What are GMOs?

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GMOs are the most commonly recognized product of biotechnology, though not necessarily the most common one. GMOs are genetically modified organisms. For example, when researchers use genetic engineering to turn off an existing gene or add a gene from another source to create a new, desirable characteristic, the resulting plants or microbes are considered GMOs.

While it’s true that virtually everything we eat today has been genetically modified over thousands of years by selective breeding, cross-pollination and hybridization, GMOs are the product of a much more precise use of biotechnology. There are currently only eight crops grown from GMO seeds available to consumers in the U.S., and a handful more available worldwide. Those eight crops are papaya, alfalfa, sugar beets, summer squash, soybeans, cotton, corn (field and sweet), and canola. The last four – soybean, cotton, corn and canola – are the most commonly grown GMO crops, planted in 28 countries by 18 million farmers worldwide

Most GMOs are created to help solve problems farmers face, like fighting off insects that plague crops or protecting crops from herbicides used to control weeds, but some GMO crops – like the Hawaiian Rainbow Papaya – were created to help resist disease. A new biotech soybean from DuPont Pioneer, Plenish®, has a different nutritional profile, with 0g trans fat. Future crops grown from GMO seeds have the potential to help reduce food waste by introducing traits that reduce or eliminate browning (including the Arctic® Apple or Innate Potato), or that increase the nutritional content of crops and provide essential nutrients to our world’s most vulnerable populations (including high beta-carotene rice and bananas), or that reduce or eliminate food allergies (like peanut allergies and gluten sensitivity).

While the benefits of GMO crops are readily apparent to the farmers who grow them, consumers still have many questions about both the benefits and safety record of biotech crops. In an effort to better address consumer questions about GMOs, we’re involved with GMO Answers, an initiative committed to responding to questions about how food is grown. To date, volunteers from across the biotech community have answered more than 600 consumer questions about GMOs. Read the top questions consumers have asked, or ask your own!