Have you heard of GMO but still wonder what the heck it means? It stands for genetically modified organisms. If that sounds like Frankenspeak keep reading. Plants, animals, bacteria, and viral genes are all organisms that the DNA of can be altered in labs or genetically engineered. Bottom line: the manufactured results would not otherwise occur in nature.
A few food sources considered GMO are: produce, that has been modified from inception as a seed; products that contain a GMO ingredient (canola oil anyone?); and animals or fish that were raised on GMO food. Let’s use plant-based crops to illustrate why GMOs were brought into this world:
- Tolerate herbicides. Weeds kill crops but so do herbicides. Monsanto, a chemical and agricultural biotechnology company and manufacturer of Roundup, paradoxically began genetic modification, GM, so crops could survive the poison. In theory, the GM crops would reduce the amount of herbicides used.
Reality Check Roundup: Here come the superweeds. As a result of herbicides, in particular Roundup, with its key toxic ingredient, glyphosate, some weeds have become herbicide-resistant. Farmers in turn have increased the use of herbicides and have reverted to older more toxic types of herbicides.
- Insect resistance. Another reason companies like Monsanto began GM is because they know consumers do not want food treated with chemicals. B.t corn, named after the bacterial strain it carries a gene, is old-fashioned corn with a Frankenfood twist. The bacteria have a gene that produces a crystal protein lethal to insect larvae, namely the corn borer. By transferring the gene, corn is able to produce the crystal protein itself.
Reality Check: Superbugs. Like the herbicide resistant weeds, pests too become resistant over time and farmers must supplement with pesticides for the same result. Chemicals lead to more chemicals.
- Empty Promises? GM crops can tolerate extreme conditions. A much touted promise of GM is to alter DNA of crops so they can grow in drought, inhospitable climates, or undesirable soil. In the case of drought resistance, a gene is transferred from a plant that is drought resistant to one that is not. And voila, a new drought resistant plant.
Reality Check: Old school conventional breeding has adaptation covered. And crops that can handle extreme conditions already exist. Check payable to nature, not Monsanto.
- Nutrition & Ending World Hunger– The most compelling promises of GMOs are rice with added vitamin A and protein for single crop nations where malnutrition pervades. And they promise greater yields with less energy.
Reality Check: If it were only that simple. Greenpeace and Earth Open Source point to politics, access and poverty as the most pervasive issues with world hunger. Regarding the greater yields with less energy? It just ain’t so folks. GM crops do not produce greater yields and are heavily energy dependent.
Chemicals, who cares? There is so much more to talk about! In the next few weeks we will touch on how harmful GMOs are to human health, regulation of GMOs and what you can eat!
If you want to know more check out these links!