How long have GMOs been around? For many of us, the history of GMOs goes back to before we even existed. The first GMO approved by the FDA was humulin, modified E. coli bacteria, in 1982 and the first GMO produce entered the market in 1994. But the technology to create GMOs exists since 1973. Why Are Crops Genetically Modified? In short, it’s all about increasing profits. The size of genetically modified crops tends to be substantially larger, and this allows crop producers to make more money.

How Are The Crops Changed On A Cellular Level? You may find this very strange, but DNA from vastly different organisms is combined with the DNA of crops. Some of the DNA doesn’t even come from plants! In fact, genetic material from fish has been detected in genetically modified tomatoes. How Often Are Crops Genetically Modified? Genetic modification is incredibly common, and it’s estimated that 90% of soybeans that are sold have been genetically modified. As a result, unless you are taking steps to avoid genetically modified foods, you are consuming them every day.

Here’s a more detailed look at how GMOs appeared and thrived in our marketplace over the years:

gmo wheat crop

How Long Have GMOs Been Around?

Technically speaking, the term genetically modified organisms could refer to hybrids or crops that have been selectively bred. After all, these organisms have different DNA than their predecessors. If this is the case, then GMOs are as old as life itself.

However, the difference is GMOs could never occur naturally. Instead of scrambling all the DNA material together, genetic engineers only isolate a certain strain and introduce it to a new organism, which could never happen in nature.

gmo crops from an airplane

Ok, But How Long Have GMOs Been Around in the Modern Sense?

Well, it all started with the discovery and isolation of the DNA in 1935. After a few decades of studying the DNA and its interaction with chemical and biological agents, the recombinant DNA was created in 1973. 2 years later, a group of elite lawyers, doctors, and scientists looked at the data and created a set of guidelines on the use of GMOs. This was a necessary measure since the whole health debate also began to unfold around that time.

But the modern history of GMOs and the current state of events truly started in 1976, when biotechnology became commercialized. This allowed companies and scientists to perform countless experiments in medicine, food, or chemistry using DNA. Monsanto was, of course, one of the first to test their genetic modifications.

The ‘70s were also a thriving decade for Monsanto – the first in many, in fact. They started to develop a strong herbicide called glyphosate, currently known simply as roundup. During this time, they also developed roundup-ready seeds which would grow plants resistant to this harmful chemical.

GMO rice crop

The Ups

So how long have GMOs been around in our food?

In 1980, the Supreme Court allowed for a genetics engineer to patent bacteria that consumed crude oil, this solving oil spills. This was the first of many patent cases involving living organisms. Just 2 years later, FDA approved the first GMO: genetically engineered E. coli that synthesizes insulin. The first GMO approved for consumption, the Flavr Savr tomato, appeared in 1994 and was highly acclaimed for its long shelf life.

In 1988, researchers developed GMO soybeans that were able to withstand glyphosate herbicide. This changed (some say upgraded) the whole agricultural process and allowed farmers to produce high yields with less effort and money. In the future years, scientists used the technology to create corn, cotton, potatoes, rice, sugar beets, etc. that were resistant to pesticides and herbicides, pests, and diseases.

green unripe wheat

The Downs

In 1996, Australia registered the first instances of glyphosate-resistant weeds – up to 11 times more resistant than regular individuals. But 3 years later, GMO crops already dominated the fields all over the world. And here’s when everything unfolds:

In 2003, the first GMO-resistant pests start to attack GMO crops that should have been protected from them. It took Helicoverpa Zea, the corn earworm, less than a decade to adapt to the new toxin that should have stopped it. In 2011, the first case of Bt toxins in humans was recorded. A Canadian study found the toxins in the blood of pregnant women. Moreover, the study also shows that Bt toxins can be passed to the fetuses, too.

And just a year later, the justice system formed a precedent that put GMO companies back in their place for a short time. A French farmer sued Monsanto for chemical poisoning, allegedly caused by one of their Roundup-Ready products.

GMOs Today

Unlike the question “How long have GMOs been around?”, the GMO debate has no end in sight. Even though we still have to discover all of their effects on our bodies and other plants, genetic engineering is just the tip of the iceberg. There are serious concerns regarding the effects of the pesticides, herbicides, and antibiotics that come with GMO farming. Not to mention the genetically engineered organisms that are used in the food processing industry.

