What does the label "non-GMO" mean?

Every second perceives the inscription "non-GMO" as a kind of signal: "must be taken." But, as the survey shows, the percentage of those who actually understand what the abbreviation GMO means is quite small. Even fewer people understand what is hidden behind the “non-GMO” label, what products can have this label, whether the absence of a label means that the product necessarily contains this same GMO and whether it should be afraid.

What is GMO

Think about how you buy vegetables in a supermarket or market. Most of those who choose potatoes are sure to look for the most even and largest tubers. If tomatoes are the reddest. If chicken - then a larger carcass. A good leaf lettuce, in our opinion, must be a bright green color. And if you buy carrots, then by all means of such sizes that will surprise even the most experienced farmer.

We return home with a full basket of selected products for lunch or dinner and do not even realize that the very fruits that seem most attractive to us are often genetically modified.

A GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) is an organism whose genes have been deliberately altered by humans. To make it easier to understand what GM foods are, let us recall that all hereditary information in both human organisms and in animals and plants is stored in DNA.

In the process of gene modification, DNA is artificially altered. Often this is done at the expense of the genes of other organisms, that is, the genes of other organisms are added to the original genome. As a result, if not something completely new, then with characteristics that differ from the "source" appears. By the way, it is this technique that is used in selection. Gene modification in our time can be done in three ways:

  • by changing the activity of genes present in the body;
  • copying existing genes and introducing a copy into the body;
  • mixing genes of two different species in one organism (created by a transgene).

Tobacco was the first plant to undergo genetic modification. And the tomato was the first modified organism to be marketed. It happened in 1994. In both cases, the intervention in the genotype was to increase the hardiness of the product during transport, as well as to accelerate the growth of the plant.

Today, scientists recognize that modified plants are more resistant to climatic factors, adapt better and grow faster even in poor soil. In addition, such products look better: they are larger, brighter and have a longer shelf life. Some researchers claim that GM foods can solve the problem of world hunger. However, studies by the UN indicate that world hunger is not the result of a lack of food, but the result of the wrong distribution of food on the planet.

GMOs in agriculture

Genetic modification techniques are now widely used in agriculture. Most often, corn, tomatoes, soybeans, potatoes, cotton, melon, tobacco, rapeseed, sugar beets undergo genetic changes.

The goal of any gene manipulation is, first of all, to correct the characteristics of the product: improve or add new ones. If the majority of consumers are distrustful of genetic engineering products, then GMOs can sometimes be a real salvation for farmers. For example, farmers have long dreamed of being able to sow beets earlier than traditional agricultural dates in order to harvest faster and more often. However, this number does not work with an ordinary vegetable, since beet seedlings may not survive spring frosts. Genetics solved this problem. They introduced the northern fish gene into the vegetable and thus obtained a transgenic beet that is resistant even to 6-degree frost. Scientists introduced the same gene into some varieties of tomatoes and strawberries. To prevent pests from eating corn, the genes of poisonous snakes are introduced into it. And in order for cattle to gain weight faster, growth hormone is added to their food.

In addition, modified crops show high resistance to herbicides. This advantage is usually used when growing soybeans. Plants with GMOs react less painfully to pests, including various infections, viruses, fungi, bacteria. By the way, it is for this reason that tobacco, ordinary and cauliflower, cucumbers, potatoes are often subjected to genetic modification. GMOs increase the plant's resistance to changing weather conditions. For example, resistance to frost, drought and soil salinity appears. For example, mustard after genetic intervention becomes not only more resistant to environmental conditions, but also acquires the ability to absorb heavy metals from the soil. On the one hand, such a plant is useful as a "nurse" of the environment, but on the other hand, it is absolutely impossible to eat such a product.

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After intervention by geneticists, many fruits and vegetables retain their freshness much longer than nature intended.

Often this kind of change is carried out in the genetic code of tomatoes, strawberries, apples and bananas. With the help of genetic modification, it is possible to achieve an increase in the size of vegetables, fruits, and even cereal grains.

Potential Benefits of GM Foods

Some scholars in defense of genetic engineering cite examples of GM foods tailored to the needs of different patients. For example, through genetic engineering, the amount of phytoestrogens (chemical compounds that resemble the human hormone estrogen) in food can be adjusted. Phytoestrogens contained in plant foods can reduce the risk of atherosclerosis, osteoporosis, breast cancer, and also alleviate the symptoms of menopause in women. So geneticists have learned to artificially increase the level of these substances in plant foods.

