What is a GMO?
A GMO (genetically modified organism) is the result of a laboratory process of taking genes from one species and inserting them into another in an attempt to obtain a desired trait or characteristic, hence they are also known as transgenic organisms. This process may be called either Genetic Engineering (GE) or Genetic Modification (GM); they are one and the same.
What foods are GM?
Currently commercialized GM crops in the U.S. include soy (91%), cotton (88%), canola (80-85%), corn (85%), Hawaiian papaya (more than 50%), zucchini and yellow squash (small amount), and tobacco (Quest® brand). About half of the sugar beets grown for sugar in 2008 were GM and current projections are that about 90% grown in 2009 will be GM.
What are other sources of GMOs?
Products derived from the above, including oils from all four, soy protein, soy lecithin, cornstarch, corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup among others. Also:
- meat, eggs, and dairy products from animals that have eaten GM feed (and the majority of the GM corn and soy is used for feed)
- dairy products from cows injected with rbGH (a GM hormone)
- food additives, enzymes, flavorings, and processing agents, including the sweetener aspartame (NutraSweet®) and rennet used to make hard cheeses
- honey and bee pollen that may have GM sources of pollen
What are the dangers of eating GM foods?
There are a number of dangers that broadly fall into the categories of potential toxins, allergens, carcinogens, new diseases, antibiotic resistant diseases, and nutritional problems.
View all 65 health risks of GM foods, excerpted from Jeffrey Smith's comprehensive book Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods.
What combinations have been tried?
It is now possible for plants to be engineered with genes taken from bacteria, viruses, insects, animals or even humans. Scientists have worked on some interesting combinations:
- Spider genes were inserted into goat DNA, in hopes that the goat milk would contain spider web protein for use in bulletproof vests.
- Cow genes turned pigskins into cowhides.
- Jellyfish genes lit up pigs' noses in the dark.
- Artic fish genes gave tomatoes and strawberries tolerance to frost.
- Potatoes that glowed in the dark when they needed watering.
- Human genes were inserted into corn to produce spermicide.
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