But GMOs are more than just organisms that changed the way we grow and process food. They are extensively used in medicine to synthesize insulin and blood clotting factors, and in ecology to cleanse the water and ground.

yellow crop of wheat

No matter our stance on GMOs and their labeling, one thing is sure: GMOs are here to stay, even though we are not yet sure of their effects. Given this, the debate should focus more on the long-term impacts of GMOs on sustainable agriculture and, ultimately, life itself. If we cannot eliminate them, we should at least use them smartly. However, the pressure that industry giants put on the public, government, and even non-governmental agencies

Are they slowly but surely destroying our environment? Will using them extensively lead to lower genetic diversity in plants and animals? And more importantly, can we find this out before we reach the point of no return?

What Crops Are Genetically Modified?

While there are many different crops that can be genetically modified, certain foods are especially likely to be genetically modified. Here are some of the most common genetically modified crops:

  • Corn: It’s estimated that 90% of the corn in the US is genetically modified to resist pesticides, such as Roundup. This can result in larger concentrations of pesticides ending up in your food.
  • Rapeseed For Canola Oil: A whopping 90% of rapeseed grown in the US for canola oil has been genetically modified.
  • Sugar Beets: Around 50% of sugar comes from genetically modified sugar beets.
  • Papaya: Hawaiian Papaya is in fact grown in Hawaii, and genetic modifications are made in order to make the fruit able to withstand the Papaya Ringspot virus.
  • Alfalfa And Other Forms Of Animal Feed: Various forms of animal feed are heavily genetically modified, and this may lead to alterations in meat, eggs, and milk. In fact, poultry, beef, and eggs are considered high risk by the Non-GMO project.

However, there are also many foods that are occasionally genetically modified, such as squash and zucchini. In some cases, the effects of the modifications of these crops may be more poorly understood.

Can Genetically Modified Crops Affect Your Health?

While it’s a matter of debate, many experts are concerned that genetically modified crops can affect your health. Here are some of their concerns:

Genetically Modified Crops May Trigger Allergies

Allergies are triggered by the ingestion of a protein that provokes an unwarranted immune response in the body. Some experts are concerned that if DNA from the offending food were mixed with crops, an allergic reaction could be triggered in some individuals. In addition, some experts question if genetically modified foods are causing an increase in the frequency of allergies.

That’s Not The Only Health Problem That They May Cause

Some studies indicate that genetically modified foods can cause a plethora of health problems. While this list may not be exhaustive, these are some examples of health problems that may be triggered by the consumption of genetically modified foods:

  • Problems With Insulin Regulation: The production of insulin plays an important role in the development of diabetes, and problems with this hormone as a result of GMO foods could potentially lead to an increased prevalence of this disease.
  • Gastrointestinal Problems: There are a variety of gastrointestinal problems that may be caused by genetically modified foods.
  • Infertility: Some experts believe that infertility may be caused by genetically modified foods.
  • Changes To Major Organ Systems: Some experts believe that genetically modified foods may affect a wide range of organ systems.

Genetically Modified Crops Are Regulated By Governmental Organizations

Luckily, genetically modified foods are regulated in most parts of the world. Here’s what you need to know about the regulations on GMO crops:

You Won’t Necessarily Know From Looking At The Label If You Live In The US

If you live in the United States, there is no law that says manufacturers have to disclose if they use genetically modified crops. Due to the complex network of suppliers in the food industry, some manufacturers may not even know whether or not their products contain GMO crops.

If You Live In Europe, Manufacturers Disclose GMO Ingredients

If you live in Europe, all manufacturers are required by law to state whether or not they contain genetically modified ingredients. Many experts feel that similar regulations should be put into place in the United States.

What Governmental Organizations Regulate GMO Foods?

The EPA, FDA, and USDA regulate genetically modified foods in The United States. The European Food Safety Authority is responsible for regulating genetically modified foods in Europe.

Will Genetically Modified Crops Become More Common In The Future?

It’s likely that GMO crops will become much more common as time goes on due to improvements in technology. As a result of this, the health effects of them, if any, can be expected to become more prevalent.

Image sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.