Genetically Modified Foods

Asked July 2, 2013, 6:56 PM EDT

Hi, I am looking for educational information on genetically modified foods and the relationship to human health and the environment for our Eco Family Virtual conference participants. I am looking to answer the question "What does the average Iowan/US citizen need to know about GMO foods?
Can you please point me to some research?
Kristi Cooper, Family Life Specialist, Iowa State University Extension

Linn County Iowa genetics breeding and genetics plant genetics

1 Response

Hi Kristi,
I am a county extension agent over in North Carolina so I have no special expertise in this field, however I have monitored the GMO controversy fairly closely over my 25 year career, so I am going to tackle it. If I was the average person, I would want to know about GMO's 1) definition, 2) acute human feeding concerns, 3) chronic human feeding concerns, 4) ecological concerns and 5)potential rewards. Here is some information on GMOs that I researched and developed for vendors at our local farmers markets. GMO. The term GMO is the abbreviation for Genetically Modified Organisms. It describes life that has been genetically changed using techniques developed since 1970. While vegetable crops have been genetically changed as long as there have been farmers, the genetic changes were limited to plants from the same genus. The new techniques allow crop breeders to overcome barriers impossible with older techniques. The ability to transfer genetic material across genus lines is why these crops are sometimes called transgenic. GMO soybeans were introduced in 1996 and currently make up 9% of the calories in the American diet. Worldwide there have been over a trillion meals containing GMO soybeans consumed. Obviously there are no acute effects of consuming GMO soybeans. There are currently no known chronic effects, however, 17 years’ experience with soybeans, and less experience with other crops, isn’t a very long time. Future research may show some food safety problems. There may also be ecological or environmental concerns with GMO’s. Some customers will wish to avoid GMO crops until there is more knowledge about them. Because of this, vendors should accurately respond to questions concerning the GMO status of any crops they may sell. Some varieties of sweet corn have been genetically modified to create a compound toxic to butterflies and moths. This naturally occurring compound was discovered in 1901, and has been used as an organic insecticide. The compound is not known to be harmful to humans. However, there could be other ramifications of widespread inclusion of this compound in food. Some varieties of squash have also been genetically modified, but local vegetable growers typically don’t buy the high priced seed. For most farmers the virus resistance provided by the GMO squash seed isn’t worth the extra cost. To avoid genetically modified seed, a farmer can purchase seed from a company that has taken the safe seed pledge. Here is more information. was the end of the information for the vendors. I had a real struggle finding a link that matched my biases. There are plenty of links that seem to have a pollyanna attitude of nothing could go wrong and there are plenty of links that claimed GMOS were going to be the death of mankind and the world as we know it. I didn't go into the potential rewards of GMO's, but one of the more interesting is changing rice from a C3 plant to a C4 plant which has the potential to improved the yield of a crop consumed by 1 billion humans. I imagine you could readily find that information online. Let me know if you have any additional specific questions.