 30, 2014
by Magda Rod for Thrive Market
GMO Definition: What is GMO?

Recent advances in technology don't stop at smart watches or 3-D printing —  we can engineer just about everything in this world, including our food.

The phrase "GMO" is probably familiar to you, even if all you know about genetically modified organisms is their sinister sounding acronym. Understanding what exactly a GMO is, and why that distinction is important, is key to a healthy awareness of what you're eating.

So what are GMOs?

According to the World Health Organization, genetically modified organisms (GMOs, for short) are "organisms in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in such a way that does not occur naturally." This genetic engineering, also known as biotechnology or recombinant DNA technology, simply means inserting genetic fragments of DNA from one organism to another.

One of the most common alterations in GMOs is the introduction of genes from bacteria that will make plants tolerant to herbicides, which farmers can then use to control weeds. This modification is especially common in corn.

To genetically modify crops, scientists insert a gene sequence into plant cells, which they then grow in a lab before breeding. Both the location of the transferred gene sequence in the corn DNA and the consequences of the insertion differ with each insertion.  The combination of different plants and organisms has given GMOs another nickname — "frankenfood."

Genetically modifying crops is different from crossbreeding fruits and vegetables — a process we have to thank for the pluot and mandarin orange. Hybrids can occur naturally through cross-pollination.

Why would you want to avoid them?

The American Journal of Environmental Medicine has come out against genetically modified foods because of the adverse health risks. Various feeding studies in animals have resulted in potentially pre-cancerous cell growth, damaged immune systems, smaller brains, livers, and testicles, partial atrophy or increased density of the liver, odd shaped cell nuclei and other unexplained anomalies, false pregnancies and higher death rates.

But what about humans? The only feeding study done with humans simply showed that GMOs can survive inside the stomach of the people eating GMO food, according to Nature Biotechnology. No follow-up studies have been done.

So how can you avoid GMOs?

Try following these four simple steps:

1. Buy organic, since the USDA forbids foods labeled "organic" from containing GMOs. If you stick to certified organic foods, you know you're avoiding GMOs.

2. Look for products labeled "GMO free" or certified by the Non-GMO Project. Thrive Market even has it's own "Non-GMO Project Verified" label to sort non-GMO products, and has made a commitment not to carry any genetically modified foods.

3. Avoid the "big four" ingredients most likely to be GMOs: corn, soybeans, cottonseed and canola. Of course, if they are marked organic or GMO-free, you're in the clear.

Remember, cottonseed oil can be in a lot of processed foods, so read labels carefully. Soy can also be called many other names in labels, including soy lecithin.

4. There’s an app for that. Download the Non-GMO Shopping Guide onto your PC or phone here.

5. Sign up for a local CSA box. CSAs, or Community Supported Agriculture, allow you to buy seasonal produce directly from a farmer. You'll receive a bag or box of whatever fruits and vegetables are in season each week, and you know you're getting the freshest, healthiest produce.

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This article is related to: Fruits, GMOs, Non-GMO, Organic, Pesticides, Produce, Vegetables, Herbicides, Non-GMO project

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  • Larkin Curtis Hannah

    I don't know who wrote this article on GMO foods but clearly they don't have a clue about genetics, plant breeding, plant biochemistry or agriculture. I would guess they are paid by the organic industry.

  • hyperzombie

    Wow, So wrong. Have you ever even seen a farm??

    <blockquote>1. Buy organic, since the USDA forbids foods labeled "organic" from containing GMOs. If you stick to certified organic foods, you know you're avoiding GMOs.</blockquote>

    There is no testing required in Organic farming, so just like pesticides (over 40% of test positive for banned pesticides) you don't really know if it is Non GMO.

    <blockquote>2. Look for products labeled "GMO free" or certified by the Non-GMO Project. Thrive Market even has it's own "Non-GMO Project Verified" label to sort non-GMO products, and has made a commitment not to carry any genetically modified foods.</blockquote>

    Once again no testing is required for the Non-GMO label. Plus Non GMO in most cases = even more pesticides.

    <i>3. Avoid the "big four" ingredients most likely to be GMOs: corn, soybeans, cottonseed and canola. Of course, if they are marked organic or GMO-free, you're in the clear.</i>

    Well over 90% of fresh corn is Non GMO, same with fresh edamame (soy). Cottonseed and canola are processed into oils so there is no GMOness in the product or pesticides.

    <i>5. Sign up for a local CSA box. CSAs, or Community Supported Agriculture, allow you to buy seasonal produce directly from a farmer. You'll receive a bag or box of whatever fruits and vegetables are in season each week, and you know you're getting the freshest, healthiest produce.</i>

    Almost all fresh produce is non GMO, so dont waste your money.

  • Phil

    A very dishonest article. Authors claims a journal of doutful exisistence (google search found one hit - on an obscure MD's bio) as expressing concern when WHO (cited elsewhere but their conclusions of safety ignored), CDC and FDA see no health issues for GMO. Esp like the sophomoric concern that "GMOs can survive inside the stomach of people eating GMO food." That low levels of food DNA (not the viable plant) can pass through is not surprising and authors ignored the conclusion that drove the authors in the 1st place -" we conclude that gene transfer did not occur during the feeding experiment."

  • Mar Sarrim

    not even a mention about Terminator Seeds and what GMO is doing to farmers or the soil. Not even a mention on monsantos patented chemtrails that mess up the soil with aluminum so regular seeds don't do so well, while gmo was designed in part to grow in HIGH ALUMINUM soil.
    -we breath in chemtrails-
    the govts are bad enough,.. but monSatans??? come on now.


    this article is jibberish.
    this article is informative.
    this article doesn't even bring to mind,.. that it is OUR CHOICE that is being taken away and we are being force feed these gmos.
    this article doesn't mention that Monsanto PURCHASED their way into school books and children tv.
    this article is not even 1/10th of what the whole GMO debate is about.
    this article actually LIES when it comes to the studies.

  • wiggy365

    you mean that not everything one buys at major grocery stores in the good ol' U.S.A., is like good for ya?