Pros and Cons of GMO Foods

Learn about GMOs, what the experts say, and whether you should beware of their “monster” modifications.

  • Published: 5/30/2022
  • 5 min. read

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) include plants, animals, or microorganisms that have had alterations to their genetic make-up to prevent pesticide use and improve quality for consumers. Yet, moving away from the natural and into the lab has made some people straight-up scared of food sources. Learn about this controversial topic, what the experts say, and whether you should beware of their “monster” modifications.

What are GMOs?

GMO stands for genetically modified organism. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), this is a term used to describe a plant, animal, or microorganism that has had its genetic material or DNA altered (1). Certain desirable genes are transferred from one organism to another (2). 

What’s the purpose of GM foods?

Historically, humans have been altering crops through selective breeding, selecting two “parents” that have beneficial traits. This can help produce a better product, such as getting grapes without seeds. The problem with this method is that it can take generations to create the desired outcome. 

Genetically modified foods (GM foods) were originally developed to benefit farmers and the food industry in general at a more rapid rate than selective breeding. One of the main reasons for GM foods to help protect crops from insects, viruses, or herbicides. The goal is to create plants that have toxins to fight off bugs and bacteria on their own (2). 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), GMO foods are also developed and marketed to create an advantage for the producer or consumer. This could result in a lower cost, longer shelf life, and improved quality and nutritional value (2). 

Are GMO foods dangerous?

The three main concerns around GMO foods are toxicity, allergies, and genetic impact. Major health authorities such as the American Medical Association (AMA) and WHO have concluded that genetically modified foods are safe for consumers, yet there is still an ongoing debate on their long-term safety (3). This may be partly because, due to ethical reasons, many studies have been conducted on animals and not humans.

Allergies, such as gluten intolerance, have been claimed to be a possible result of GMO foods, yet the science is not conclusive. An example of allergies caused by crossbreeding is soybeans enriched with the amino acid (protein building block) methionine. Since this was synthesized from a Brazil nut gene, some consumers may have an allergic reaction to the GMO soybean (4). 

As for environmental impact, it appears GMO foods can help decrease the number of pesticides, but the long-term effects are unknown. It's a possibility that insects in the future may evolve and become resistant to GMO plant defenses. It could also lead to adverse effects on the bacteria, fungi, and such in the soil (4). 

Common GMO foods

GMO food regulations will vary, depending on where you live. In the United States, many crops grown are GMO, including soybeans, corn, sugar, beets, canola, and cotton. In 2018, 92-94% of all soybeans, cotton, and corn planted in the United States were GMO (1). Comparably, nineteen countries in the European Union have voted to either partially or fully ban GMOs (5). 

Common GMO foods include these:

  • Ingredients: cornstarch, corn syrup, corn oil, soybean oil, canola oil, and sugar.
  • Fruits and vegetables: potatoes, squash apples, papayas, alfalfa, corn, eggplant, pineapple, soy (1).
  • Animals: more than 95% of animals used for meat and dairy in the US eat GMO crops; however independent studies show that there's no difference in the health and safety of the animals (1). 

How to avoid GMO foods?

Genetic modification of organic foods is banned. This includes foods used to feed organic animals. For example, according to regulations, an organic cow can’t eat GMO corn feed (6). 

It’s essential to keep in mind that consuming organic products is not a foolproof method for avoiding GMOs. When an organic farm neighbors a conventional one, there’s a risk that the conventional seeds may drift into the organic one, causing cross-pollination (6). 

Beginning January 2022, some types of GMOs will be required to indicate when a food has detectable genetic material that has been modified in the lab and cannot grow in nature. At that time, food manufacturers must include text on the package that says “bioengineered food,” a bioengineered food symbol, or directions for finding the disclosure (1). 

Are GMO foods nutritious?

One goal of genetic modification is to enrich or boost certain nutrients. Common nutrients increased in GMO foods are vitamins A, C, and E, unsaturated fats, fiber, and probiotics (4). However, when compared in studies, there were no significant differences between the GMO and natural forms of wheat and corn. 

Some research suggests that natural foods have more nutrients. As for tomato antioxidant value, the content was lower in the genetically modified version (7). Foods including eggs, dairy, and meat from animals that eat GMO foods have been shown to be equal in nutritional value (1). 

To GMO or not to GMO

At this time, it's not clear whether humans should eat food from GMOs and what the long-term environmental impact is. If you want to play it safe and limit your GMO exposure, aim for organic foods whenever possible, and look for the “bioengineered” label coming in 2022. 

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All of the content and media on Lifesum is created and published for information purposes only. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for medical advice or treatment. Users should always consult with a doctor or other health care professional for medical advice. If you have or think you are at risk of developing an eating disorder, do not use the Lifesum app and seek immediate medical help.

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