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GMOs are here to stay — should you be worried?

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GMOs are a whirlwind of controversy in areas ranging from long term safety, to consumer labeling issues. Are genetically modified organisms safe in the food supply? Should consumers be worried? 

The Food and Drug Administration says, no. But some consumer groups believe that GMOs should not be freely available in the food supply. 

This relatively new concept of genetically engineered foods, known as GMOs, is a process where the genetic material (DNA) of one plant is transferred to the DNA of another plant, taking on the positive qualities of the added DNA. This process produces a new plant that can be more resistant to pests, able to grow in harsh weather conditions, or contain an improved nutritional profile.

Because GMOs are here to stay, it's important to take a closer look at the evidence-based science on GMO safety. Another key question is not about GMO safety, but about labeling. A valid point is the public has a right to know if GMOs are in a food they are buying, to opt out if they choose.

The main GMOs in the US food supply are corn, soybeans, canola, and cotton. The GMO process, including safety and allergen testing has been approved by the FDA, meaning that GMO seeds that grow into these plants can be used as either food ingredients, or as a stand-alone food (think corn or soy beans). While critics of GMOs claim that long term safety has not been documented, and can increase the occurrence of food allergies (especially in children), the FDA states that no evidence of an increased incidence of food allergies or toxicity is observed when comparing genetic or traditional plant farming.

But if you DO want to avoid GMOs in the food you choose, you do have some choices. Look for the USDA organic seal. The FDA regulates organic foods, and one requirement is the complete absence of any GMO ingredients. This is not true of products labeled "contains organic ingredients". And while not an FDA-affiliated program, the GMO-free verification seal represents a third-party company assessing the presence of GMOs in food ingredients. Some products simply say "no GMOs", and a call or email to the company to verify the statement is a good idea.

A number of food companies are responding to the public demand for information, in two important ways: 

  • Removing the GMO ingredients from at least part of their product lines.
  • Keeping the products the same, but provide labeling information of which products are not made with GMO ingredients.

While GMOs remain a safe part of the food supply from a regulatory standpoint, there are increasing options if you choose to eliminate them from your diet.

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