According to the USDA, U.S. farmers have widely adopted genetically modified crops since they were first introduced in the 1990s. Below is more information about crops that are most often genetically modified.
- Canola, or canola oil, comes from pressed canola seed. The seed is harvested from pods that are formed after its yellow flowers fade away. North American farmers have been growing canola seed for over 30 years. Canola seed is a genetic variation of rapeseed that was developed in the 1960s using traditional plant-breeding methods. Approximately 93 percent of the canola grown in the U.S. is from genetically modified seed. Canola oil is one of the healthiest oil choices because it’s a good source of monounsaturated fats, so when it’s used to replace saturated fats like butter and cheese, it can help reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol levels.
- Corn is the most widely grown grain crop with 332 million metric tons grown annually in the U.S. alone. According to the USDA, 90 percent of that corn is from genetically modified seeds. Farmers started using genetically modified seeds in the mid-90s in order to use fewer pesticides. Genetically modified corn seed is now used in 14 countries. Ingredients that are likely to come from corn crops include sweet corn cornmeal, corn grits, food starch and corn oil, to name a few.
- Cotton is more than just a fiber for clothes. The protein and oil-rich seeds can be turned into side products like cotton seed oil and cottonseed meal. Cotton seed oil is a high-value cooking or frying oil. Cotton seed meal is mostly used as animal feed. Genetically modified cotton was developed to reduce the heavy reliance on pesticides. Approximately 88 percent of the cotton grown in the U.S. is from genetically modified seeds.
- The Papaya or pawpaw is a fruit native to areas of Mexico, Central America and South America. Papayas can be used as a food, cooking aid and also in traditional medicine. Today, Hawaii grows a large number of papaya fruit, with approximately 80 percent being from genetically modified seed. The original species grown in Hawaii since around 1910 was succumbing to ringspot virus, with devastating losses of fruit. In the late 1990s, a genetically modified variety resistant to the virus was introduced to Hawaii helping to restore local papaya farming. For more information, visit www.hawaiipapaya.com/rainbow.html.
- Soybeans are both an important source of protein and vegetable oil across the world. Although large-scale production of soybeans did not begin until the 20th century in the United States, according to the USDA, the U.S. is now the leading soybean producer and exporter, and 93 percent of all soybeans grown in the country are genetically modified. The majority of soybean crop is grown for oil production, although soy products also are frequently used as a meat and poultry substitute, as well as in dairy-free milk and ice cream.
- Sugar beets, along with sugar cane according to the USDA, are the leading raw materials for making sugar (sucrose) in the United States. Sugar beets contain a relatively high concentration of sucrose and are grown in a variety of temperate climatic conditions. The sugar extracted from sugar beets is widely used for sweetening in many foods and beverages. The USDA estimates show that 95 percent of all sugar beets grown in the U.S. are genetically modified.
- Squash, summer squash and zucchini are primarily grown in China, Egypt, India, Ukraine and the U.S. They have been grown from genetically modified seeds in the U.S. since the mid-90s when they were introduced to protect against virus attacks that were damaging crops yields and significantly reducing harvest amounts.