Dear Kosher Spirit,
I keep kosher, but I have strong concerns about genetically modified foods (GMO) that have taken over the market place. How can GMO foods be kosher?

The OK responds:

The laws of kosher food are in the category of “chok” – mitzvos that transcend rational reasoning. We do not keep kosher for cleanliness, or health, but rather because it is a commandment from G-d.

A genetically modified organism is a plant that has had its genes synthetically modified to eliminate characteristics that are deemed “negative” (susceptibility to pests, drought, etc.) and to force higher yields from crops. This is not halachically forbidden. However, the Torah does forbid a Jew from making one type of GMO, called kilyaim (grafting). Grafting is when one species of plant is forced onto another species and they merge together to make one new plant. Since most GMO products are altered synthetically they do not fall under this prohibition.

GMO foods can be certified kosher as long as they meet the requirements of kosher law. It is up to any consumer, kosher or non-kosher, to decide whether they want to consume foods that contain GMO ingredients. If one wants to make sure to avoid GMO ingredients, in addition to looking for a reliable kosher symbol, the consumer needs to look for a designation on the package that the product is GMO-free. This is not related in any way to the kosher certification and is regulated by a separate agency.