There is a lot of talk about GMO’s recently. Some places want mandatory labeling of GMO’s. Others want GMO’s banned outright. Are GMO’s really that bad?
First we need to define GMO. A GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) is any organism whose genetic material has been altered. We tend to think of GMO’s as a modern invention. Something dreamed up in a lab and sneakily pushed unto the masses by mad scientists. However, Mankind has been genetically altering our food products since the dawn of time.
Corn gets a lot of press as a GMO crop. Monsanto, a company on the forefront of the GMO controversy) has created many strains of corn for specific purposes. But shouldn’t we just grow corn the way nature intended it? That would be a bit difficult. You see, corn is not a natural product. It was created 7,000 years ago by the native peoples of what is now central Mexico. It was developed by selective breeding, and encouraging mutations. Modern corn started out as a small grass called Teosinte. The teosinte was modified at the genetic level to become the corn we all eat today.
Is teosinte’s genetic modification into corn a unique in the history of mankind, or are a lot of our food created by early genetic engineers? You may be surprised to know that a lot of foods that you eat everyday did not start out as the food you know.
Broccoli (considered one of the most healthy foods) was originally engineered from a relative of the cabbage by ancient Etrucians (a people who lived on the Italian peninsula before the Roman Empire). It is believed that the earliest broccoli crops were engineered through selective breeding around the 6th century BCE.
Carots were first cultivated in Persia about 5,000 years ago. It is thought that the modern carrot was a cross breading of dill, and Queen Anne’s lace. The domestic carrot has been selectively bred for its greatly enlarged and more palatable, less woody-textured edible taproot. Early carrots were white, yellow, or purple in hue. It is believed by some that the orange carrot was first developed by to honor William of Orange and his Royal House. It is further rumored that the orange carrot achieved dominance in the market when England’s King Henry the 8th complained about the lack of color in his meals. In an attempt to please the king, farmers searched for more colorful vegetables and found the Dutch orange carrot as a good choice for brightening up the kings meals.
The seedless revolution was created by genetic engineering. Almost all “seedless” varieties of popular fruits and melons were created by infertile plants of the species. Seedless watermelons, oranges and even bananas are only able to be grown through genetic modification. Domestic bananas can only be grown by splicing shoots off of previous banana plants. The naturally growing banana has hard, marble sized seeds in them that make them inedible.
GMO’s for pest control. This is a subject most anti-GMO activists bring up the most. Genetically modifying food by selectively breeding and cross breeding is ok, but genetically modifying foods specifically for pest control is bad, In the mid to late 1800’s, France suffered what was known as the Great French Wine Blight. French grape vines were being decimated by a species of Aphid accidently brought back to France from North America. The way to solve the problem? Grafting North American vines (that are resistant to the North American Aphid) into the existing French vines. This genetically modified the French plants making them resistant to the North American Aphid.
GMO’s are not bad. They increase food production in a world with an ever increasing population. Genetically Modified foods may be our only hope at avoiding future famines with global impact. Instead of banning Genetic Modification to our foods, we should be more concerned with creating proper oversite on the companies that are making the genetic modifications. All modifications should be properly tested by the FDA, or a neutral third party testing facility, before they are allowed to market, and the company creating these modified strains should be forced to foot the bill for the testing. Humans have always genetically modified our food products, and always will continue to do so. The process increases food output, and lowers prices of food. These are good advancements. If a consumer wishes to have unmodified foods, then they can (and should) grow their own.