Fruits and vegetables that have been genetically modified have recently come under intense scrutiny by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This scrutiny is due to the fact that some of these fruits and vegetables, namely corn, cotton, soy beans and others have caused tumors as well as other health complications in rats. In today’s article we will be discussing about the fruits that are genetically modified.
The five: genetically modified fruit
New varieties created through genetic editing and engineering promise to beat disease, and offer enticing new flavours
It was reported this week that Brazilian scientists are hoping to create spicy tomatoes using Crispr gene-editing techniques. Although tomatoes contain the genes for capsaicinoids (the chemicals that give chillies their heat) they are dormant – Crispr could be used to make them active. This is desirable because, compared to tomatoes, chillies are difficult to farm – and capsaicinoids have other useful applications besides their flavour – in pepper spray for example.
Genetically edited bananas could be resistant to a disease known as “fusarium wilt” that has been attacking plantations across the globe. Researchers at the Norwich-based startup Tropic Biosciences are using gene-editing techniques to develop a new, more resilient version of the fruit after securing £7.5m from investors.
Sweeter and even peach-flavoured strawberries are being worked on by US scientists using Crispr techniques. Due to an EU court ruling last year, Crispr-edited foods will be subject to the same regulation that has limited the planting and sale of genetically modified crops. A major player in the development of Crispr crops is the agricultural giant Monsanto.
The Arctic apple is a fruit engineered to resist browning after being cut. Currently they are only available in the US – in golden, fuji and gala varieties – where they have been given Food and Drug Administration approval. If approved in Europe, they would have to be labelled as genetically modified. The manufacturers claim the main benefit is to help cut down on food waste.
The scientist Dennis Gonsalves developed the genetically modified Rainbow papaya, which can defend itself from papaya ring spot disease by inserting a gene from the virus into the fruit’s genetic code. The Rainbow papaya was introduced in 1992, and is credited with saving Hawaii’s $11m papaya industry.
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GMO Crops, Animal Food, and Beyond
Am I eating foods that come from GMO crops?
It is very likely you are eating foods and food products that are made with ingredients that come from GMO crops. Many GMO crops are used to make ingredients that Americans eat such as cornstarch, corn syrup, corn oil, soybean oil, canola oil, or granulated sugar. A few fresh fruit and vegetables are available in GMO varieties, including potatoes, summer squash, apples, papayas, and pink pineapples. Although GMOs are in a lot of the foods we eat, most of the GMO crops grown in the United States are used for animal food.
To make it easier for consumers to know if the foods they eat contain GMO ingredients, the U.S. Department of Agriculture maintains a list of bioengineered foods available throughout the world. Additionally, you will start seeing the “bioengineered” label on some of the foods we eat because of the new National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard.
What GMO crops are in the United States?
Only a few types of GMO crops are grown in the United States, but some of these GMOs make up a large percentage of the crop grown (e.g., soybeans, corn, sugar beets, canola, and cotton).
In 2020, GMO soybeans made up 94% of all soybeans planted, GMO cotton made up 96% of all cotton planted, and 92% of corn planted was GMO corn.
In 2013, GMO canola made up 95% of canola planted while GMO sugar beets made up 99.9% of all sugar beets harvested.
Most GMO plants are used to make ingredients that are then used in other food products. For example, cornstarch can be made with GMO corn and sugar can be made with GMO sugar beets.
Corn is the most commonly grown crop in the United States, and most of it is GMO. Most GMO corn is created to resist insect pests or tolerate herbicides. Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn is a GMO corn that produces proteins that are toxic to certain insect pests but not to humans, pets, livestock, or other animals. These are the same types of proteins that organic farmers use to control insect pests, and they do not harm beneficial insects, such as ladybugs. GMO Bt corn reduces the need for spraying insecticides while still preventing insect damage. While a lot of GMO corn goes into processed foods and drinks, most of it is used to feed livestock, like cows, and poultry, like chickens.
Most soy grown in the United States is GMO soy. Most GMO soy is used for food for animals, predominantly poultry and livestock, and making soybean oil. It is also used as ingredients (lecithin, emulsifiers, and proteins) in processed foods.
GMO cotton was created to be resistant to bollworms and helped revive the Alabama cotton industry. GMO cotton not only provides a reliable source of cotton for the textile industry, it is also used to make cottonseed oil, which is used in packaged foods and in many restaurants for frying. GMO cottonseed meal and hulls are also used in food for animals.
