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What Are Genetically Engineered (GMO) Foods

Genetically engineered (GE) foods, also referred to as genetically modified, or GMOs, are those that are altered at the molecular level in ways that could not happen naturally. This means plants and animals that have had their genetic makeup altered to exhibit traits that are not naturally theirs. These techniques use DNA molecules from different sources, sometimes different species, and combine them into one molecule to create a new set of genes (e.g. mixing of flounder genes into tomatoes so the tomatoes would be resistant to cold temperatures.)

While there is some GE produce in supermarket bins, it’s estimated that 60%-70% of processed foods available in U.S. grocery stores likely contain some GE material. The majority of the livestock (with the exception of USDA certified organic livestock or Non-GMO Project Verified) that Americans consume have been raised on genetically engineered grains. This is because the two most prevalent genetically engineered crops are corn and soy which are used in many processed foods and most animal feeds.

Genetically engineered salmon is currently being considered for FDA approval. The GE Atlantic salmon being considered was developed by artificially combining growth hormone genes from an unrelated Pacific salmon with DNA from the anti-freeze genes of an eelpout. This modification causes production of growth-hormone year-round, creating a fish that grows at twice the normal rate, allowing fish farms to increase the number of fish per pen while maintaining high production rates.

After almost 20 years of commercialization and billions in public research financing, GE crops have yet to deliver on promises of increased yield, drought tolerance, better nutrient use efficiency or reduced need for pesticides, while credible health concerns linger.

For more on this, please check out About the Science.