GMOs: Separating Fact From Fiction

You’ve probably seen the term GMO nearly everywhere from internet debates to the news to grocery stores. It stands for “genetically modified organism.” It is generally understood to be an animal, plant, or microbe whose DNA (genetic material) has been altered using specific genetic engineering techniques. (This is how I will use the term in the rest of this blog post.) Since you might encounter GMO ingredients even in your running nutrition, let’s discuss the most common GMO facts and fiction.

Written by Becca Blumberg, MS, RDN
Edited by Pavlína Marek

History of GMOs

Genetic modification might seem like a novel technique. However, it is important to remember that we have been genetically modifying plants and animals for thousands of years as a part of our agricultural practices by selectively breeding plants and animals to increase the odds of offspring with desired traits. Take almonds, for example. Containing amygdalin, which breaks down into cyanide among other chemicals, they used to be poisonous. Only through selective breeding did they become less bitter and edible.

More recently, beginning in the mid-20th century, seeds of plants were exposed to radiation before being grown, a process called mutagenesis. The hope was that the radiation would induce mutations that led to beneficial traits in some of the plants, which could then be bred and used for agriculture.

Even before human intervention, these processes happened through natural selection and random mutations. Therefore, a “GMO” is nothing new or scary. The current practice of selectively introducing traits is both precise and highly regulated, much more so than all the other ways that an organism might have its genes modified.

Grown in the Lab

People have created GMOs in labs for a variety of reasons, including pest resistance, disease resistance, drought resistance, shelf-life, improved nutritional quality, and improved yields. This has resulted in the ability to feed more people, correct common nutrient deficiencies in the third world, reduce the amount of carbon and water required for agriculture, and reduce food waste. Therefore, contrary to popular belief, GMOs provide a huge environmental boost to agriculture.

Fiction: GMOs Are Everywhere. Fact: There Are Only a Handful of Them.

While many, MANY, foods are labeled with the non-GMO label, only ELEVEN GMO crops are currently approved in the United States (two of those aren’t even food crops). They are corn, soy, cotton, potatoes, papaya, summer squash (not widely grown), canola, alfalfa, apples, sugar beets, and pink pineapple.

Additionally, golden rice, enriched in Vitamin A, is grown around the world. Despite this, the non-GMO seal appears on many products throughout the grocery store. Relying on the customer’s lack of knowledge regarding GMO facts and fiction, this is primarily a marketing device, designed to allow food manufacturers to charge more, even when there is NO GMO version of that crop available.

Do GMOs Cause Cancer? What About Allergies?

There are many myths about GMOs. The most common one is that they cause cancer. The truth is that the nutrients and biochemicals in GMO foods are exactly the same as in non-GMO versions. They break down into the same building blocks in our bodies. Nothing about them increases the risk of cancer or any other disease.

Similarly, if a person is not allergic to the non-GMO version of a crop, they will not react to the GMO. GMOs are heavily regulated and developed with precision to have a safe profile for consumption AND provide benefits to the environment or public health.

About Becca Blumberg

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Becca Blumberg is a registered dietitian-nutritionist (RDN) based in Fort Collins, CO. She has a Masters degree in Human Nutrition from Colorado State University. She’s completed a dietetic internship in the Northern Colorado area focused on wellness and lifestyle medicine and is a certified intuitive eating counselor. She’s also a personal trainer and RRCA Level 1 Running Coach. She’s passionate about helping people achieve their endurance goals and seeing the ripple effect that this can create for them.

If you have any questions, are looking for general advice, or just want a nutritionist to have your back, check Becca out at or or reach out to her @ripple.nutrition on Facebook or at

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