Genetically Modified Organism

I think it’s time to shed a little light on this whole GMO thing. As a techno geek, I find the topic fascinating. I mean, we are reaching in and manipulating a plants DNA so that it can serve us better. As a person who is eating the stuff, however, I find the topic a little terrifying.

 

It’s consistently in the news, there are activists groups fighting it, and lobbyists pushing for it, but it’s rarely understood. Man has been nudging the genetic makeup of flora and fauna for a millennia. Purposely breeding plants and animals with desired traits is, in effect, creating DNA the suits your needs. Corn, for example, would not exist without the careful breeding performed by Native Americans. It looked like prairie grass when they started. There is, however, a huge difference between this and genetic modification.

 

A genetically modified organism (GM or GMO) is a plant or animal whose DNA is directly manipulated to include genetic data from a non sexually compatible species. Basically, we breed things that can’t breed, and choose which traits they share.

 

The Enviropig (Yes, that’s a real, branded, name of a new made made animal.) was created by adding bits of E. coli DNA (and others) to the DNA of a Yorkshire Pig. It’s pretty clear that a pig and a bacteria wouldn’t make babies out in the wild. They used a Gene Gun (seriously, that’s what it is called). The outcome is a pig who’s saliva contains an enzyme that allows it to digest phosphate instead of pooping it out. This is the first pig in history that can do that. Millions of years of natural selection never gave it that trait.

 

Corn is, of course, the popular example. About 90% of the US corn crop is genetically modified. Corn isn’t genetically modified to grow bigger or taste better. It’s modified to resist the herbicide Roundup. The result is that farmers can really load their fields up with Roundup to kill more weeds. Put simply, we changed the genetic makeup of corn to allow us to dump more chemicals on our food. That’s a little like taking an unproven drug to make your lungs better at handling smoking.

 

The logic seem pretty flawed, but that’s just the start. The big rub with GMOs is that they don’t have to be labeled. The FDA has decided that consumers don’t need to know what something they are eating contains genetically modified ingredients. You will NEVER see “genetically modified corn” on an ingredient label.

 

This obfuscation reached the tipping point with the proposed introduction of genetically modified salmon called Aqubounty. The fish was on the fast track through the FDA when the public started to push back. Had there not been an outcry, you would never know if the salmon you had last week was frankinfish or not. This seems ridiculous, but that’s exactly the situation for corn, canola, cotton, soy, and others. I promise you ate genetically modified food today. I did. Without any labeling, it’s almost impossible to avoid.

 

So, here is our moderate stance on GMOs; at the very least, let people choose. Require the origin of a plant or animals genetic makeup to be clearly stated. Allow non-GMO foods to be labeled as such. (New FDA guidelines don’t allow food companies to print “non-GMO” on packaging. We will eventually have to remove it from our box. Friggin Crazy.)

 

Genetic modification is one of the most powerful tools mankind has ever created. It could prove to be tremendously beneficial to people and planet. It could just as easily prove to be devastating. Let’s take is slow. Let’s keep it transparent.

COMMENTS

  1. Ivan Y wrote:

    Thanks for a heads-up! I heard about GMO-labeling efforts but didn’t realize that FDA wants to take it a step further and actually prohibit a “non-GMO” label as well.

    I hope you don’t mind if a include some links with background info I found useful:
    http://www.non-gmoreport.com/articles/millenium/fdadisallowsgmo-freelabel.php
    http://justlabelit.org/
    http://articles.philly.com/2012-02-20/news/31079947_1_gmo-crops-interest-in-organic-food-organic-farmers

  2. Coulter wrote:

    Great links Ivan. Thanks for sharing. Love the Just Label It campaign!

  3. James T. Fisher wrote:

    A recent study released by the International Journal of Biological Sciences found that Monsanto’s GM Corn causes liver and kidney damage in lab rats. Monsanto only released the raw data after a legal challenge from Greenpeace, the Swedish Board of Agriculture, and French anti- GM campaigners. I’m sure the corn is fine to feed to our cattle or eat ourselves though. Right?

  4. Coulter wrote:

    Yes, that study was pretty interesting. From what I gather it’s not a smoking gun, but it clearly shows the genetic modification do have an impact on how the corn is metabolized. The topic of GMO food is so huge, complex, and dire. We skimmed the surface in this post. To me, labeling is essential, but cross contamination, and farmer inequities are also extremely important aspects. I don’t push legislating GMO away. It just won’t happen. I’m pretty sure that clear labeling and consumer values would do a much better job of eliminating GMO in the near term.

    Regarding the safety of GMO fed beef; I don’t know, I don’t think anyone knows. That’s what is so crazy about all of this.

  5. Kevin wrote:

    Hey Coulter and others..
    Thanks for the info. I tried following the links to learn about the ruling you mentioned but wherever it took me looked like it was an article from 2001. Is this really happening now? I hope not because the non-GMO certification is a great differentiator.

    Not being able to promote popcorn’s non-GMO status would be a shame since corn is one of the main GM crops that comes to mind of the consumer…. but since popcorn is only about 2% of US corn crop, it’s never made economic sense to do any bioengineering, and therefore there is no such thing as GM popcorn. Would be terrible not to be allowed to reinforce this fact.

    Really like following the story of Quinn and I need to give it a try. I quit my job over 2 years ago to help a popcorn farmer in Iowa – his heirloom variety was created slowly over time by the Native Americans just as you mention above. There’s no other way to get a popcorn plant to grow like a bush with 4-8 stalks and up to 36 ears per plant! Long time farmers and ag experts don’t even believe what this variety has done.

    Which brings up another sad but inevitable fact of modern farming – the loss of old world varieties replaced by hybrid and GM progress.

    Thanks for all your effort on the microwave bag reinvented!

  6. Jbf wrote:

    Actually, the Round-up Resdy trait allows farmers to use LESS, NOT MORE, chemicals to control weeds. Is that bad or good?

  7. Tyais Terry wrote:

    The GMO corn is designed to create its own Bt toxin withing to resist pests. So essentially you are eating corn listed by the FDA as a pesticide. It is also strongly believed that this same corn is causing large deaths of bee colonies. The research company who was investigating this correlation was recently bought out by…..can you guess? Monsanto. I think Qinn popcorn should submit to the Non-GMO project. And if the government or Monsanto thinks it will prevent labeling, They’re sadly mistaken. Too many people are awake to allow that. 50 countries worldwide have banned or severely restricted the use of GMO’s. Poland, Turkey, BC all recently completely kicked GMO’s out of their countries and razed the fields. These gmo’s have an effect on the earth, its creatures and out heirloom food lines. Enough is enough

  8. Gloria wrote:

    “Genetic Chili” was an eye opening movie for me to watch about the horrors of GMO foods. Like most people I believed these plants were engineered to resist round-up and other pesticides, but in reality, they have the pesticide built in, so yes, in theory you can use less roundup because the roundup is already in the plant. But how scary is that? Now instead of hopefully being able to wash off pesticide residue, it is in the genes of the plant and we ingest pesticide with every bite. These GMO foods have also been linked to growing food allergies and intolerances such as gluten intolerance. GMO’s have also been linked to diabetes, crohns disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and auto-immune disorders such as hypothyroidism.

    The grocery store in my area recently started carrying Quinn popcorn, and as soon as I read the ingredients I knew I had to try it. I tried it, I loved it, and I have been telling everyone I know about it. I want to thank you so much for your fine popcorn and for refusing to use GMO corn, or chemicals in your food.

COMMENT