GMOs and Your Next Shopping Trip: An FAQ to Keep Handy

Food with genetically modified organisms, otherwise known as GMO foods, have been around for decades. However, while they have been proven to be just as safe as conventionally grown foods, and in some cases are more nutritious, there remains some unknown facts about GMO foods and several myths relating to them.

IFIC has discussed how GMOs help farmer productivity and aid in environmental sustainability, but more questions have come to consumer’s minds when it comes to GMOs and grocery hauls. Here is a list of FAQ’s that may come in handy for your next shopping trip:

Are GMOs Labeled in Stores?

Currently, you may find some food products with labels that inform shoppers of foods containing bioengineered ingredientsthese would include GMOs. This type of notice is not meant to indicate safety, lack in quality or nutritional value—it is simply there to keep consumers informed about what is in our food. Some companies are currently voluntarily labeling their food items with this language; however, beginning January 2022, there will be a label requirement, set forth and developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The regulation will require companies to place language or a symbol on all products that contain bioengineered ingredients. Keep in mind that this regulatory action to disclose GMO information is not meant to signal a safety or quality concern.

What Does a Non-GMO Label Mean?

Now that you know that many foods already carry bioengineered food language on its packaging signaling GMO ingredients, you may ask yourself ’What does a “Non-GMO” label really mean?’ These labels generally indicate that GMO biotechnology was not used to produce a food product. There is a relatively short list of GMO crops available in the U.S. which include: soybeans, field and sweet corn, canola, cotton (used in cottonseed oil production), alfalfa, sugar beets, summer squash, papaya, apples, pink pineapples and potatoes. Each one of these types of GMO crops is just as safe and nutritious as its non-GMO counterparts. Only products that are made from these GMO crops can have a GMO version or a non-GMO version.

The “Non-GMO” label is not mandated by any regulatory body that monitors our food system; the label is used for marketing purposes. Thus, if you are walking down the poultry or bottled beverage aisle and see a “Non-GMO” label on chicken or water, just know that any product found there that is not carrying this label, is also a non-GMO—it’s just that the manufacture did not use the label.

It is also worth mentioning that the “Non-GMO” label is not synonymous with foods with an “organic” label. Organic foods are those that have been manufactured with USDA assigned organic production practices. For crops, this includes the use of certain synthetic pesticides and natural pesticides. For animals, this includes elements such as what animals are fed, and the time given for animals to be out in pasture.

What’s the Process for how GMOs are Regulated in Our Food System for Safety?

The safety of GMOs has been evaluated by national and international food safety authorities. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the USDA have ensured that GMOs are safe for human, plant and animal health—as has the World Health Organization. U.S. authorities, in addition to evaluating the safety of GMOs, also impose regulations on the production and introduction of GMOs into the food system.

A newly developed web resource library published by the FDA explains each U.S. agency’s role in regulating GMOs. The FDA sets and enforces food safety standards for all foods; in doing so, the agency works to ensure that foods that are GMOs or have GMO ingredients meet the same strict safety standards as all other foods. The EPA regulates the safety of the substances that protect GMO crops, which are also called plant-incorporated protectants (PIPs) and work to give the crops resistance to insects and disease. The EPA also monitors all pesticides that are used on GMO and non-GMO crops. Lastly, the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) protects agriculture in the U.S. against pests and disease. APHIS issues “regulations to make sure GMO plants are not harmful to other plants.”

Do GMOs cause sickness or allergies?

GMO foods have been part of our food system for more than two decades and have been thoroughly evaluated for safety or being potentially linked to adverse health outcomes. The scientific evaluation for the safety of GMOs includes an in-depth analysis performed by 50 scientists that worked on a 2016 National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report for more than two years. The NAS scientific cohort examined relevant literature, including more than 900 publications, and heard from 80 diverse speakers at three public meetings and 15 webinars: also more than 700 comments from members of the public were analyzed to broaden its understanding of issues surrounding GMO crops.

Significantly, the subsequent report noted there are no adverse health effects linked to GMO crops. To directly address some of the adverse health claims linked to GMO consumption, the report highlighted that there is no published evidence to support accusations or beliefs that consumption of genetically engineered foods can cause obesity, type 2 diabetes, food allergies or autism spectrum disorder, or that GMO foods generate unique gene or protein fragments that have the ability to induce health risk.

In addition, the consumption of GMOs is not harmful to those who are afflicted with any illness. So, for any food you normally consume that includes GMO/bioengineered food labeling, you can still feel safe eating it.

We hope this FAQ list helps with your next trip to the grocery store and understanding GMO and non-GMO food labels!