OMG GMO: Your Meat’s Hidden GMO Diet

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Notes From the Frontlines of the Sustainable Food Movement – an opinion column by Irina Gerry

Have you ever smirked at the mention of a plant-based burger, deeming it unnatural because, well, #GMOs? Or perhaps you proudly fork into your steak, thinking you’re avoiding the ‘genetically modified mess’ of plant-based meat. Well, brace yourself, because I’ve got something to tell you that might just blow your mind.

While GMOs have faced their fair share of skepticism, many consumers often don’t realize the massive GMO footprint in traditional meat and dairy products. Yes, those ‘natural’ staples you’ve grown up with.

The GMO-Fed Livestock Reality

A whopping 95% of animals raised for meat and dairy in the US feast on GMO crops. With 94% of soy and 92% of corn grown in the US being GMO, the vast majority of it ends up as livestock feed or oil. Yep, that means your favorite cut of steak or that creamy yogurt you had for breakfast is indirectly a product of GMOs.

With only 1.4% of meat and 2.3% of cow’s milk in the US boasting the organic label, it’s a minuscule fraction that’s truly GMO-free. And, heads up, grass-fed aficionados: just because your beef or milk is marketed as grass-fed doesn’t mean the animal has spent its life on green, natural, unadulterated pastures. Chances are that “grass” came from fields sprayed with synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides, and possibly included some Roundup-sprayed GMO alfalfa.

The Elephant in the Room

You may be correct to point out that eating an ear of GMO corn does not change the cow’s genetics any more than eating the same ear of corn could turn you into a GMO human. But I doubt that turning into a “genetically modified cyborg” was really your concern when you snubbed all those GMOs.

More likely, you were thinking of the plethora of anxieties that some people share regarding GMOs. Perhaps it was the potential unintended side effects or the environmental worries about crossbreeding and biodiversity loss. Maybe it’s the grip of a few corporations on the GMO market, leading to farmer dependency and concerns over seed patents.

Or perhaps it was ethical reservations about tampering with nature’s blueprint and the overshadowing of indigenous practices. Note that none of these are addressed by avoiding GMO crops while indulging in GMO-fed burgers. And when it comes to shunning plant-based meat on the grounds of GMOs, it’s like ignoring the elephant in the room while chasing ants.

Daily Dose of GMOs

Unless you’re religiously checking labels and only eating foods labeled “Non-GMO Project Verified” or “Organic,” you’re munching on GMOs. Potatoes, squash, apples, canola oil, and sugar are just a few examples of widely consumed genetically modified crops. Despite the common negative perception of GMOs, numerous authoritative bodies, including the World Health Organization (WHO), the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have recognized GMOs as safe. These aren’t products of mere whim; they’re outcomes of rigorous scientific research. In fact, genetic modifications have been pivotal in addressing food security, combating malnutrition, and reducing agriculture’s environmental footprint. In 2012, a review of data from 237 studies conducted at the Center for Health Policy at Stanford University concluded there were no convincing differences between organic and conventional foods in nutrient content or health benefits. I know, I was surprised as well.

The Glyphosate Concern

Now, if you’re not a fan of GMOs because of glyphosate, I’m with you. There is sufficient evidence to raise concerns about the use of glyphosate (Roundup) and related health issues. In fact, Bayer agreed to pay more than $10 billion to resolve cancer lawsuits. But, here again, it’s the GMO corn, soy, and alfalfa that use glyphosate the most, and 95% of that is used in livestock feed. A plant-based burger primarily consists of plants, and even if some of those plants are GMO, the extent of the GMO input is minuscule in comparison to the feed required to raise livestock for traditional meat.

It’s worth mentioning that Roundup-ready crops are a very specific application of broader gene editing technology, and there are many other uses that have nothing to do with glyphosate. Genetic engineering has been used to improve crop yields, nutritional profiles, and drought and pest resistance. Not all GMOs are created equal.

Now, let’s be clear – I’m not making a pro or anti-GMO argument here. Whether or not you personally don’t like the idea of GMOs in your food as a matter of principle is up to you. But please, don’t be dunking on plant-based meat because it’s GMO while eating your GMO-fed steak and chasing it down with GMO Coke.


  • Irina Gerry

    A purpose-driven entrepreneur and marketing leader, Irina Gerry is on a mission to transform the food system and drive widespread adoption of sustainable ways to feed the world. She is a CMO at Change Foods, a precision fermentation food tech company, creating animal-free dairy products. Irina has over a decade of experience in consumer marketing space with global giants, P&G and Danone, as well as business strategy and operations with Deloitte. Irina holds an MBA from Harvard Business School.

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