Whatever worries us takes control of us. That could include worries about our health, our spouse, our kids, our careers, and even our food. GMO's or genetically modified organisms, otherwise known as genetic engineering or biotechnology, can be a source of worry for some. After all, what is a GMO and is it safe for my family? Let me give you the low down on why you can relax on this one.

As a registered dietitian, I've received numerous questions about GMO's or genetically engineered food over the years. And to become more knowledgeable, I've sought out credible sources of information so I could share it with my clients and colleagues.  After all, typing in GMO’s in Google yields millions of results - most of which are not credible - which is where the worry starts in the first place. 

I sought out the professional stance of organizations that are well-respected, like the American Medical Association and looked for guidance. I reached out to the International Food and Information Council because their mission is to rely on science and credible experts to promote the facts about food and nutrition. I listened to the well-educated experts found on Best Food Facts. I talked to farmers and went to conferences where scientists and experts were speaking on GMO’s. I even spoke at the Minnesota Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics on this topic. And I wrote a series of posts on GMO’s in our food supply based on all this research. 

Well, I’ve gotten to do a little more research and I want to share this with you. I've recently partnered with the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance to be a voice in the agriculture industry. 

And I was invited to tour the Monsanto Research Center in St. Louis, Missouri for an all access tour. A pretty cool opportunity. As for the tour, nothing was off limits. All questions could be asked.  Pictures could be taken. And I was reminded once again, there’s nothing to fear.

What is a GMO?
The process of genetic engineering is an extremely precise method of plant breeding based on a complete understanding of the plant’s genetic code, allowing scientists to change a single characteristic or trait in the plant without changing anything else about the plant’s genetic makeup.

Now that the human genome has been mapped, plant DNA is now being mapped as well. Can you imagine the research that goes into mapping out an entire gene? This knowledge from extraordinary research allows for the precise change needed for plant protection or plant production.

But why change the plants grown in nature, you might ask? Well, funny you should ask. If you look in your kitchen right now, do you have any of the following foods?

  • Watermelon
  • Bananas
  • Carrots
  • Corn

Or, take the corn plant. It was a grass found in Mexico long ago with ears the size of our pinky fingers - one bite and done. It's now something we treasure each summer, savored with butter, and each ear is savory and satisfying. Plus we get so many nutrients from it too! 

The changes to these foods occurred long, long ago. Before the words "genetic engineering" were even thought of.  But genetic modification happened then too. It just involved a more labor intensive and much longer process.   

Take the yellow mustard plant, over the centuries, farmers have naturally selected for certain traits to allow this plant to be the parent of many plants we know and love (or at least as moms we want our kids to know and love):

  • Broccoli (selected for stems and flowers)
  • Kale (selected for leaves)
  • Cabbage (selected for terminal buds to grow into a head of cabbage)
  • Cauliflower (selected for flower clusters)
  • Kohlrabi (selected for stem)
  • Brussels Sprouts (okay - winner if your kids love these!) (selected for lateral buds)

The problem here is that all this selection and breeding takes a long, I mean, loooong, time – like generations, because you have to let things grow out and see what happens, over and over and over. But we don't have that kind of time.

Genetic engineering, instead, is a more efficient way to protect crops from pests, drought, and diseases. It also helps us grow more with fewer resources. The world population is expected to increase by 20 percent by 2050, reaching 9.7 billion – that’s more than a billion people relying on the same resources. 

That's a lot of mouths to feed, a lot of bodies to nourish.

Which crops are farmers able to grow that have been genetically engineered as of 2016?  
There are currently nine genetically engineered crops available commercially:

  • Corn (Field corn and some sweet corn)
  • Soybeans
  • Cotton
  • Alfalfa
  • Sugar Beets
  • Canola
  • Papaya
  • Squash (yellow)
  • Potatoes

The Arctic Apple will be available soon. Now, if I walk into any supermarket, I can find a “non-GMO” label on anything from canned tomatoes, pasta, or even on pink salt. 

But can I be honest with you here? 

It’s a marketing claim - that’s it. This voluntary label some companies are using to set apart their product doesn’t have any meaning, especially since the products I mentioned aren't made with GMO crops in the first place. But as moms, these labels can make us wonder about whether foods without them are safe or not for our families. Strike that worry off the list.

What about the research on genetically engineered plants?
You would be blown away by the amount of research that goes on in Monsanto’s Missouri facility alone. With over 1700 people just in this one place, there's work being done constantly to continue to produce the safest and most nourishing crops for both the United States and world.

There are growth chambers where seeds are grown and tested in environments that mimic various climates of other countries or even regions of the United States – ensuring precise breeding and effectiveness.

Why do plants have to be genetically engineerd?
There are four reasons for genetic engineering. Take a look at these soybean plants. Can you spot a pretty obvious difference between them? 

One of these plants is genetically engineered to protect from damage from the soybean looper and the velvetbean caterpillar - destructive pests that can obliterate an entire crop. Here's a closer look. It's like Where's Waldo - can you spot the two pests?

The genetic engineered plant has minimal to no damage as it's protected due to a bacterium naturally found in the soil that is introduced into the soybean plant gene to then protect the plant from these two pests only if they try to munch on the plant. This is an extremely targeted approach and allows for pesticides to be greatly reduced, while leaving beneficial insects in place within the environment. 

This technology has no effect on humans. None. Zip. Zilch.

On May 17, 2016, the National Academy of Sciences released a huge research publication on genetically engineered crops. This group of scientists searched all available research on genetically engineered crops, which ended up being 900 research publications.  And guess what?

No adverse health effects were found. 

The reasons for using genetic engineering all have to do with plant protection and crop production. 

  • Producing more on the same amount of land
  • Insect/pest resistance to help crops grow without being obliterated
  • Disease resistance from viruses and bacteria that can affect and potentially wipe out an entire crop (like papaya in Hawaii)
  • Herbicide tolerance so the right weeds can be killed to prevent them from taking over a field thus taking over a crop

Take this worry off your list because less stressed moms nourish their families better - with their words, their time and with the food they prepare. 

This post is sponsored by The US Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, but the writing is all mine. 

To read the full article and more from Jen Haugen, visit http://www.jenhaugen.com

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