Some GMO potatoes were developed to resist insect pests and disease. In addition, some GMO potato varieties have been developed to resist bruising and browning that can occur when potatoes are packaged, stored, and transported, or even cut in your kitchen. While browning does not change the quality of the potato, it often leads to food being unnecessarily thrown away because people mistakenly believe browned food is spoiled.
By the 1990s, ringspot virus disease had nearly wiped out Hawaii’s papaya crop, and in the process almost destroyed the papaya industry in Hawaii. A GMO papaya, named the Rainbow papaya, was created to resist ringspot virus. This GMO saved papaya farming on the Hawaiian Islands.
GMO summer squash is resistant to some plant viruses. Squash was one of the first GMOs on the market, but it is not widely grown.
GMO canola is used mostly to make cooking oil and margarine. Canola seed meal can also be used in food for animals. Canola oil is used in many packaged foods to improve food consistency. Most GMO canola is resistant to herbicides and helps farmers to more easily control weeds in their fields.
GMO alfalfa is primarily used to feed cattle—mostly dairy cows. Most GMO alfalfa is resistant to herbicides, allowing farmers to spray the crops to protect them against destructive weeds that can reduce alfalfa production and lower the nutritional quality of the hay.
A few varieties of GMO apples were developed to resist browning after being cut. This helps cut down on food waste, as many consumers think brown apples are spoiled.
Sugar beets are used to make granulated sugar. More than half the granulated sugar packaged for grocery store shelves is made from GMO sugar beets. Because GMO sugar beets are resistant to herbicides, growing GMO sugar beets helps farmers control weeds in their fields.
The GMO pink pineapple was developed to have pink flesh by increasing the levels of lycopene. Lycopene is naturally found in pineapples, and it is the pigment that makes tomatoes red and watermelons pink.
What about animals that eat food made from GMO crops?
More than 95% of animals used for meat and dairy in the United States eat GMO crops. Independent studies show that there is no difference in how GMO and non-GMO foods affect the health and safety of animals. The DNA in the GMO food does not transfer to the animal that eats it. This means that animals that eat GMO food do not turn into GMOs. If it did, an animal would have the DNA of any food it ate, GMO or not. In other words, cows do not become the grass they eat and chickens don’t become the corn they eat.
Similarly, the DNA from GMO animal food does not make it into the meat, eggs, or milk from the animal. Research shows that foods like eggs, dairy products, and meat that come from animals that eat GMO food are equal in nutritional value, safety, and quality to foods made from animals that eat only non-GMO food.
The 9 most common GMO foods from potatoes to apples
- GMOs are plants and animals that have had their DNA tweaked by scientists in a lab.
- Scientists say GMOs are safe, but some wish to avoid them until long-term studies are published.
- Common GMO foods include corn, soybeans, potatoes, and papaya.
The first genetically modified food was a tomato, introduced in 1994. Since then, the controversy around genetically modified organisms (GMOs) — plants, animals, and microbes — has sparked concern about how they affect our health.
It’s valid to worry about what you’re putting in your body. However, because GMOs are still relatively new, there is limited long-term research to definitively say if they are any worse for our health than non-GMOs.
“Genetic modification is still a new concept and we need to study its impact on health in the long term. While nutrients can be optimized through modification, others are concerned it may impact allergies or metabolism,” says Claire Muszalski, a registered dietician with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
That said, nine out of 10 scientists from the American Association for the Advancement of Science feel they are “generally safe” to eat.
Quick tip: Certified organic produce is always non-GMO.
Right now, there’s no clear-cut way to determine if that tomato you’re contemplating in the grocery is a GMO, or not. That’s why the United States Department of Agriculture will require all food companies to label GMOs by the end of 2022.
In the meantime, here is a list of the most common genetically modified foods, plus what researchers know so far about their health effects.
About 92% of corn in the US is genetically modified.
GMO corn produces proteins that are toxic to certain pests, but not considered harmful to humans and livestock.
GMO corn may be found in processed foods in the form of cornstarch, corn oil, and corn syrup. However, most GMO corn is used to feed livestock, like cows and chickens.
Soybeans are typically genetically modified to become herbicide-tolerant, drought-tolerant, or insect-resistant.
About 94% of soybeans are GMOs, but most of the crop is used in animal feed, says Muszalski. It’s also used to create soybean oil and emulsifiers like soy lecithin and can be found in many processed foods such as:
- Veggie burgers and faux meats
- Baking mixes
- Granola bars
3. Summer squash
Genetically modified summer squash is resistant to a particular virus called zucchini yellow mosaic, which can cause severe deformations, blisters, and stunt growth of the crop. Although it was one of the first GMOs to be introduced, it’s not as widely grown as other common GMO foods.
