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What Does Bioengineered Food Mean for Your Health?

What Does Bioengineered Food Mean for Your Health?

animation walking on treadmill to a sweat

Have you ever stood in the grocery aisle, staring at labels and wonder, “What does bioengineered food mean?” 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines these foods as ones containing detectable genetic material modified through certain laboratory methods.

We’re not talking about fortifying your breakfast cereal or engineering nutrient-packed foods that promise to boost our brainpower instantly.

Instead, science has worked its way into agriculture for reasons ranging from pest resistance to longer shelf life.

In July 2016, something significant happened: President Obama signed the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Law (NBFDL). Suddenly, manufacturers had to start telling us when bioengineering was part of the recipe. 

While experts like those at the National Academy of Sciences assure us that genetically modified foods are safe, many consumers want to know – what does bioengineered food mean? 

Table Of Contents:

Understanding Bioengineered Food

So, you’ve heard the buzz about bioengineered food. Let’s break it down in a way that doesn’t need a science degree to understand.

What Does Bioengineered Food Mean

The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines bioengineered food as foods created with genetic material tweaked in labs, using methods not possible in Mother Nature or traditional farming. 

Think of scientists giving certain crops superpowers to survive pests or droughts better. If you’re skeptical about the consequences of eating these kinds of foods, you’re not alone. 

Difference Between Bioengineered, GMO and GE Foods

  • GMO: This is the term for any organism whose genetic makeup has been altered using genetic engineering techniques – whether for plants or animals.
  • GE: Genetically engineered is just another way to say GMO – same process, different name tag.
  • Bioengineered: Now this one follows stricter rules set by Uncle Sam; it specifically refers to food products containing detectable modified DNA that couldn’t happen with just good ol’ crossbreeding or nature doing its thing.

While all bioengineered foods are GMOs or GEs because their DNA has been fiddled with scientifically, not all GMOs qualify as bioengineered under U.S. law due to specifics about detectable modifications. 

GMO food and Genetically modified crops or engineered agriculture concepts fruit and vegetables as a DNA strand

The Process of Genetic Modification in Foods

Imagine being able to hand-pick traits for plants like you do filters on Instagram. That’s essentially what scientists are trying to do with genetic modification.

They take a desirable trait from one organism and transfer it into the genetic code of another, to make crops tougher and supposedly tastier. 

It’s not merely aiming to super-size or speed up growth, although it is; it’s also about fostering the ability to thrive despite drought or repeated applications of pesticides. 

Like drought-resistant corn or pest-proof cotton – they’re not just surviving; they’re thriving because science gave them a helping hand. At least that’s how the story line goes.

The Most Common Genetically Modified Foods

  • Soybeans: 94% of all soybeans can now resist herbicides and pests, making them more prevalent than ever.
  • Cotton: Not just for clothes. Processed foods often include cottonseed oil. Genetically modified cotton (96% of all cotton) resists bugs and needs less water to flourish.
  • Corn: A superstar of the GM world. From fuel ethanol production to sweeteners in soft drinks, 92% of all corn is grown as GM.
  • Canola: Canola oil comes from rapeseed plants that have been tweaked at their DNA level, with 95% being GMO.
  • Sugar beets: 99% of sugar produced in the U.S. comes from sugar beets designed to withstand Roundup weed killer.

Other common GMO crops include papaya, yellow squash, and zucchini.

Health Problems Linked with Roundup and GMO Foods

You may be aware that Roundup weed killer — used in nearly all GMO crops — has been named as “”probably carcinogenic to humans” by both the prestigious International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). 

The state of California names glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup) as a known carcinogen. 

Several major studies have linked Roundup with cancer — specifically non-Hodgkins lymphoma (NHL), as well as NHL subtypes B-cell lymphoma, follicular lymphoma, T-cell lymphoma, lymphocytic leukemia, and more. 

In addition, other health problems have been linked to GMO and bio-engineered foods — infertility, immune problems, but abnormalities, accelerated aging, and insulin dysregulation.