Modified coffee may be more acceptable to some people. In particular, we are talking about hypertension. They, as you know, categorically cannot be abused caffeine, so geneticists have created coffee that contains 70% less caffeine than regular coffee.

Why “non-GMO” is better

But still, most of the world's population is suspicious of genetically modified foods. The main argument against GM food is the results of studies showing that long-term consumption of transgenic food can have a detrimental effect on our health and our descendants.

Studies in mice have shown that animals fed modified corn begin to show reduced fertility in the 3rd-4th generation. As practice shows, in 90% of cases, the results characteristic of mice are also confirmed in humans. People who eat GM food theoretically expect the same fate as experimental mice.

GM foods show high allergenic potential, and they usually contain fewer nutrients than natural foods. Moreover, many plant species contain small amounts of poisons. In natural products, the amount of toxins is negligible and safe for humans. In plants that have been genetically modified, the levels of toxic substances can increase, making them unsafe to eat. It is believed that the consumption of genetically modified foods can cause various diseases, including antibiotic resistance.

This food is a new invention. It has not been long enough to understand the exact impact of GMOs on human health in the long term. The consequences of the constant use of such food are not known to anyone, so many people prefer to avoid GMOs. The most frequently cited health threats associated with the consumption of GM foods are immunity disorders, antibiotic resistance, reduced fertility, metabolic disorders, and an increased risk of developing cancer.

What the non-GMO label says

The non-GMO label allows the consumer to obtain information about the origin of the food. The Consumer Protection Act provides for the labeling "non-GMO" only on products that do not contain genetically modified organisms. Imported food that does not contain GMOs can be recognized by the inscriptions Organic, Non-GMO, GMO (a crossed out word), and domestic food can be recognized by the labeling “GMO-free”, “GMO-free” or “GOST R 57022-2016”. The latter also indicates the natural origin of the product.

“GMO free” is not a guarantee that a product is completely free of modified organisms.

Even this label suggests the presence of GMOs in the product, but not more than 1%. On some products, traces of genetic engineering can be hidden behind food E-additives, and on products of American origin, a special code with the first digit 8 indicates the presence of GMOs. GM food does not exist today. So far, no one can oblige the manufacturer to indicate on the product label that it contains GMOs. True, according to the legislation in Russia it is forbidden to produce and sell food with GMOs. But one cannot ignore the fact that there are imported goods on the food market, which may well be the result of the work of geneticists.

Nevertheless, experts have compiled a list of products potentially hazardous in terms of GMO content. They are:

How to recognize products with and without GMOs

If the product does not contain GMOs, then the manufacturer, as a rule, must indicate this on the label. Another thing is modified products, especially vegetables and fruits without branded packaging. They are certainly not stamped "GMO" or "non-GMO", but experienced farmers can recognize "suspicious" plants.

For example, ordinary potatoes, after peeling or chopping, usually darken within 30 minutes. Its GM sister, containing much more starch, does not turn black sometimes even for several hours. If the tomatoes on the supermarket shelf are all the same (almost the same shape, size and color), they can also be suspected of being unnatural. If you come across celery more tender and crunchier than usual, seedless grapes or suspiciously sweet tasting strawberries, you can be sure that genetics have also worked on them. And if you prefer yellow rice, you can be sure of two things. First, such a product contains more vitamin A than usual. Secondly, scientists also managed to work on it, who introduced the genes of narcissus and Erwina uredovora bacteria into the cereal. This type of cereal contains almost 20 times more vitamin A than regular rice.

Yellow rice was created specifically for people in developing countries, where children often suffer from blindness due to beriberi.

Natural fruits and vegetables can be distinguished by natural colors and flavors. In addition, a natural fruit does not have to look perfect. GM products, on the other hand, have an impeccable appearance, often an unnatural color and smell (or its complete absence).

The most famous GM foods

Consider the most common genetically modified foods. Tomatoes. The first GM tomato differed from its counterparts in that it tolerated transportation better and stayed fresh longer. Scientists have achieved this by reducing the activity of the gene responsible for the process of ripening and softening tomatoes. Modern "laboratory" tomatoes are further refined in these characteristics.

