So what is GMO?
“GMO” stands for “Genetically Modified Organisms,” and in the case of food, it usually refers to foods that have been genetically engineered for reasons unrelated to health or nourishment. You may also see the term “GE foods” (which stands for “genetically engineered” foods) or terms like “genetically altered” or “genetically modified” or “genetically improved” to describe these foods.
The process of genetically modifying foods is relatively new to the world of agriculture. In 1994, no GE food crops had been planted in the United States. Today, more than 165 million acres are planted each year. The Center for Food Safety, a non-profit public interest and environmental advocacy group headquartered in Washington, D.C., estimates that 70-75% of all grocery store products contain at least one genetically modified ingredient. You have almost certainly already consumed many GE foods, whether you knew it or not.
Uncertain health risks with GE foods
The health risks associated with GE foods have not been clearly identified. Given their meteoric rise within the food supply, little research has been done to determine their potential health risks. Since genes are the blueprint for making proteins, GE foods by definition contain novel proteins that were not present in the food prior to its genetic modification. Since proteins are often the basis for an allergic food reaction (our immune system will sometimes make antibodies to help neutralize proteins that are interpreted as being potentially dangerous to our health), many scientists have speculated that novel proteins in GE foods may cause these foods to trigger allergic reactions more frequently than their non-GE counterparts. Additionally, some scientists believe that the altered genetic and protein composition of GE foods may present problems for various regulatory systems in the body – including the immune and inflammatory system – and may cause disruption in cell signaling or in digestive tract function.