By: Vashti Kelly, Programs Manager

If you’re a foodie or interested in the least bit about where your food comes from, GMO is a term you have come across and may not know what it means or references. Recently, the conversation has advanced beyond good or bad and on to what exactly is in GMO food and the right of the consumer to know. GMO stands for genetically modified organism and when describing food, it means scientists can produce varieties of plants with qualities not typically found in nature, such as bacteria or pesticide resistant.

The genetic engineering of plants and animals is quickly becoming one of the greatest and unavoidable environmental challenges of our century. And, thanks to globalization the quantity of GMO food in the marketplace is skyrocketing worldwide. The complication with this is, most individuals have no idea the number of products or even which products they are purchasing are GMO foods.

Some genetically modified foods include:

  • Herbicide resistant corn and soybeans (allows farmers to apply strong pesticides to kill weeds)
  • Virus resistant papaya (used in Hawaii to withstand ringspot virus)
  • Golden rice (a Swiss scientific advancement, produces an antioxidant the body can turn into vitamin A)


Per Center for Food Safety, 92% of US corn is genetically engineered (GE) along with 94% of soybeans and cotton (cottonseed oil is often used in food products). Center for Food Safety projects upwards of 75% of processed foods on store shelves, ranging from beverages to condiments, contain ingredients that have been genetically modified.

And, despite where you fall amongst the GMO controversy be it risks to health, land destruction (and so-called “terminator seeds”), untying corporation from technology, or just plain confusion; genetic engineering came about out of concerns for meeting the needs of the future. As our world’s population continues to grow so do our needs and complications – climate change, food insecurity, vaccinations, and disease. To assuage some of the questions of risk or just for plain transparency labeling of GE foods has been proposed and as of July 29th, 2015 signed into law requiring food containing GMO ingredients be labeled as such.

Mandatory labeling laws are already in place in certain countries, however, how it will look here in the US is still being determined by the Food and Drug Administration and the United States Department of Agriculture. Genetic modification is just a process, but how that process is manipulated is what matters. Labeling a food as GMO says nothing about what that entails; all it does is notify the consumer.

What products will bear the GMO label?

Of course, the genetically-modified crops like corn, soy, canola, and sugar beets will require labeling in their unrefined state. However, the FDA highlights, many highly-refined products that come from genetically-modified crops, such as oil made from soy or canola, aren’t required to be labeled as they don’t fit the law’s definition of “bio-engineering” and don’t necessarily contain genetic material. Meat and dairy from animals that have consumed GMO feed will not require labeling either.

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As for now the law allows certified organic producers to label their products “GMO-free”, as by definition organically produced products are non-genetically modified organisms.

Whether you’re pro-labeling or anti-GMO the controversy lingers as the issues complexities continue to grow. As an organization that educates, trains, and advocates on behalf of farm workers and the organizations that serve them our focus remains on farm workers. The dangers of having to apply greater amounts of pesticides to crops that are now producing resistant weeds, the increasing volume of chemicals needed, the larger the risk to workers AFOP Health & Safety continues to train workers on the importance of self-preservation and pesticide education. Until more information is known about possible health risks farmworkers need to remain in the forefront of concern as they are on the front-lines of agriculture.