Genetically modified organisms are plants or animals created through the process of genetic engineering. Genetically engineered foods have a piece of DNA from a totally different species, such as bacteria or viruses, spliced into their DNA.
Genetically engineered soybeans, for example, have DNA from bacteria and viruses forced into their DNA to help them withstand the onslaught of weed killers such as Roundup.
Genetically engineered corn has DNA added so that it has a pesticide built right into it. This process creates a whole new unstable species of plant that would have never occurred in nature. None of the current GMO crops offer increased yield, drought tolerance, or enhanced nutrition.
Hybrid foods are completely different. Hybrids are created when cross pollination occurs between plants. This process can be facilitated by man or it can occur spontaneously in nature.
Which foods are genetically modified?
As of 2012, most corn, soy beans, canola, cotton, and sugar beets are GMO. From these crops, products such as corn oil, canola oil, cottonseed oil, high fructose corn syrup, and many more are created and added to processed foods. This is why nearly 80% of processed and most fast foods contain GMOs.
Other crops that are genetically engineered include Hawaiian papaya, a small amount of zucchini and yellow squash, and alfalfa. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is also considering approving a GMO salmon, which would grow much larger and faster than regular salmon.
Are they safe?
Despite what the agricultural industry might say, there is little research on the long-term effects of GMOs on human health and the environment. The FDA has allowed GMOs into our food supply with only the research and assurances of safety from the biotech companies that create them. Interestingly, the person at the FDA responsible for this decision was Michael Taylor, former vice president of public policy at Monsanto (the largest producer of genetically engineered seeds).
Independent research has found that several varieties of GMO corn caused organ damage in rats. Other studies have found that animals were losing their ability to reproduce. There are also concerns that GMOs can increase allergies or cause immune system problems.