Top 10: Answering Consumers' GMO Questions

Published online: Apr 10, 2017 Seed Potatoes, Top Five
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This article appears in the January 2017 issue of Potato Grower.

With genetic technology becoming increasingly more mainstream, it’s not uncommon for growers to get questions from consumers about these crops. While many of these questions seem elementary and even silly to many in the ag community, they are honest, legitimate concerns for folks at the other end of the supply chain, and growers and others should be armed with sincere, truthful answers.

GMO Answers conducted a nationwide survey with the Opinion Research Council to gather consumers’ top 10 GMO-related questions. Following are those questions in order of interest, followed by the best answers for each.


 10. Do GMO crops have an impact on bees or butterflies?

Chris Sansone, bee ambassador for Bayer and former professor at Texas A&M University, says this: “Genetically modified plants and their impact on honey bees have been widely studied, and the results indicate that GM plants are not harmful to bees.”

There are claims that GMOs and herbicides (specifically glyphosate) are contributing to the decline in milkweed, a primary food source for monarch butterfly caterpillars, and that the butterflies have been harmed by eating pollen from GM Bt corn. University of Wyoming weed ecologist Andrew Kniss says the cause for the milkweed decline is a complex issue, concluding that while herbicides may have played a role in the decline of species like milkweed, “the research does suggest that there are more important factors than herbicides responsible for the decline of native plant species near crop fields, including milkweeds.”


9. Do seed companies have an influence on whether farmers grow GMOs?

“There is a notion out there among the general public that if farmers like myself buy seed from Monsanto, Dow, Dupont Pioneer or Syngenta, I’ve suddenly lost choice in the way I run my business,” says Brian Scott, an Indiana corn and soybean grower. “Based on my experience, this is not the case. I choose what seeds I plant every year. I’m not locked into buying seed from one company from one season to the next.”

Those interested can see a real contract between a seed company and a farmer from actual farmers or at GMO Answers.


8. Do GMOs have an impact on the price of food?

A 2016 study from Purdue University showed that if all GMOs in the U.S. were eliminated, corn yield would decline 11.2 percent on average, soybeans yield would decline 5.2 percent, and cotton by 18.6 percent. With lower crop yields, corn prices would increase as much as 28 percent and soybeans as much as 22 percent, according to the study.


7. If livestock eat genetically modified grain, will there be GMOs in my meat?

Almost all the food that we (or animals) eat contains DNA and proteins. The DNA and proteins found in food, GMO and non-GMO, are processed by the digestive system in our gastrointestinal tract. GMOs have never been detected in the milk, meat or eggs derived from animals fed GM feed.

Genetically engineered crops are digested by animals in the same way as conventional crops,” says Alison Van Eenennaam, an extension specialist in animal genomics and biotechnology at the University of California-Davis.


6. Do GMOs have an impact on allergies?

If a person is allergic to a non-GMO plant, he or she will also be allergic to the plant’s GMO counterpart. But GMOs do not introduce any new allergens. In fact, researchers, academics and companies are working on new GMOs that have the potential to help people in this area—for example, a team of Spanish scientists developed a gluten-free wheat that would be safe for people who suffer from celiac disease to enjoy.


 5. Have long-term health studies been conducted on GMO crops?

Long-term health studies have been conducted on GMOs. GM crops are repeatedly and extensively tested for consumer and environmental safety, and those tests are reviewed by the USDA, EPA and Food and Drug Administration, and similar organizations internationally.


4. Do GMOs have an impact on the environment?

Many GMOs are specifically developed to lessen or improve agriculture’s impact on the environment. Among other things, GMOs have proven to aid in the following:

  • Increasing agricultural land’s productivity, alleviating pressure to convert more land into ag use
  • Reducing soil erosion by allowing growers to adopt practices such as conservation tillage
  • Conserving water
  • Helping growers reduce their carbon footprint because of less time spent operating tractors and sprayers
  • Reducing pesticide applications


3. How much of our food in the U.S. is genetically modified?

While nearly all foods today have been genetically modified in some way over thousands of years through selective breeding, there are only nine commercially available GM crops in the U.S.: soybeans, corn, canola, cotton, alfalfa, sugarbeets, summer squash, papaya and potatoes. GM apples have also been approved to be grown and will be coming to market soon.

The GM AquAdvantage salmon is the first GM food animal to be approved by the FDA.


2. Are GMOs safe for human consumption?

Yes. Many consumers are led to believe that GMOs can cause cancer, autism, gluten intolerance and other illnesses. However, every leading health organization in the world stands behind the safety of GMOs. Extensive studies on GMOs are being conducted to ensure their ongoing safety for consumption.


1.  Do GMOs cause cancer? 

The health and safety of GMOs have been validated by many independent scientists and organizations around the world. There are nearly 1,800 global studies about the health and safety of GMOs. A decade of GMO research, funded by the European Union, which finds that GMOs pose no greater risk than their conventional counterparts.