So it does beg the question of whether you are comfortable eating foods that are specifically created to withstand Roundup. Which means… who knows how much Roundup has been applied to these crops?

So with bioengineered foods and GMO seeds, proponents cite innovation and sustainability, while opponents cite human health concerns. 

gmo - profesional in coveralls examining corn cob on field

Controversial Studies on Health Effects

Controversy has raged over GM and bio-engineered foods since they were first allowed. Whether such foods are safe, whether they should even be allowed — or labeled (and if so, how)?

About intellectual property concerns, and even about whether the pest-resistant characteristics can be spread to nearby or more distant fields and mess with more natural crops. And if so, who takes responsibility for changes in those more distant crops?

Health risk concerns include toxicity, cancer, allergens, and genetic concerns. Studies have attempted to answer these questions. What does bioengineered food mean to you?

Today, the National Academy of Sciences, along with their buddies at the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), try to offer some peace of mind by confirming that bioengineered foods are safe eats.

In fact, the Council on Science and Public Health said in 2012, “Bioengineered foods have been consumed for close to 20 years.” 

And during this time “No overt consequences on human health have been reported and/or substantiated in peer-reviewed literature.” 

But other scientists refute that, and the public isn’t so sure. People have protested against GMO “king” Monsanto for years. The Pew Research Center conducted a survey in 2020 and found widespread skepticism about GMOs. 

Significant majorities of those surveyed in many countries around the world say GMOs are unsafe to eat — 70% say so in Russia, 62% in Italy, 58% in India, and 57% in South Korea.

Thousands of Roundup lawsuits have been filed against Monsanto, Roundup’s producer, by those with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. A staggering 100,000,000+ pounds of Roundup is applied in the U.S. alone each year!

Adding to all the confusion, regulations about GMOs and bioengineered foods vary drastically around the world.

European countries including Germany and France have banned the growing of GE crops altogether. 

💡Key Takeaway: 

Worried about bioengineered foods? Scientists and the FDA confirm they’re safe, with no reported health issues from 20 years of consumption.

Millions of others aren’t so sure. Just ask any of the non-Hodkins lymphoma sufferers who were exposed through Roundup. 

Bioengineered Food Labels: What Do They Mean?

Ever found yourself staring at a food package, trying to decipher the hieroglyphics that are supposed to tell you what’s inside? 

“Bioengineering”, “genetically modified organisms”, “gmo foods”, – they all mean there’s been some science finagling involved in making certain foods better resist pests or grow faster without waiting for Mother Nature’s nod.

How do you make sense of these labels? First off, look for words like “this is a bioengineered food” or “contains bio-engineered ingredients”. Those phrases are your first clue.

  • If you see a cute little symbol looking like it belongs in a sci-fi flick next to your ingredient list – bingo. That’s your clue it harbors a unique element, setting it apart from the rest.
  • A QR code? Whip out your phone and give it a scan. Delve into the digital realm, where a wealth of knowledge is just a click away.
  • A phone number can provide a contact to find out more information about what’s inside.

This labeling is intended to let us know exactly what we’re eating (or trying not to eat).

The USDA says it believes transparency is key here, so feel free to check their thoughts on food disclosure standards… although they may not be as airtight as you think.

Long story short? Next time you’re navigating grocery store aisles wondering if that box of cookies might have gone through genetic boot camp—just flip over the package. Those labels will spill all their secrets.

Hand refusing junk food

How to Reduce Bioengineered Foods in Your Diet

Let’s talk about how you can steer clear of these high-tech bites by choosing non-GMO and USDA organic products.

Certain brands of snack foods will almost always contain GMOs because their primary ingredients come from corn, soybeans, cottonseed, or canola. 

Snack foods such as corn chips, potato chips, popcorn, cookies, and crackers are big offenders.

But think about what you’re drinking with those foods — soda made with high-fructose corn syrup, which comes from GM corn, and which some consider to be far more dangerous than sugar. 

