Chances are that many of the foods you are eating has been genetically engineered. This fact is even more applicable if it has been fried in canola, corn, cottonseed, or soy oil. Most Americans are consuming massive quantities of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in their food. GMOs were first approved by the FDA for food crops in 1994. Since then the number of FDA approvals for GMO crops has steadily increased.
How are transgenic or genetically engineered (GE) crops approved?
The USDA/Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) issues permits for field trials, and later for general environmental release of GE crops. If the GE crop contains a pesticide, as is the case for Bt crops, approval is also required by the Environmental Protection Agency. If the product from a transgenic crop is for food or feed use, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) must give final approval before the crops can be grown commercially.
How many and what kind of GE (GMO) crops have been approved?
As of August, 2012, there have been a total of 144 crops approved by the FDA. The most widely and rapidly adopted transgenic crops in the United States are those with herbicide-tolerant traits. Of the 144 crops approved by the FDA, 75% have been genetically engineered to either withstand direct applications of herbicides or they contain an insecticide Bt toxin, or both. In the mid-’90s, scientists figured out how to combine more than one trait in the same plant. These were first released in 1997 and are called “stacked gene traits.” The crops that have been approved are summarized in the table below, along with a partial list of food products and other uses for each type of crop. Any or all of these products can be found in packaged foods and drinks: cereals, energy bars, chips, juices etc.
|GE Crop||# of FDA approvals||Food Product||Other Uses|
|Alfalfa||1||Seeds, sprouts, leaf meal used for fortifying baby food and other special diet foods||Animal feed|
|Canola (rapeseed)||17||Cooking oil, mayonnaise, salad dressing||Animal feed|
|Cotton||22||Cottonseed oil for fried foods||Cloth, animal feed|
|Flax||1||Oil as a supplement, meal added to grain products||Animal feed, cloth|
|Corn (maize)||38||Cooking oil, corn products, corn, corn syrup||Animal feed|
|Plum||1||Plum, jelly, jam, canned plums|
|Potato||28||Potato, potato chips, flour||Animal feed|
|Rice||2||Rice, crackers, cereal, flour||Animal feed|
|Soybean||17||Cooking oil, tofu, soy sauce, lecithin, soy nuts, soy milk, infant formula, cereal products, flour, soy protein, mayonnaise, salad dressing||Animal feed|
|Sugar beet||3||Anything that contains beet sugar||Animal feed|
|Tomato||7||Tomato, tomato sauce, paste, ketchup, canned tomato|
|Source: FDA: Completed consultations on bioengineered foods|
How prevalent are these transgenic crops in the food supply?
The USDA estimates that in 2012, 93% of all soy, 88% of the corn and 94% of the cotton grown in the
U.S. was genetically engineered. The USDA only collects GE data on these three crops. The figure below shows the percent change of GE crops planted since 1996
Percent of GE crops grown in U.S.
1996-1999 data: USDA Agricultural Economic Report No. (AER-810) 67 pp, May 2002 2000-2012 data: USDA:NASS National Agricultural Statistics Service
It could be argued that not all of these crops are grown for human consumption. Some are grown for animal feed. But the percentage of the crops grown for animal feed are still in the food supply in the form of meat, eggs, milk and milk products. Some of these crops are grown for bio-fuels and textiles. But as long as the amount used for non-food products are taken randomly from the supply, the percentage does not change. Only if most or all of the GE corn and soy are used for bio-fuels, for example, would the overall percentage change. The same is true for the cotton.
Are you eating GMO every day?
You have been eating GMO’s in steadily increasing amounts since 1996. If your diet consists of a lot of corn, soy, potato, sugar, or packaged foods, you are eating a great deal of GMO’s.