Although most notable organizations and research suggest that GMO foods are safe and sustainable, some people claim they may harm your health and the environment.

GMOs, short for genetically modified organisms, are subject to a lot of controversy.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), GMO seeds are used to plant over 90% of all maize (corn), cotton, and soy grown in the United States, which means that many of the foods you eat likely contain GMOs.

This article helps explain what GMOs are, provides a balanced explanation of their pros and cons, and gives guidance on how to identify GMO foods.

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“GMO,” which stands for genetically modified organism, refers to any organism whose DNA has been modified using genetic engineering technology.

In the food industry, GMO crops have had genes added to them for various reasons, such as improving:

  • their growth
  • nutritional content
  • sustainability
  • pest resistance
  • ease of farming

While it’s possible to naturally give foods desirable traits through selective breeding, this process takes many generations. Also, breeders may be unable to determine which genetic change led to a new trait.

Genetic modification accelerates this process by using scientific techniques that give the plant the desired trait.

GMO crops are incredibly common in the United States, with at least 90% of soy, cotton, and corn grown through genetic techniques.


GMOs are food items that have been made using genetic engineering techniques. They comprise 90% of soy, cotton, and corn grown in the United States.

GMO foods may offer advantages to the grower and consumer. These can include:

  • Pest control: Many GMO crops have been genetically modified to express a gene that protects them against pests and insects. The Bt gene is commonly genetically engineered into crops like corn, cotton, and soybeans. It comes from a naturally occurring bacteria known as Bacillus thuringiensis. This gene produces a toxic protein to several pests and insects, which gives the GMO plants a natural resistance. As such, GMO crops don’t need to be exposed to harmful pesticides as often.
  • Fewer pesticides: A 2020 study notes that GMO technology has reduced global chemical pesticide use by 8.3% and indirectly reduced greenhouse gas emissions because farmers don’t need to spray their fields as often.
  • Improved survival and greater yield: Other GMO crops have been modified with genes that help them survive stressful conditions, such as droughts, and resist diseases like blight, resulting in a higher yield for farmers.
  • Increased nutritional value: Genetic modification can increase the nutritional value of foods. For example, rice high in beta carotene, also called golden rice, was developed to help prevent blindness in regions where local diets are chronically deficient in vitamin A.
  • Enhanced flavor: Genetic modification can enhance the flavor and appearance of foods, such as the non-browning apple.

GMO foods are easier and less costly for farmers to grow, which makes them cheaper for the consumer. GMO techniques may also enhance foods’ nutrients, flavor, and appearance.

However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and USDA maintain that GMOs are safe for human and animal consumption.

While GMO crops make farming much easier, there is some concern about their potential effect on the environment and their safety for human consumption, particularly surrounding illnesses and allergies.

Some of the potential concerns around GMO consumption include:

  • Allergies: Because GMO foods contain foreign genes, some people worry that they harbor genes from foods that may prompt an allergic reaction. According to the FDA, researchers who develop GMO foods run tests to ensure that allergens aren’t transferred from one food to another. Research suggests GMO foods are no likelier to trigger allergies than their non-GMO counterparts.
  • Cancer: Because cancers are caused by DNA mutations, some people fear that eating foods with added genes may affect your DNA. The American Cancer Society (ACS) has stated that there’s no evidence to link GMO food intake to an increased or decreased risk of cancer, and there is no evidence that eating GMOs will change your DNA. However, more long-term human research is still needed.
  • Herbicide use: Most GMO crops are resistant to herbicides, such as Roundup, so farmers may use herbicides to kill surrounding weeds without damage to their crops. But Roundup and its active ingredient glyphosate are subject to controversy because animal and test-tube studies have linked them to various diseases. There is new evidence that glyphosate exposure may increase the relative risk of non-Hodgkins lymphoma by 41%.
  • Honeybees: There has also been concern that pollen from Bt crops may negatively impact honeybees, but there doesn’t seem to be any solid evidence to support this yet.

The main concerns around GMOs involve allergies, cancer, and environmental issues — all of which may affect the consumer. While current research suggests few risks, more long-term research is needed.

Although GMO foods appear safe for consumption, some people wish to avoid them. Still, this is difficult since most foods in your supermarket are made with ingredients from GMO crops.

GMO crops grown and sold in the United States include:

  • corn
  • soybean
  • canola
  • sugar beet
  • alfalfa
  • cotton
  • potatoes
  • papaya
  • pink pineapple
  • summer squash
  • a few apple varieties

In the United States, no regulations currently mandate the labeling of GMO foods.

Yet, as of January 2022, the USDA requires food manufacturers to label all foods containing GMO ingredients.

That said, the labels won’t say “GMO” but instead the term “bioengineered food.” It will display either as the USDA bioengineered food symbol, listed on or near the ingredients, or as a scannable code on the package with directions, such as “Scan here for more information.”

Some foods may have a third-party “Non-GMO project verified” label, which indicates that the product contains no GMOs. However, this label is voluntary.

Gmo vs. organic

It’s also worth noting that no food labeled “100% organic” contains any GMO ingredients because U.S. law prohibits this. However, if a product is simply labeled “organic,” it may contain some GMOs.

In the European Union (EU), foods with more than 0.9% GMO ingredients must be listed as “genetically modified” or “produced from genetically modified [name of food].” For foods without packaging, these words must be listed near the item, such as on the supermarket shelf.


As of 2022, the USDA requires that foods with GMO ingredients must be labeled “bioengineered food”. You can avoid GMOs by limiting GMO ingredients, eating locally, or buying 100% organic.

GMOs are foods that have been modified using genetic techniques.

Most foods in your local supermarket contain GMO ingredients because they’re easier and more cost-effective for farmers, which makes them cheaper for the consumer.

In the United States, foods grown using GMO techniques include corn, soybean, canola, sugar beet, alfalfa, cotton, potatoes, papaya, pink pineapple, summer squash, and a few varieties of apples.

Although current research suggests that GMO foods are safe for consumption, some people are concerned about their potential health effects. Due to a lack of long-term human studies, more research is needed.

As of 2022, all foods in the United States that contain GMO ingredients must have the term “bioengineered food” somewhere on the packaging or a scannable code to show that they have GMO ingredients.