GMO Meaning: Here’s What It Means and How to Use It

You may have heard the term GMO — but do you know what it means? Read on as we explore this acronym to uncover what it stands for and more.

Your writing, at its best

Compose bold, clear, mistake-free, writing with Grammarly's AI-powered writing assistant

You may have heard about the importance of staying away from GMOs — but do you actually know what the acronym stands for or what GMOs really are? Don’t worry; we’re here to clear up the confusion.

In this post, we’re exploring GMOs to tell you everything you need to know about them, including why they have such a bad rap and more. 

What Does GMO Stand For?

GMO is the abbreviation for Genetically Modified Organism. We’ll break it down for you word by word:

  • The “G” in “GMO” stands for “Genetically,” which refers to genes. Genes are made up of DNA, which essentially is a set of detailed instructions for how cells grow and develop. 
  • The “M” in “GMO” stands for “Modified.” This means that some change or tweak has been made — in other words, something has been altered. 
  • The “O” in “GMO” stands for “Organism.” Organism refers to all living things, including fungi and bacteria.  

With that in mind, we can conclude that GMOs are living beings that have had their genetic code changed in some way, shape, or form. 

What Is the Definition of GMO?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the term GMO can be defined as organisms (i.e., animals, plants, or microorganisms) in which the genetic material (aka, the DNA) has been changed in a way that doesn’t occur naturally by mating or natural recombination. 

In simpler terms, it refers to organisms that have had their genomes altered in a way that doesn’t happen naturally. By altering an organism’s genome, scientists can change its characteristics. 

Also known as “modern biotechnology,” “gene technology,” “recombinant DNA technology,” or “genetic engineering,” GMO technology allows specific genes to be transferred from one organism into another — also between non-related species. 

Foods that are made from GM organisms are commonly referred to as GM foods or GMO foods

GM crops grown and sold in the United States include:

  • Corn
  • Canola
  • Soybean
  • Sugar beet
  • Alfalfa
  • Papaya
  • Cotton
  • Potatoes
  • Summer squash
  • Beets
  • Golden rice
  • Corn syrup 

A Brief History of GMOs

Believe it or not, farmers have intentionally altered the genetic makeup of the crops they’ve grown and the livestock they’ve raised since domestic agriculture began more than 10,000 years ago. 

In fact, long before the term “genetic engineering” was well-known, farmers were creating new hybrid plants by naturally cross-pollinating related or different species of plants over several seed generations. 

It wouldn’t be until 1982 when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first GMO — a diabetes medicine called Humulin that was produced by genetically engineering E-coli bacteria — paving the way for the approval of GMOs in grocery stores more than a decade later.

In 1994, the first genetically engineered food item — a Flavr Savr tomato — became available for sale. By 1999, GMO food crops began to dominate, with over 100 million acres worldwide planted with genetically engineered seeds.   

Today, GMOs are prevalent in many everyday consumer products, with roughly 60 to 70 percent of processed foods in grocery stores containing at least some genetically modified ingredients. 

What Is the Non-GMO Project?

The Non-GMO Project is a mission-driven non-profit organization offering rigorous product verification and trustworthy education that empowers consumers to care for not only themselves but the planet and future generations as well. 

It conducts research and literature review to debunk myths and provide the public with accurate information about genetically modified food. 

In order for a product to be Non-GMO Project verified, it must not be made with any ingredients derived from crops grown with genetically engineered seeds or with genetically engineered animals. 

Why Is It Best to Avoid GMOs?

Many people are under the impression that GMOs are perfectly safe for human health, but the truth of the matter is that no one really no knows. 

As GMOs stand today, there are no proven health benefits to eating them over non-GMO foods. However, this may change in the future as technology develops and becomes more sophisticated. 

That said, in addition to the health consequences of GMO consumption being largely unknown, other reasons why you may want to steer clear of GMOs include:

  • Genetic modification reduces genetic diversity
  • Both pesticides and GMOs have been connected with an increased risk of certain types of cancer.
  • GMO crops and their companion herbicides, fungicides, and pesticides wreak havoc on the environment
  • GMOs yield superbugs and superweeds that are resistant to pesticides, ultimately requiring heavier doses of toxins to eliminate them. 


Simply put, GMO means genetically modified organisms and refers to living organisms that have had their genetic material artificially manipulated through genetic engineering in a laboratory. 

This creates combinations of animal, plant, virus, and bacteria genes that don’t occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods. 

Despite increasing crop yields, genetic engineering in agriculture is often associated with a reduction in insect biodiversity and an increase in more weeds and/or harder-to-kill invasive species. The insects that resist these crops multiply, leaving crops vulnerable to super-resistant insects, which causes farmers to rely on strong toxins to protect their harvest. 

That said, although GMOs are deemed safe for human consumption, there’s still quite a bit of uncertainty surrounding them. So be sure to use caution when consuming GMOs. 


  1. WHO | World Health Organization
  2. GMO Crops, Animal Food, and Beyond | FDA
  3. The History and Future of Genetically Modified Crops: Frankenfoods, Superweeds, and the Developing World | Scholar Works
  4. Labeling of Genetically Modified Foods | Colorado State