About 95% of canola that’s planted is genetically modified. This crop, which is used to make canola oil by crushing the seeds, is typically modified to resist herbicides and limit the weeds where it is grown, says Muszalski.
5. Sugar beets
More than half of the granulated sugar you see on supermarket shelves is made from GMO sugar beets. This is because GMO sugar beets are resistant to herbicides, said Muszalski, and therefore farmers can grow them more quickly while keeping weeds under control.
GMO potatoes are often modified to resist pests and disease, as well as to reduce browning and bruising that can occur during packaging, transportation, and storage.
Some genetically modified potatoes may produce less acrylamide, a chemical with a potential link to cancer, when exposed to high heat. However, studies of this chemical have only been conducted in animals who were fed significantly high amounts.
The GMO version of this fruit, which is known as rainbow papaya, was developed after the ringspot virus destroyed most of the papaya in Hawaii to resist this particular disease. A 2011 study found that rainbow papaya has higher vitamin A levels and lower calcium levels than traditional non-modified papaya.
Alfalfa is a popular high-protein food source for cattle, especially dairy cows, said Muszalski.
Genetically modified alfalfa is resistant to herbicides, which means farmers can kill weeds without hurting the crop.
Apples produced by the company Arctic have been genetically altered to prevent browning and bruising, said Julie Harris, an RDN who works at Omada Health. These apples can be found in several popular varieties within the US, including fuji, granny smith, and golden delicious, and can be identified at your local grocery store by the Arctic® logo.
“Browning does not affect the taste or the quality of these crops but adding this gene has cut down on food waste, as many people think brown produce is spoiled,” Harris says.
Research indicates that GM arctic apples’ nutritional content is comparable to their traditional counterparts. While they do contain a new protein called NPTII, it has been deemed non-toxic and non-allergenic.
5 Surprising Genetically Modified Foods
Probably. Since several common ingredients like corn starch and soy protein are predominantly derived from genetically modified crops, it’s pretty hard to avoid GM foods altogether. In fact, GMOs are present in 60 to 70 percent of foods on US supermarket shelves, according to Bill Freese at the Center for Food Safety; the vast majority of processed foods contain GMOs. One major exception is fresh fruits and veggies. The only GM produce you’re likely to find is the Hawaiian papaya, a small amount of zucchini and squash, and some sweet corn. No meat, fish, and poultry products approved for direct human consumption are bioengineered at this point, though most of the feed for livestock and fish is derived from GM corn, alfalfa, and other biotech grains. Only organic varieties of these animal products are guaranteed GMO-free feed.
So what are some examples of food that are genetically modified?
1. Papayas: In the 1990s, Hawaiian papaya trees were plagued by the ringspot virus which decimated nearly half the crop in the state. In 1998, scientists developed a transgenic fruit called Rainbow papaya, which is resistant to the virus. Now 77 percent of the crop grown in Hawaii is genetically engineered (GE).
2. Milk: RGBH, or recombinant bovine growth hormone, is a GE variation on a naturally occurring hormone injected into dairy cows to increase milk production. It is banned for milk destined for human consumption in the European Union, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. Many milk brands that are rGBH-free label their milk as such, but as much as 40 percent of our dairy products, including ice cream and cheese, contains the hormone.
3. Corn on the cob: While 90 percent of corn grown in the United States is genetically modified, most of that crop is used for animal feed or ethanol and much of the rest ends up in processed foods. Sweet corn—the stuff that you steam or grill on the barbecue and eat on the cob—was GMO-free until last year when Monsanto rolled out its first GE harvest of sweet corn. While consumers successfully petitioned Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s to not carry the variety, Walmart has begun stocking the shelves with it without any label.
4. Squash and zucchini: While the majority of squashes on the market are not GE, approximately 25,000 acres of crookneck, straightneck, and zucchinis have been bioengineered to be virus resistant.
5. “All natural” foods: Be wary of this label if you’re trying to avoid GE foods. Right now there is no strict definition of what constitutes a natural food. This could be changing soon as federal court judges recently requested the Food and Drug Administration to determine whether the term can be used to describe foods containing GMOs to help resolve pending class action suits against General Mills, Campbell Soup Co., and the tortilla manufacturer Gruma Corp.