GMO: How Scared Should You Be?

Genetic modification has become a global hot button among activists lately. They are concerned about the effect that genetically modified organisms (GMO) might have on health and the environment, as well as the impact of GMO crops on farmers. Many support labeling food so consumers know which products contain GMO ingredients and which are GMO-free.

So what about GMO and cotton? Genetic modification has been used to increase the volume and quality of oil produced, which makes each cotton plant more efficient. In the United States, China, and India, genetically modified cotton is grown on a huge scale, and the cottonseed oil extracted from the plants are considered very high quality. When those cottonseed oils are used in the production of margarine, cooking oils or shortening, they are required to be labeled as GMO products in some countries, but not in the United States.

However, the finished GMO cottonseed oil that is used in those cooking additives cannot really be distinguished from ordinary, non-GMO cottonseed oil, since there is no chemical difference between the two. The real difference is simply that the GMO version is of higher quality, and is produced in slightly higher volume by the cotton plant from which it originates. Since it is virtually indistinguishable from its non-GMO cousin, the GMO cottonseed oil has not come under the watchful eye of the Food and Drug Administration.

Also, scientists say that any foods or food additives obtained from GMO crops have no greater potential for harm to the consumer public than conventional crops. Farmers also report that there has been no more impact on their operations from GMO crops than from non-GMO crops. There are still advocacy groups, such as Greenpeace and the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), that feel that the long-term effects of GMO food crops need further study.

In the meantime, in 2013, the three research groups that originally applied genetic engineering techniques to crops were collectively awarded the World Food Prize for their work in improving the quality, quantity and availability of food in the world.

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