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Weed through misinformation about GMOs

Weed through misinformation about GMOs

The acronym “GMO” has a bad connotation. Scientists don’t like to use the term, according to Dr. Tim Durham, assistant professor of agronomy and agricultural sciences at Ferrum College.

“It’s precision breeding or biotechnology,” Durham said. “It’s a refinement of conventional methods that we’ve been leveraging for thousands of years.”

GMOs have been widely used since 1996, and Durham called them a “scientific bridge to a better life,” but noted that there are people in the developed world who oppose GMOs. “People have done a great job of demonizing technology they don’t know much about.”

Durham said consumers often think GMOs are totally unregulated. In fact, he explained, “GMOs are the most heavily regulated technology ever released, and that’s not up for dispute. That’s an undeniable fact.”

It can be hard to decipher the truth, especially when items like water, salt or ham carry non-GMO labels. The 10 GMO crops commercially available in the U.S. are:

• Alfalfa
• Apple
• Canola
• Corn (sweet and field)
• Cotton
• Potato
• Rainbow papaya
• Soybean
• Sugar beet
• Summer squash

Any foods that do not contain those crops—like water, salt or ham—cannot be a GMO.

Why do GMOs even exist?

GMOs were created to achieve a desired trait, such as tolerance to drought conditions or enhanced nutritional content. The 10 commercially available GMO crops were created for:

• Insect resistance
• Drought tolerance
• Herbicide tolerance
• Disease resistance
• Enhanced nutritional content
• Reduced food waste• Improved food processing

True or False?

Here are some answers to consumers’ most burning questions about GMOs:

Seedless watermelon is a GMO. False. It is a hybrid made by crossing two different varieties of watermelon. Seedless watermelons are just one of many types of watermelons grown around the world; there are more than 300 watermelon varieties cultivated in the U.S. and South America alone.

Sweet corn is a GMO. True, but not all sweet corn. In the U.S. it is estimated that about 10 percent of the total sweet corn acreage planted is GMO.

The cotton candy grapes in my grocery store also are a GMO. False. They’re developed through a range of seed improvement techniques that are not the ones used to create GMOs.

Fish DNA has been inserted in tomatoes. False. There are no GMO tomatoes available commercially, with or without fish DNA. 

Want to learn more about GMOs?

An article in February 2014 Cultivate goes into more detail:

Virginia Farm Bureau’s television program, Real Virginia, also has highlighted GMOs:

Another great resource is, which uses more than 340 contributors—including educators, farmers and industry volunteers—to answer questions about GMOs.