Among a number of trends that have hit the world of nutrition in recent years and decades, one of the most notable in some circles is the realm of GMOs. Short for “genetically modified organisms,” the term “GMO” in the nutrition world refers to any product that involves changes in genetic code — and while concerns about GMO products may be legitimate in some circles, one area where they’re vastly overblown is in the dairy industry.
At Idaho Milk Products, we’re happy to detail the specifics of any of our dairy products, which range from milk protein concentrate and protein isolate to cream, permeate powder and many others. We’re also here to ensure that our clients have a proper knowledge of how certain trends in nutrition apply to the dairy world — or, in the case of GMOs, how they don’t apply. Here’s a look at what GMOs really are, why this area is actually a lot more limited than you might think, and why panicked concerns about GMO presence in milk and other dairy products are really just much ado about nothing.
What Are GMOs?
Firstly, before we get into why GMOs are not a concern in the dairy industry, it’s instructive to talk about what GMOs really are. Essentially, they’re products that have been manipulated on a genetic level to introduce new traits. The most common form of this involves transferring an existing gene from one species to another.
In most cases, this process of genetic manipulation is performed in a lab setting with the intention of introducing new traits that would be present in large numbers of individuals. For instance, if a gene was introduced that allowed potatoes to have resistance to certain pesticides, those potatoes could theoretically then be sprayed with the pesticide and not be damaged by it at all.
There are some legitimate concerns about GMOs, but these are often stated incorrectly or vastly overstated — especially within the world of dairy. More on this in a bit.
It’s also important to note that GMOs are a very new realm of research, having been developed only in the last couple of decades. As such, they are still very much a work-in-progress area, and there are legitimate questions to be asked about their safety and efficacy.
The Category of GMOs is More Limited Than You Might Think
The first major misconception within the world of GMOs, and one that definitely plays a role in myths surrounding GMOs and dairy, is how widespread their use is. Some people assume that because they’ve read an article or two about GMOs, that such genetic changes are present in virtually every food or drink product they consume in the modern world.
This simply isn’t true, or even close to it. In fact, per the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), there are only 13 crops or foods that are available in bioengineered forms in the entire world:
Notice a particular area that’s not listed? If so, congratulations — you’re indeed correct. Dairy products are not on this list of GMO-containing foods or crops.
This is significant because it means there’s a whole world of food out there that doesn’t contain GMOs and thus can be consumed without fear. It also means that even if true fears did exist about GMOs in dairy, they’d be largely irrelevant thanks to the fact that dairy is not a GMO crop and thus shouldn’t contain any of this genetic manipulation.
Cows and GMO Consumption
Now, there might be some who are reading this and wondering about cows consuming some of the above products before producing dairy products. For instance, many cows are fed alfalfa as part of their diet — if said alfalfa has been genetically modified, does this mean GMOs are in your milk?
No, it does not. When cows digest these GMO-based products, they are breaking them down into molecule-size pieces that allow them to be essentially recycled and put to different uses. For instance, they may be converted into various fats, proteins, or other substances that can then be used for food by the cows themselves.
This conversion of these GMO products essentially removes any genetic material from them — and thus makes it impossible for there to be GMOs within dairy products. As such, the concerns about GMO consumption in this case are simply unfounded. What’s more, because GMO crops are not consumed in the dairy industry to any significant degree, it’s difficult to see how they would impact cows or their dairy products from a health standpoint.
The Bottom Line
GMOs are definitely a concern for some people, but for those who consume dairy products like milk and cheese, that fear can be put aside entirely. Dairy is not genetically modified, and thus there should be no danger from GMO products that are involved in its production.
Furthermore, this should alter the way you look at specific dairy products on the market. If a given manufacturer is heavily marketing their products as “non-GMO,” which we now know is a term that actually applies to all dairy products no matter what, then that could be a sign that they have other production issues involved as well.
For more on this, or to learn about any of our dairy and milk products and the actual processes used to manufacture them, speak to our team at Idaho Milk Products today.