This article originally appeared on our sister site, BetterNutrition.com.
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Many of us have heard the term, but how much do you really know about them, their health risks, and how to avoid them? Take our quiz and test your knowledge. Then pass the test on to others to raise awareness about this timely topic.
1. True or False:
One of the easiest ways to remember which crops are most likely to be genetically modified is to remember that they all begin with the letter "c."
2. True or False:
The two main traits given to genetically modified (GM) foods are 1.) To produce their own insecticide, and 2.) To be resistant to herbicides that kill other plants.
3. True or False:
The terms "genetically modified" and "genetically engineered" mean different things.
4. True or False:
In the genetic modification process, biotech scientists often use viruses and bacteria to invade cells of plants and insert foreign genes.
5. True or False:
The only sweeteners on the market that likely contain genetically modified organisms are those made from corn—i.e., fructose, corn syrup, and high-fructose corn syrup.
6. True or False:
No cases of illness have ever been reported by people who have eaten foods that have been genetically modified, or by people who ingested products in which genetically modified organisms were used.
7. True or False:
One of the main companies involved in making and patenting genetically modified seeds is a top chemical company that manufactured Agent Orange and DDT.
8. True or False:
Polls conducted by the three major television networks show that the majority of Americans want genetically modified foods to be labeled.
9. True or False:
Animal studies indicate that there are only two health risks associated with eating GM foods: infertility and reproductive problems.
10. True or False:
Genetically modified E. coli bacteria is used in the production of recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), which is injected into some cows to boost milk production.
11. True or False:
One way to identify GM produce in the grocery store is to look for a label on the produce item with a 5-digit PLU code starting with the number 8.
Answers to the Quiz:
- False. Just three of the top GMO crops—corn, canola, and cottonseed—begin with the letter "c." Soy, sugar from sugar beets, papaya (U.S.-grown), squash/zucchini, and alfalfa are among other commonly genetically modified crops.
- True. GM foods are genetically modified to either produce their own insecticide or to tolerate herbicides that kill other plants—or both.
- False. "Genetically modified" and "genetically engineered" mean the same thing—altering genes or inserting genes from one organism into another—and the two terms can be used interchangeably.
- True. Viruses and bacteria have the ability to invade cells, so one of the key ways biotech scientists overcome the natural barriers that genes have against genetic material from another species is by using some type of bacteria or virus that is carrying foreign genetic material to penetrate the host cell.
- False. Sweeteners made from corn, more than 80 percent of which is genetically modified, are likely to contain GMOs. But so is sugar, which is usually a combination of sugar from sugar cane and sugar from GM sugar beets. Also, the artificial sweetener aspartame, found in NutraSweet and Equal, is a genetically modified product.
- False. In 2000, reports came in to environmental groups and the Food and Drug Administration from people who said they got sick or suffered severe allergic reactions after eating taco shells made from a type of genetically modified corn called StarLink, which was not approved for human consumption; that was before nationwide recalls of the products were issued. In 1989, more than 1,000 people became ill or disabled and about 100 Americans died after taking L-tryptophan supplements from one company that used genetically engineered bacteria in the production of the product. According to some American Academy of Environmental Medicine physicians, patients are probably seeing negative health effects right now from GM foods but they or their doctors don't realize that GM foods may be contributing to those health conditions.
- True. Monsanto, the biggest seller of GM seeds in the world, manufactured DDT and Agent Orange. It is the producer of the leading weed-killer Roundup and most of the GM seeds the corporation produces are genetically engineered to be "Roundup Ready"—in other words, to withstand applications of Roundup that would kill other plants.
- True. An ABC News poll found that 93 percent of people think the government should require labeling of GM foods. And a CBS/New York Times blog poll found that 83 percent of consumers are bothered by the presence of GMOs in food, and 89 percent want GM foods labeled. An MSNBC poll found that 96 percent want GM foods labeled.
- False. Based on animal research, infertility and reproductive problems are two serious health risks associated with eating GM foods, but there are many others. According to the American Academy of Environmental Medicine, they include immune system problems, accelerated aging, disruption of insulin and cholesterol regulation, organ damage, and gastrointestinal problems.
- True. The United States is the one of only a few nations that allow the use of GM recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) in dairy cattle. However, in recent years, consumer reaction and concerns in the U.S. have prompted Wal-Mart, Starbucks, and many dairies to either not use or to stop using rBGH. Some dairies still do, though. To avoid it, look for milk products labeled USDA Organic or rBGH-free or rBST-free.
- False. That's an urban legend that's circulated far and wide. Looking for a 5-digit PLU code that starts with 8 isn't helpful for identifying GM produce items because many companies don't want consumers to know which foods are GMO, so no company uses a number starting with 8, says leading non-GMO advocate Jeffrey Smith. To steer clear of GM produce, seek out organic forms of your favorite fruits and vegetables—crops must be GMO-free to receive organic certification. Also: Look for the "Non-GMO Project Verified" seal on product labels. This certification comes from the Non GMO Project, the most trusted organization for non-GMO certification.