GMOs ("genetically modified organisms") are living organisms that have gone through what's known as genetic engineering. During this process, their genetic material is changed in order to create new combinations of genes that do not occur naturally or through usual forms of crossbreeding.
These new variations of genes were created with the intention to help protect crops from pests and drought, cut down on the amount of pesticides/traces of toxic compounds found in food, reduce allergens, and make certain foods more nutrient-rich.
Controversy surrounds GMOs for a few reasons. Despite the intended benefits, there are many concerns about potential harmful effects, including:
- Allergic reactions (in some cases, lethal reactions)
- Poorer nutritional profile
- Increased amounts of pesticides and herbicide-tolerant "superweeds"
- Damage to soil quality and ecosystems
- Heightened risk of diseased crops
- Lack of regulation and transparency
For these reasons and more, over 60 countries have created restrictions and/or bans on the production and sale of GMOs. The U.S. is not one of them-GMOs are widespread in the U.S., found in about 80% of processed food. The most common GMO crops include: corn, sugar beets, alfalfa, canola, papaya, soy, zucchini and yellow summer squash.
Currently the U.S. does not require manufacturers to label their products as GMOs, making it very difficult for consumers to know when they're purchasing them. However, many food packages now have the "Non-GMO" stamp on them, and it's possible that the GMO laws will be reformed.