What Are GMOs?

And What Do We Mean By GMO Farming?

If you’re confused about what “GMO” means, you’re not alone. People have come up with all sorts of competing definitions. But the term generally refers to the most predictable and precise method available to selectively cultivate crops with desirable traits that already occur elsewhere in nature. For example, increasing a crop’s resistance to pests and disease or resilience to drought conditions.

The fact is, nearly every crop grown today could be considered a GMO. People have been selecting and cross-breeding crops to make them more useful for thousands of years. It’s how prehistoric humans spent generations coaxing wild bananas with large, hard seeds into the plump, nutritious fruit we enjoy today. What was once the result of trial and error is now efficient, predictable and precise — a finely tuned way to pass beneficial, naturally occurring traits into the seeds farmers need to grow our food. At the end of the day, they’re no different than any other seeds, except they grow into crops that need less water, or naturally fend off invasive insects or benefit from any number of helpful adaptations.

These seeds have not only improved the crops we grow, they’ve sparked a revolution in the ways we grow them — what we call GMO Farming methods. Every farm has unique needs based on its soil, climate and crops, so every farm may not use every available method. But here’s what farmers can do when they choose GMOs:

  • Spray fewer, safer pesticides – and do so less often, but with more targeted precision, using chemicals that break down quicker so they’re better for the environment
  • Restore degraded soil by tilling less, or not at all – leaving the soil alone and intact carries a litany of benefits like better water retention, less erosion and runoff and healthier, more nutrient-dense soil
  • Make sustainable farming more effective – often going beyond organic standards by applying the latest environmental science to improve practices like cover crops and crop rotation, making farms healthier, better for the environment and more resilient to the effects of climate change.
  • Save critical resources — watering less thanks to drought-resistant crops and soil that soaks up more water, and saving energy by driving their tractors less
  • Reduce CO2 emissions and help fight climate change — not only cutting emissions through reduced time on the tractor, but trapping even more carbon in the soil, CO2 that would otherwise escape into the atmosphere during tilling
  • Grow more food on the same amount of land — increased efficiency our food system urgently needs as the population swells and with it the demand for food

Explore the topics below to see what else GMO Farming makes possible.

A Fresh Look, Inc. A family farmer-led non-profit