Frequently Asked Questions
You have questions? We have answers.
What is a GMO?
A GMO is a genetically modified organism, and while nearly every fruit and vegetable you’d find in a modern grocery store or even a road side stand has been modified from its ancestors to better suit human needs, the term GMO typically refers to organisms that have been altered through genetic engineering, a.k.a. biotechnology.
Why use genetic engineering instead of other crop improvement techniques?
Techniques such as selective breeding have been used for many years to improve the crops we grow, yet genetic engineering can often give far greater precision and efficiency than other approaches. Especially if there is one trait in particular you are looking to introduce into a crop, genetic engineering can specifically target that trait.
Most breeding approaches require much more trial and error and cannot assure that undesirable traits aren’t “dragged along” in the development process. Additionally, through genetic engineering crops can even be enhanced with traits from other organisms, such as a spinach gene being inserted into citrus trees to help them defend against citrus greening disease.
How are GMOs made?
First, it’s important to mention that genetic engineering is not one single technique, but a set of technologies that can be used to alter and improve crops. While genetic engineering could be generally described as the manipulation of an organism’s genome through the utilization of biotechnology, the individual approaches for developing biotech crops can vary widely. And, like any technology, biotechnology is constantly evolving as further innovations come to light, so new techniques will continue to emerge.
More specifically, though, developing a genetically engineered crop typically involves the addition or removal of genetic material through the use of a vector that has been specifically designed to accomplish a targeted DNA manipulation. This vector is often inserted into the plant cells either through the use of a gene gun or the utilization of Agrobacterium tumefaciens, a naturally occurring soil bacterium that has gene-transferring properties.
Are GMOs safe?
There is no definitive evidence that suggests approved biotech crops are any less safe than their conventional counterparts. To date, humans have consumed over three trillion meals contain genetically engineered foods without a single proven case of harm. Additionally, there are hundreds of studies analyzing GMOs, and per the conclusions of leading science and health organizations like the World Health Organization, American Medical Association and many others, there should be no safety concerns pertaining to approved biotech crops.
How does a GMO get approved in the U.S.?
Genetically engineered crops must be approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) before they can be freely grown and consumed in the United States. The USDA requires evidence demonstrating that the biotech crop does not pose a plant or disease threat. The process involves rigorous testing and multiple opportunities for the public to submit comments before the review can be completed.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for the safety of food and animal feed. Though their review of new biotech crops is usually voluntary, it is standard procedure for the companies seeking USDA approval to also engage in an FDA review.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which oversees the safety of pesticides in the U.S., is also involved in biotech crop regulation in cases where the product relates to pest management, such as herbicide-tolerant crops.
How does a GMO get approved in Canada?
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and Health Canada (HC) are both involved in the regulation of genetically engineered crops in Canada. The CFIA’s review focuses primarily on the potential impact of an environmental release of GMOs, requiring significant evidence demonstrating that the crop under review does not present any unique environmental risks. Health Canada ensures that a proper safety assessment is carried out prior to approval and the results sufficiently address potential concerns.