Just What Are GMO Foods Anyway?

Most Americans have probably heard of GMO foods but could you explain what they are to someone else? Don’t worry, I couldn’t either until I took a shallow dive into the murky waters of crop bioengineering. What became apparent quickly was how little I knew about this important topic.

Basically, Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are living organisms whose genetic material has been artificially manipulated in a laboratory through genetic engineering (bioengineering). This creates combinations of plant, animal, bacteria, and virus genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods.

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All living organisms need to eat or their bodies will starve and die. Nourishment from food sources is what keeps us all going. Most of us humans want the best possible nutrition for ourselves, our families, our livestock and our crops – at the most affordable price.

How does crop bioengineering fit into this big picture?

Crop breeders love genetic breeding because it gives them more control over changing plants quickly and effectively. In a nutshell, desirable traits, such as large fruits, can be bred in at the gene level while unwanted characteristics, such as an intolerance to drought or resistance to a certain kind of insect, can be bred out without having to wait for many generations to grow, flower, and seed.

Instead, the plant breeder in the lab can insert genes from a source plant (one that has the desired feature) to a target plant (one that needs the desired feature). GMOs can also be made from scratch, so to speak, without any existing plant material.

Here’s a bit more back story about why GMOs are in the news:

Farmers and plant engineers have traditionally followed the methods of selective breeding: the plant breeders look for, select, and cross-breed the best-performing plants in the field. This is the tried-and-true method of agriculture since the first seed was planted intentionally by a human being. However, it takes a long time to wait for following generations of child plants to grow and mature. Plus, this method is hit-or-miss.

Then along came advanced breeding where breeders identify and tag desirable traits within a plant genome (complete set of genetic instructions). They use this information to pick which plants to cross-breed and create better-performing crops.

Now, with GM plant breeding, if a plant needs a trait that can’t be achieved through advanced breeding, a gene can be switched off or moved or a gene from another source can be inserted.

 

There are ten GMO crops commercially available today in the U.S. They are:

  1. Alfalfa
  2. Apple
  3. Canola
  4. Corn (field and sweet)
  5. Cotton
  6. Papaya
  7. Potato
  8. Soybeans
  9. Squash
  10. Sugar Beets

Big Agriculture leader Monsanto – now hiding behind the name of Bayer after a recent corporate acquisition and merger – insists that GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) are just fine for the environment and for all of us humans, too.

Many people doubt the word of Monsanto, voted the Most Evil Corporation in the world by the Health Ranger Mike Adams’ readers in 2013. The monopolistic Big Ag heavyweight has a losing track record for ethics, consumer care, and environmental safety which has recently become fodder for thousands of lawsuits in the U.S. alone.

If GMO products and agricultural consequences are so safe, why does Monsanto throw money at preventing consumer GMO information on their commercial food products? What have they got to hide?

For years, Monsanto has used its financial clout to squash repeated consumer efforts to pass laws that would make honesty in GMO food labeling mandatory.

To cite just one example, in 2012, Monsanto spent $4.2 million to block a California ballot initiative “that would require labeling of food with genetically modified ingredients” by donating that large sum to a coalition which opposed Proposition 37.

It might surprise you to know that Monsanto controls 93 percent of the GM soy market and 80 percent of the GM corn market. A full forty percent of the world’s genetically modified (GM) crops are grown in the United States.

Globally, 282 million acres are planted in Monsanto’s GM crops, an increase from 3 million in 1996. Monsanto owns 1,676 seed, plant and other applicable patents.

The GMO developers and breeders claim that their products help farmers prevent crop disease, control insects, tolerate drought, manage weeds, enhance the crop’s nutritional content, reduce food waste, and improve manufacturing processes.

Opponents to GMOs counter the bioengineers with this argument:

“Most GMOs have been engineered to withstand the direct application of herbicide and/or to produce an insecticide. However, new technologies are now being used to artificially develop other traits in plants, such as a resistance to browning in apples, and to create new organisms using synthetic biology. Despite biotech industry promises, there is no evidence that any of the GMOs currently on the market offer increased yield, drought tolerance, enhanced nutrition, or any other consumer benefit.”

Worldwide, a whopping 38 nations have prohibited cultivation and/or banned imports of GMO agriculture from their countries from Algeria to Zimbabwe.

Notably absent from this list is the United States of America. You won’t find Canada or Mexico mentioned either.