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The facts about GMOs

- Joe Hrdlicka is the executive director of the Iowa Biotechnology Association

Be89b260-2114-4417-bb7a-c2140ba2cb17When I say the term, “GMO”, what do you think? Most people generally think negative thoughts when this term is spoken. Unfortunately, this happens because a vocal group of people would have you believe GMOs are really bad.

However, you have to question whether folks who speak badly of GMOs really know what they are criticizing. Let’s examine some facts. There have been thousands of studies on the safety of GMO foods. There have been a variety of organizations that have funded these studies, but most of the studies that come from reputable science organizations indicate GMO foods are safe.

There is very little to suggest from a science perspective that GMOs are unsafe in any way. The fact of the matter is we have been consuming GMO-based foods for years. GMOs have been utilized in a variety of ways going back many years. Agriculture has injected genetic mutations in crops all sorts of ways for a long time for a variety of purposes.

If it weren’t for a “cottage industry” of social media gurus, we probably wouldn’t be having much of a debate on this issue because the evidence just doesn’t back up to the claims. One of the most compelling studies came out in September of 2014, and it had billions of subjects that eat GMOs almost exclusively: livestock. The study was conducted by Dr. Alison Van Eenennaam at the University of California at Davis. Her study focused on the health of 100 billion animals and found no ill effects — in fact, no effects at all — attributable to a switch from non-GMO feed to GMO.

GMO-based foods are really derived out of consumer demand. For example, the consumer demand for fruits and vegetables grown in drought-stricken areas. Consumer demand for food products free of disease from weeds and insects. And consumer demand for more efficient growth of crops due to our population that is quickly rising above 9 billion people in a relatively short period of time.

Consumers are often led to believe “organic” food products are safer as well. The difference between organic, conventional and biotech is mainly the types of pesticides that are allowed to be used.

A common misconception is that organic food is produced without pesticides, but organic farming – just like conventional and biotech farming – has to deal with the challenge of eradicating pests. The pesticides in organic farming are generally derived from natural sources. For example, bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) may sound familiar because it's used in some genetically modified crops, but it's an all-natural bacteria. Bt is also commonly used in organic farming.

As far as organic foods are concerned, former U. S. Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman once summarized it well when an organic certification policy was being considered: “Let me be clear about one thing,” he said. “The organic label is a marketing tool.

It is not a statement about food safety. Nor is ‘organic’ a value judgment about nutrition or quality.” You may not agree with these media outlets all the time, but I find it interesting the Boston Globe and the Washington Post have each editorialized over the past year that GMO-based foods are safe and efforts to force mandatory labeling of these products is not the appropriate policy direction.

At the end of the day, we can hold our ears and shout “blah, blah, blah” until the world submits to dozens of labeling policies from various states and communities, driving up the cost of our food. Or we can adopt a rational perspective that GMOs really aren’t as bad as critics would like you to think.


Joe, thank you for sharing details about this common misconception. The education is enlightening and appreciated as we try to make the best purchasing decisions.

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