What is GMO--and Why Do We Care?

by Olivia Bernadel-Huey   All natural, organic, gluten free, vegan—it seems like everywhere you look these days there is a new standard for conscientious consumers to take note of when they’re shopping for products.  And now, there is another recent controversial designation: Non-GMO.  The label has caught our eye as we’ve been getting more and more people these days wondering if TruKid is Non-GMO.  So we’ve decided to look into it, thinking we’d find some clear-cut answers to our questions.  But the more we’ve learned, the more we’ve realized how complicated and confusing the issue really is. In order to begin to understand what Non-GMO means, we first have to ask: what does GMO mean?  GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism, plants and animals that have had their DNA genetically altered or combined with DNA from a different species.  They most frequently occur in agriculture among crops that are altered to resist pesticides or tolerate drought but can also be found as crops modified to increase their nutritional value.  Either way, they are much more common in the U.S. than many people realize. Unlike 64 other countries, including the entire EU, which require genetically modified foods to be labeled, the U.S. has no national regulation for GMOs. According to the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, about half of all U.S. farm land grows GMOs, the most common being soy, corn, and cotton.  93% of all U.S. grown soy is genetically modified.  85% of our corn is modified to be herbicide tolerant (Ht), 76% to be insect resistant (Bt), and 71% is “stacked” with more than one genetically engineered trait.  Similarly, 82% of U.S. cotton is Ht, 75% is Bt, and 67% is stacked with multiple modifications. Just where are all these GMOs coming from, and why is it so hard to avoid them?  The answer lies in the companies who own the world’s seed supply, particularly Monsanto, DuPont, and Syngenta.  As of 2011, these 3 companies controlled 53% of the global seed market.  Monsanto alone made up 27% of that share, and dominates 60% of the global corn and soy seed markets.  The numbers are even more shocking in America—90% of all soy and 80% of all corn is planted from Monsanto seeds. The companies genetically modify their seeds so that they can patent them and gain the greatest profits.  Farmers who buy the patented seeds must sign agreements prohibiting the use of the seeds for individual research and, most significantly, for replanting in the next harvest.  Consequently, the farmers are forced to keep coming back to buy from the seed companies every year and continue the spread of GMOs which, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications, are the "fastest adopted crop technology in the history of modern agriculture." With such a significant impact on our crops, it’s no wonder people are starting to pay more attention to whether what they’re buying is genetically modified.  Growing awareness has created a new movement calling for Non-GMO products.  However, the issue may not be as black and white as it seems. Over the next few weeks we’ll be doing a 3-part series examining the controversial topic of Non-GMO designation and GMO regulation—a complex issue which continues to confuse consumers and divide experts and individuals every day.  Next week: What’s the Difference?  Non-GMO vs. Organic  


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