Genetically engineered (GE) foods have had their DNA changed using genes from other plants or animals. Scientists take the gene for a desired trait in one plant or animal, and they insert that gene into a cell of another plant or animal.
Genetic engineering can be done with plants, animals, or bacteria and other very small organisms. Genetic engineering allows scientists to move desired genes from one plant or animal into another. Genes can also be moved from an animal to a plant or vice versa. Another name for this is genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.
The process to create GE foods is different than selective breeding. This involves selecting plants or animals with desired traits and breeding them. Over time, this results in offspring with those desired traits.
One of the problems with selective breeding is that it can also result in traits that are not desired. Genetic engineering allows scientists to select one specific gene to implant. This avoids introducing other genes with undesirable traits. Genetic engineering also helps speed up the process of creating new foods with desired traits.
The possible benefits of genetic engineering include:
Some people have expressed concerns about GE foods, such as:
These concerns have proven to be unfounded. None of the GE foods used today have caused any of these problems. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) assesses all GE foods to make sure they are safe before allowing them to be sold. In addition to the FDA, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulate bioengineered plants and animals. They assess the safety of GE foods to humans, animals, plants, and the environment.
Cotton, corn, and soybeans are the main GE crops grown in the United States. Most of these are used to make ingredients for other foods, such as:
Other major GE crops include:
There are no side effects from consuming GE foods.
The World Health Organization, the National Academy of Science, and several other major science organizations across the globe have reviewed research on GE foods and found no evidence that they are harmful. There are no reports of illness, injury, or environmental harm due to GE foods. Genetically engineered foods are just as safe as conventional foods.
In the United States, labeling of genetically engineered foods is not required by the FDA. This is because there has been no significant difference found in nutrition or safety. The US Department of Agriculture recently proposed a draft rule on the labeling of bioengineered food and food ingredients. The new disclosure statements or symbols must be on most products by January 1, 2020.
Reviewed By: Emily Wax, RD, CNSC, University of Virginia Health System, Charlottesville, VA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.