Contrary to misconceptions, only a few GMO crops in the grocery store are available as whole produce – sweet corn, summer squash, papayas and potatoes. But large sections of the produce aisle are not comprised of GMOs. Seedless watermelons, for instance, are not GMOs. Other food products, however, may contain ingredients derived from GMO crops.
Ingredients derived from genetically modified corn, soy, sugar beets and canola are used in a wide variety of foods including cereal, corn chips, veggie burgers and more.
However, it is important to remember that genetically modified crops are nutritionally equivalent to non-genetically modified foods, unless the nutritional content has been intentionally changed, like in high oleic soybeans. If a crop has been nutritionally enhanced, that specific characteristic will be highlighted on the product label. And the health and safety consensus of GMOs is firmly established by scientific authorities around the world.
Genetically Engineered Food Processing Aids
Microbes and enzymes used as processing aids for popular foods, like cheese, can also be genetically engineered.
Up to 80 to 90 percent of cheese in the U.S. is made using chymosin that is generated by genetically engineered bacteria. Chymosin is a key enzyme in rennet, the substance that causes milk to coagulate and turn into hard cheese.
Until the 1990’s rennet was primarily harvested from the fourth stomach of young ruminant animals, often calves slaughtered for veal. As demand for cheese increased over time, supply could not be met with traditional animal-produced rennet. Scientists were able to fill the void by transferring the chymosin gene into bacteria that could generate large quantities of chymosin, which is a purer, more consistent product than that derived from animal sources, not to mention more environmentally- and animal-friendly.
During the process of creating the chymosin enzyme, called fermentation-produced chymosin, the genetically engineered bacteria is killed as the enzyme is isolated. Therefore, although genetically engineered bacteria are used as a processing aid to produce chymosin, there are no GMOs in your cheese.
Keeping Food Costs Down
Genetically modified crops help to reduce the overall cost of food. Dr. Stuart Smyth, Assistant Professor with the Department of Bioresource Policy, Business and Economics at the University of Saskatchewan explains, “Typically, GM crops are the more efficient crops, and that means their price and costs as ingredients are less than non-GMOs.”
Genetically modified crops have helped to increase the supply of key commodity crops, so the rise in food prices is lower than the case if genetically modified crops did not exist.
In general terms, it is additionally important to recognize that the real price of food and feed products has fallen consistently during the last 50 years. This is the result, in part, of the enormous improvements in productivity by farmers. These productivity improvements have risen from the adoption of new technologies and techniques, like GMOs.