Soy. Modified soybeans are resistant to glyphosate, a herbicide used to control weeds. In addition, transgenic soybean plants are highly resistant to pests.

Potatoes. Thanks to genetic engineering, this vegetable has also become more resistant to herbicides and viruses, has stronger stems and a longer shelf life. In addition, raw GM potatoes contain fewer glycoalkaloids, which are considered dangerous to humans.

Strawberries. Thanks to GMOs, the berry has become sweeter, spoils more slowly and is not afraid of frost.

Sugar beet. Genetics have made it resistant to herbicides and pests, as well as "rewarded" it with a longer shelf life without loss of sugar content.

Bananas. GM fruits are resistant to fungi and viruses, which makes it possible to transport products without loss of product quality.

Grapes. Seedless varieties of berries, beloved by many, are also the result of the work of genetic scientists.

Milk. Genetic engineers justify the development of GM milk with the desire to create a product that would not cause allergies or food intolerances. To do this, scientists "improved" cow's milk with human genes.

GM brands
Chocolate Hershey's, Mars, M&M's, Snickers, Twix, Milky Way, Cadbury, Ferrero, Nestle, Toblerone
) Drinks Nestle Nesquik, Sosa-Cola, Sprite, Fanta, Kinnie, Fruktime, Pepsi, 7-Up, Fiesta, Mountain Dew, Lipton, Brooke Bond, Conversation, Nescafe, Nestea
Soups Campbell
Breakfast cereals Kellogg's, Corn Flakes, Nestle Crunch
Rice Uncle Bens Mars
Sauces, seasonings, mayonnaises Knorr, Hellmann's, Heinz, Calve, Maggi
Cookies Parmalat
Baby p food Nestle, Hipp, Abbot Labs Similac, Danone, Unilever, Delmi, Kraft Heinz
Ready meals McDonald's
Chips Pringles

GMOs in the modern world

In a report by the International Institute for the Propagation of Biotechnological Crops (ISAAA) states that in 2007 the area under cultivation of genetically modified plants was about 114.3 hectares, which is about 12% more than in 2005. And in 2015 this area increased to 200 million hectares and continues to grow. The leading countries in the cultivation of GM plants are the USA, Argentina, Canada, Brazil, China, and South Africa. On the territory of Russia, GMOs can only be used in laboratory research. The presence of modified substances in food products is prohibited.

Genetically modified products have both advantages and disadvantages. Genetic engineering techniques are used for both plants and animals. Influencing the genomes of organisms, scientists pursue various goals, among other things - to increase resistance to herbicides, pests and viral infections. For farmers, this may be the ideal solution. The question is how GMOs affect our health. While there is no reliable data confirming the safety of one or another modified organism, it makes sense to give preference to a natural product without GMOs.

Sources
  1. The College of Agriculture of Purdue University website https://ag. purdue.edu/GMOs/Pages/The-Science-of-GMOs.aspx. –
  2. World Health Organization website.– Food, genetically modified.
  3. U. S. Food and Drug Administration. – Science and history of GMOs and other food modification processes.
  4. Oxford Research Encyclopedias website. – Pros and cons of GMO crop farming.
  5. Non-GMO Project website. – What are high-risk crops & inputs?
  6. Website of The Royal Society. – Which genes have been introduced into GM crops so far and why?
  7. Scientific electronic library "CyberLeninka". - Genetically modified products.
  8. Sciencedirect Internet resource. – Genetically modified foods: a critical review of their promises and problems.
  9. Journal "Science and Life". – Genetically modified organisms.
  10. Scientific electronic library "CyberLeninka". - Legal regulation of genetic engineering activities in the Russian Federation.
  11. Website of the federal budgetary health care institution "Center for Hygienic Education of the Population". – Is there GMO or not?
  12. Scientific electronic library "CyberLeninka". - Some aspects of citizens' awareness of products obtained from genetically modified organisms.
  13. Scientific electronic library "CyberLeninka". - Genetic Apocalypse or possible "Benefits" from the use of GMOs.
  14. Website of the Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Supervision of Russia. - On the impact of GMOs on humans and the environment, products of animal and plant origin.
  15. National Geographic website. – Genetically modified organisms. ​​
  16. U. S. department of agriculture. – Genetically engineered crops in the United States.
  17. U. S. National library of medicine. – Safety and nutritional assessment of GM plants and derived food and feed: the role of animal feeding trials.