Other common suspects include frying oil, breading, sauces, bread and buns, and salad dressing.

Incidentally, salad dressing is incredibly simple to make with olive oil, a bit of vinegar, and some spices. One simple way to clean up your diet. 

💡Key Takeaway: 

Stuck on bioengineered food labels? Look for specific phrases, symbols, or QR codes to gain information about your snacks.

Identifying Non-GMO Food Options

Mastering the art of spotting non-GMO nourishment hinges on recognizing the right places to search. Start with labels for bioengineered foods – they’re your best friends here.

  • Look for Labels: Products boasting the Non-GMO Project Verified seal are gold mines because they’ve been rigorously tested for GMOs.
  • Fresh Foods: Whole foods (think fruits, veggies, grains, grass-fed beef, wild-caught salmon) usually have fewer ingredients – which means less room for GMOs hiding in your meal. They’re healthier too. Shop the perimeter of the store. Look for foods that are minimally processed with <3 ingredients, even if they’re in a can, for example, canned tomatoes which should only contain tomatoes and salt.
Choosing USDA Organic and Non-GMO Project Verified label

Choosing USDA Organic and Non-GMO Project Verified Products

Making the switcheroo towards cleaner eating doesn’t stop at avoiding GMOs; going organic ups your game even more.

Dual Wielding: To be absolutely sure you’re getting the cleanest eats possible, aim for products stamped with both “USDA Organic”and “Non-GMO Project Verified”.

This dynamic duo ensures not only are there no genetically modified nasties but also no harmful pesticides or fertilizers were used either.

Befriend Your Farmer: Sometimes all it takes is a good chat with local farmers at markets or farm stands who often follow organic practices even if they aren’t certified (certification can be pricey).

💡Key Takeaway: 

Dodge bioengineered foods by choosing non-GMO and USDA organic products. Being label-savvy and opting for whole, unprocessed foods brings you closer to natural eating.

Bioengineered Foods in Restaurants and Markets

National chains have started paying attention. For instance, Panera has committed to using clean ingredients but mentions nothing specific about GMOs or bioengineering directly on most menu item descriptions online or in-store.

Chipotle used to say that it actively promoted its use of non-GMO ingredients wherever possible – especially when it comes to staple items such as corn chips cooked with sunflower oil instead of soybean oil (which is nearly always genetically modified). However, that claim is nowhere to be found on its current website, so we can’t say what their current stance is. 

This shift isn’t just happening at high-end spots or health-focused places either.

It’s a sign that big names understand the importance consumers place on knowing whether they’re eating bioengineered foods – although true transparency still seems like a work in progress.

Most restaurant salad dressings are based on soybean oil. So if you can take your own little container of homemade dressing made with pure olive oil and spices, you’ll be better off for it, and you can still enjoy the experience.

Avoiding fried foods may also make it easier to avoid those GMOs in restaurants. 

Those frying oils are almost always either soybean or canola. 

If you’re looking to dodge GMOs completely at restaurants – asking questions is key since comprehensive labeling practices aren’t fully there yet across all establishments. Vigilance is key to preserving your health.

💡Key Takeaway: 

Wondering about bioengineered foods in your favorite meals? From Panera’s bread to Chipotle’s chips, they’re more common than you think.

While some chains aim for transparency and non-GMO ingredients, true clarity on menus is still a journey.

Tip: Ask questions to navigate the GMO maze when dining out.


So, there you have it. The mystery of what does bioengineered food mean isn’t so mysterious after all. It’s technology that has stepped into our fields and onto our plates.

Then came the big reveal in 2016: a law that said “Hey, consumers should know if their dinner was designed in a lab.” And just like that, we got more insight into what we eat than ever before.

With this new legislation in place, we’ve gained deeper insights into the production of our meals, empowering us to make autonomous decisions regarding our dietary intake.

And that’s important, because the more natural your diet is, the more healthy you are! Because you are what you eat. 



What Does Bioengineered Food Mean for Your Health?

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