The food that you eat today goes through some form of genetic modification. Almost all the food items fall under the category of genetically modified organisms. However, there are different kinds of methods used to modify your food items genetically.
For example, a simple genetic method will save seeds of the best-tasting tomato or watermelon, while selective breeding is the way to create hybrids in other methods.
A more complex and advanced option will include gene editing to make the crops pest- and insect-resistant. The Bioengineered method (BE) develops new plants with unique properties using recombinant DNA technology.
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What is Bioengineered Food?
Bioengineered or BE, as commonly referred is the new term for GMO. As per the USDA standard, NBFDS (National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard) defines BE food 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.”
According to the federal government’s law, food items containing detectable modified genetic material must be disclosed as containing the presence of BE ingredients on the label.
Here’s a list of crops and foods that are legally allowed to be bioengineered (BE) .
- Apple (Arctic™ varieties)
- Eggplant (BARI Bt Begun varieties)
- Ringspot virus-resistant Papaya
- Pineapple (fresh pink varieties)
- Salmon (AquAdvantage®)
- Summer Squash
The bioengineered ingredients that need not be labeled as BE foods include:
- Animal feed, pet food, and personal care products
- Foods for direct human consumption, such as meat, poultry, and eggs
- Multi-ingredient products that contain eggs, meat, and poultry as the primary or first ingredient on the label, even if the other ingredient falls under the category of BE food
Are Bioengineered Foods Safe?
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)  and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, all products under bioengineered foods are safe to eat. There is no risk to your health.
It is the responsibility of the FDA to ensure that the food we eat (genetically altered or not) is safe to consume. For this, the FDA has issued specific guidelines to meet the high standard of US food safety regulations. No food product can go on shelves in the stores until approved by the FDA.
Many research studies conducted by independent agencies correspondingly concluded that BE products are safe to consume. The studies also suggest that BE food items do not contain antibiotics or steroids compared to non-bioengineered food products.
Special Cases to Note
The above guidelines are general, but there are unique cases involving BE food items.
For instance, a soybean enriched with protein from Brazil nuts was not allowed to be sold in the market, even as animal food, because the test results showed that it might trigger allergies to nuts.
On the flipside, there are also special cases of BE foods that have been bioengineered to provide a great amount of nutrients. These BE food items are associated with various health benefits.
Some GMOs are made to provide extra minerals and vitamins. For example, Swiss researchers created golden rice with a lot of beta-carotene. It is also rich in antioxidants and good for your eyes and skin.
The fats present in soybeans have also been changed to make the oil heart-healthy and a healthier choice for cooking.
Potatoes have also been bioengineered to make them bruise-free. This helps to cut down on the use of cancer-causing chemicals that play a role in the manufacturing of French fries.
Furthermore, meat is BE to increase omega-3 fatty acids content, and this can help prevent heart diseases, stroke, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and other diseases.
What Is GMO?
Genetically Modified Organisms, commonly called GMOs, are created through the alteration of an organism’s genes in a controlled environment and setting like a laboratory.
Many experiments have been done on both plants and animals to modify their genes by selective breeding. Similarly, GMO products are genetically modified to improve the product or provide some monetary advantage.
For example – GMO meat produced from genetically-modified animals may taste different or better. Similarly, a GMO plant can produce more fruit quantities. A GMO-modified potato may also stay fresh for a longer duration.
Moreover, many companies produce and sell GMO products. In the US, most of the cotton, corn, and soya are also genetically modified .
Some of the benefits of producing GMO products for a manufacturer include:
- Can produce large quantities of the crop within the same period of time and area
- Better tasting foods
- Increases and speeds up the overall production process as some crops mature faster
- Creates crops that are pest or disease-resistant
- Creates crops that are more nutrient-dense
Is GMO the Same as Bioengineered?
GMO is a broader term. All bioengineered foods are GMOs, but not all GMOs fall under the category of bioengineered foods.
Difference Between Bioengineered and GMO
According to USDA’s definition, all bioengineered foods must contain modified genetic material. This means that the food contains genetic material that has been modified in the laboratory using specific techniques.
Some GMO foods may also contain genetically modified material, which means that they can also be labeled as bioengineered foods. However, there are many different techniques used to create GMO foods, like cross-breeding. Foods created under these varying techniques are not labeled as bioengineered foods.
Here’s a list of the types of GMO food products that do not come under the BE labeling law:
- Products that are made using new GMO techniques like CRISPR. The food items made using this technology are untestable, and the law focuses only on those items containing detectable modified genetic material in the final product.
- Heavily processed food like sugar, oil, and packaged goods containing these ingredients falls outside BE disclosure.
- BE labeling excluded food products made for livestock. It only considers food intended for human consumption.
Change in Labeling from GMO to Bioengineered
Food items and genetically modified products are also labeled as Bioengineered or derived from bioengineered as recommended by the US Department of Agriculture.
Earlier, they were labeled as genetically engineered (GE) or genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
The change from the GMO label to the BE label means that food manufacturers, importers, and retailers must comply with the new labeling standards for foods that have been modified in a way that cannot be achieved through non-laboratory methods, such as cross-breeding.
Bottomline: GMOs vs Bioengineered Foods
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), food production needs to increase substantially by 2050 due to the rising global population. GMO/BE is one way to make the production double to feed everyone and provide the required nutrition with limited available resources.
Moreover, studies suggest that GMO/BE products are safe to consume and may offer many health benefits. FDA ensures that all food items sold to consumers meet specific minimum safety standards.
Genetically modified food items are easy to access and affordable for consumers. And it helps higher yield crops and improves profit margins for farmers.
Disclaimer: This article is only a guide. It does not substitute the advice given by your own healthcare professional. Before making any health-related decision, consult your healthcare professional.
Editorial References And Fact-Checking
- List of Bioengineered Foods | Agricultural Marketing Service. (n.d.). Retrieved September 13, 2022, from https://www.ams.usda.gov/rules-regulations/be/bioengineered-foods-list
- U.S. Food And Drug Administration. (2024). GMOS and Your Health. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved September 13, 2022, from https://www.fda.gov/media/135280/download
- Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. (2022, August 3). GMO Crops, Animal Food, and Beyond. U.S. Food And Drug Administration. Retrieved September 13, 2022, from https://www.fda.gov/food/agricultural-biotechnology/gmo-crops-animal-food-and-beyond