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The scoop: There is an understandable skepticism around GMOs due to our bias for natural products. But GMOs have many undeniable social and environmental benefits.

What to know: The science agrees with the use of GMOs – 90% of scientists believe they are safe.

  • GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism. It is the process of selectively breeding plants with other genes to create desirable characteristics.
  • Modern day GMOs have two specifications:
    1. Only one (or a few) new genes with a known function are introduced to the crop.
    2. Occasionally, genes come from an unrelated species.
  • GMO characteristics have the potential to address food security with projects like Golden Rice.
  • GMOs can also help reduce food waste and help growers adapt to climate change with drought, heat, or flood tolerant seed varieties.
  • While GMOs are often negatively associated with health and sustainability, there is little to no science to support this claim.
  • There is overwhelmingly more research that supports GMO’s ability to positively influence health and sustainability.

Bottom line: GMOs have become somewhat of a controversy, but the scientific consensus shows they are safe. In the face of a growing population and increased land use, we need a more efficient agriculture industry to be sustainable. GMOs are at the core of a more sustainable future and more efficient food systems.

Dig deeper → 3 min

Food Label Overload

With hundreds of food labels and polarizing politics behind something as simple as a cereal box – it is admittedly challenging to learn about GMOs. When I pick up a product in the grocery store and read “organic”, “fair-trade”, and wait for it… “non-GMO”…. I’m intrigued.

As a consumer, there’s a logical association between non-GMO ingredients and proper health/sustainability initiatives. Those are two things that I (and a lot of other consumers) value. And so, we are willing to pay a premium for simply better food.
The question is – am I actually paying for health and sustainability when I pick up a non-GMO product? The answer is probably not.

As a supporter and activist for environmentally and socially sustainable food systems, I hear the GMO debate often. What’s my take? I’m a GMO advocate. Here’s why you should be one too.

The Surprising Science and Far-Reaching Benefits of GMOs

GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism. GMOs existed for centuries, helping growers achieve the best yields. Farmers do this by crossbreeding plants with the most desirable genetic traits. As I was learning more about GMOs, I found this video from “In a Nutshell” to be factual, enlightening, and cohesive.

Modern day GMOs have two specifications. In one case, only one or a few new genes with a known function are introduced to the crop. Occasionally, the genes come from an unrelated species.

Surprisingly to some, GMOs have important implications for food security and climate change. For example, growers can adapt to climate change, drought, and flood with diversified GMO seeds more tolerant of changing conditions and severe weather events.

GMOs can address a huge emitter of greenhouse gas and a massive global problem like food waste. Some GMOs create an “anti-browning” effect in apples, deter insects, or increase the shelf life of perishable goods.

Golden Rice, a life-saving innovation that introduces Vitamin A to a rice variety suitable for growth in Vitamin A deficient regions, is also made possible by GMOs.

However, despite 90% of scientists believe that GMOs are safe and the potential for GMO science to aid in mitigating and adapting to climate change, and increasing food security – a lot of skepticism still persists.

Why is There Still Skepticism for GMOs?

You also might be skeptical still, and that’s okay.

I spoke with Emily Steliotes, PhD student in Agricultural and Environmental Chemistry and Co-Host of the Evolution Eats podcast, to hear her opinions on GMOs and consumer behavior. Emily Steliotes highlighted the skepticism as a potential “naturalness bias”. The bias for “all-natural” products that feel safe to consumers.

The bias often leads to skepticism, distrust, or a lower perceived benefit to not 100% natural products despite their potential benefit to address emerging problems. Emily invites readers to reflect on their own consumer-based experiences and biases.

Science Does Not Need to Lose the Battle on GMOs & You Can Help

Emily’s core belief is that all technology can have a positive and negative impact. It is essential to consider the ethics of how society handles emerging technologies.

When it comes to GMOs, she believes they can absolutely be a tool to create a better food system if we are considering the ethics of how we use science, which is often largely influenced by policy, politics, and business.

With such a large influence from policy and business, Emily expressed concerns with how GMOs are used by certain industry players for corporate gain. However, she does not believe they should be ruled out as a valuable tool. She thinks GMOs can solve challenging problems, and other scientists think so too.

With better efficiency of production, GMOs can play a major role in food waste, global nutrition, and climate.

GMOs need consumer support to win the scientific battle. More research and funding is needed so their benefits can continue to be far-reaching in the future of sustainability.

So, next time you are in the grocery store and pick up a box of cereal that isn’t non-GMO, you don’t need to be fearful of it.

What’s most important? Consumers need to try and learn about their favorite products, question personal biases, and absorb scientifically-accurate information. That way, we can do what is best for the health of ourselves and the health of our planet.

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