With bioengineered food labels showing up in stores, here’s what you should know about GMOs

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Credit: USDA/NFE
Credit: USDA/NFE

While “genetic engineering” is the term typically used by scientists, you will start seeing the “bioengineered” label on some of the GMO foods we eat in the United States.

Humans have used traditional ways to modify crops and animals to suit their needs and tastes for more than 10,000 years. Cross-breeding, selective breeding and mutation breeding are examples of traditional ways to make these changes. These breeding methods often involve mixing all the genes from two different sources. They are used to create common crops like modern corn varieties and seedless watermelon.

Modern technology now allows scientists to use genetic engineering to take just a specific beneficial gene, like insect resistance or drought tolerance, and transfer it into a plant. The reasons for genetic modification today are similar to what they were thousands of years ago: higher crop yields, less crop loss, longer storage life, better appearance, better nutrition, or some combination of these traits.

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Since GMO foods were introduced in the 1990s, research has shown that they are just as safe as non-GMO foods. Since then, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have worked together to ensure that crops produced through genetic engineering are safe for people, animals, and the environment.

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