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GMOs Explained

The scoop on genetically engineered foods

Nov./Dec. 2022


Many consumers are curious to learn more about the purpose and safety of GMOs. GMO is an acronym used to identify foods made from plants, microorganisms and animals that have been created using genetic engineering. That technology enables scientists to copy a gene with a desired trait from one organism and put it into another.


Humans have modified crops and animals to suit their needs and tastes for thousands of years. Crossbreeding, selective breeding and mutation breeding are examples of traditional ways to make these genetic changes. They have been used to create crops like modern corn varieties and seedless watermelon.

These methods often involve mixing all the genes from two different sources. For example, today’s strawberries are a cross between a strawberry species native to North America and species native to South America.

Modern technology allows scientists to use genetic engineering to take a specific beneficial gene, like insect resistance or drought tolerance, and transfer it into a plant without also transferring undesirable genes, which sometimes occurs in traditional plant breeding.

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 a combination of these traits.

Some GMO plants have been modified to improve their nutritional value. An example is GMO soybeans with healthier oils—higher oleic acid —that can be used to replace oils containing trans fats. Scientists are continuing to look for new ways to develop foods with increased nutritional value and other useful traits.


One of the major reasons for genetic modification in food is better nutrition.

Each agency plays a part in ensuring GMOs are safe for human, plant and animal health. For example, the FDA makes sure foods from the GMOs it regulates meet the same safety standards as the non-GMO version. The three agencies also monitor the impact of GMOs on the environment.

Research shows GMO foods currently on the market are no more likely to cause allergic reactions than non-GMO versions. Most food allergies are caused by allergens found in just nine foods: peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, wheat, soy, sesame, shellfish and fish.

The way GMOs are created enables scientists to know precisely which new proteins are produced in a plant. Scientists perform tests to make sure these new proteins are not allergens. This type of testing, called allergenicity testing, is always part of the process for developing GMOs.


Certain types of GMOs have a disclosure that lets you know if the food is a bioengineered food, a term that Congress used to describe certain types of GMOs when it approved the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard.

The standard establishes requirements for labeling consumable foods that are or may be bioengineered. It defines bioengineered foods as those that contain detectable genetic material that has been modified through certain lab techniques and cannot be created through conventional breeding or found in nature.

Learn more about GMOs and their impact on your health at fda.gov/feedyourmind.