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GMO Basics

What are GMOs? Are GMOs safe? Why do farmers grow GMO crops?  We know there are a lot of questions regarding GMOs, Genetically Modified Organisms. Let’s start with the basics. 


What Are GMOs?


When people refer to genetically modified organisms - GMOs - they are referring to crops developed through genetic engineering, a more precise method of plant breeding.  Genetic engineering, also referred to as biotechnology, allows plant breeders to take a desirable trait found in nature and transfer it from one plant or organism to the plant they want to improve, as well as make a change to an existing trait in a plant they are developing.  Some examples of desirable traits commonly transferred include resistance to insects and disease and tolerance to herbicides that allow farmers to better control weeds.



Why Grow GMOs?


GMOs are created to achieve a desired trait, such as resistance to a pest or tolerance to drought conditions. 

GM crops were created for:

  • Insect resistance: to provide farmers with season-long protection against pests, reduce the need for pesticide applications and lower input costs.
  • Drought tolerance: to increase water retention and allow crops to better endure drought conditions without the need for additional irrigation.
  • Herbicide tolerance: to allow farmers to fight weeds by applying targeted herbicides only when needed and enable them to use conservation tillage production methods that preserve topsoil, prevent erosion and reduce carbon emissions.
  • Disease resistance: to enable plants to resist certain diseases, such as the papaya ringspot virus (PRSV). For example, the GM Rainbow Papaya (developed to resist PRSV) allowed Hawaiian papaya farmers to recover when the devastating disease crippled their industry.
  • Enhanced nutritional content: to create food – such as soybeans – with an enhanced oil profile to make them longer-lasting and trans-fat free.
  • Reduced food waste: to eliminate superficial browning and bruising when products are cut or handled – in potatoes, for example – to reduce the amount of produce thrown away by producers, processors, retailers, and consumers.
  • Improved manufacturing processes: to enable more efficient biofuel production – in certain corn varieties, for example – by improving the process by which cellulose and/or starch is broken down and converted to fuel. This helps to reduce the environmental impact by decreasing the amount of water, electricity and natural gas needed to produce biofuel.


What Are GMO Crops?


The most common GMO crops include soybean, maize, cotton, canola, and alfalfa. The following GMO  crops were also planted in different countries in 2018: papaya, eggplant, potato, apple, safflower, pineapple, and sugarcane. Please visit the ISAAA website for more information on GMO crops around the world.