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Frankenveggies? The Debate Over GMOs

Frankenveggies? The Debate Over GMOs

From tomatoes engineered to be hardier for travel to pest resistant corn, many of the foods we find on the shelves at the local grocery store today are genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

Our modern understanding of genetics has given scientists the ability to select traits from one species of plant or animal and impart them into another, and major biotech companies around the world are doing just that. While food created in a lab may sound like something out of a science fiction movie, the fact is, whether you realize it or not, most of the food you eat probably comes from genetically modified sources. Even if you grow most or all of your own food from organic seeds, there’s still a very strong possibility that your vegetables are not as pure as you think.

Genetic engineering has been going on since the early 1970s, but it wasn’t until 1986 that scientists found a way to make tobacco plants resistant to herbicides. This was seen as a boon by farmers, who could now save time by spraying weeds without worrying about killing off their main crops. Over time, other applications were found, as scientists made fruits, vegetables, and grains larger, hardier, and resistant to pests or chemicals, among other features. This enabled farmers to grow greater quantities of food, and ship it farther from its point of origin, with less effort, leading to widespread claims that genetic modification could be the key to wiping out global hunger.

More than a quarter of a century later, though, that hasn’t happened, and many people, including farmers, are now critical of GMOs and worried about just how widespread they have become. For some, the very idea of tampering with nature is the core issue, but farmers have been using selective breeding to produce superior crops and livestock for as long as humans have been engaged in livestock. And, for the most part, critics of GMOs are not anti-science. So what’s the problem?

One common complaint is that genetically engineered foods are simply not as good as their natural counterparts. Something always gets lost in translation, and that “something” is usually flavor. In the process of making tomatoes, apples, or strawberries that are larger or better able to withstand the rigors of traveling across the country for several days, for instance, flavor is often sacrified.

Another concern is that pest resistant plants may be responsible for killing off helpful insects such as bees and butterflies, in addition to pests. This not only has an effect on the health of specific species and local ecosystems as a whole, but can also affect food production. Bees and butterflies are pollinators, and are necessary to crop production. Their loss is detrimental to the very thing that the pest resistant plants were created to promote.

One major reason farmers around the world worry about the growing prevalence of GMOs is that the plants grown from them are patented. It is illegal for farmers to grow them without buying the seeds from their producers. This is problematic because non-GMO crops can, and do, easily cross-pollinate with GMO crops, literally spreading these lab-created traits on the wind. It’s not unusual for organic farmers to find GMOs in their fields, through no fault of their own. This opens the farmers up not only to lawsuits from the patent holder, but can also jeopardize their organic certification.

One increasingly common trait being added to modern produce is the so-called terminator gene, which prevents farmers from saving seeds to use for future planting. Plants featuring this gene produce seeds that are sterile and will not grow. This forces farmers in developing nations, who have been accustomed to saving seeds for generations, into buying seeds from the major GMO seed companies year after year.

Critics of GMOs want to see mandatory labeling so consumers know what they’re getting, but biotech companies have fought to prevent any such laws wherever they’ve been introduced. In fact, the United States Food and Drug Administration doesn’t even allow organic food producers to add a voluntary “non-GMO” label to their products. The story is different across the Atlantic Ocean, where the European Union has placed a blanket ban on genetically engineered crops. While that news may be encouraging to opponents of GMOs, it’s clear the debate over their use won’t be ending any time soon.

12 comments

1 Billy Joe { 04.26.12 at 10:10 am }

You can’t stop the money men, but you can stop buying their crap. The ONLY way to defeat all of them is to cut off their sales. Start producing your own food, NOW. Everyone can do something, even a small something, to produce for themselves. These guys are powerful because we allow them to be. They are glorified bullies. Buy a chicken and plant a seed. Stop complaining and start growing, that is the only way out of this nightmare.

2 Jim Keene { 04.22.12 at 6:35 pm }

You can’t fool mother nature and there will by a terrible price to pay for GMO foods.

3 Phyllis Poole { 04.12.12 at 9:36 am }

Follow the MONEY trail. It’s all about MONEY. Search Jeffery Smith who he and some of his colleagues were fired from the FDA (yrs ago) because they protested passing GMO products because of the issues they were finding!! MONEY under the table gets anything you want.
The FDA should be defunded!!! NOW Write your congressmen.

4 Jean { 04.12.12 at 9:35 am }

I was going to add a few additional points, but Jerica summed them up wonderfully. I am especially concerned with point #1.

5 Rod Clark { 04.12.12 at 9:11 am }

Control the food and you control the world. How far are we from solient green?

6 Allisom May { 04.12.12 at 4:04 am }

Heaven won’t help us Jerica…….Until there is a clear wake up call and EVERYONE begins to understand that the only way forward is to stop revering the little boys playing with their chemistry sets.
This will only happen when sensibility returns and instead of being ‘ blinded by science’ the penny needs to drop in the truth jar that ‘science has blinded’ humanity with their bizarre need for supremecy…….bizarre because they truly believe every thing in creation is here for them to either blow up or cynically distort. WAKE UP and STAND UP for Life !!

7 Larry { 04.11.12 at 7:26 pm }

The above arguments are solid, and I believe in them all. My beef is with the corporation which created them, namely, Monsanto. This outfit is sueing farmers all over the country for allowing another farmers pollen to drift onto his crop, regardless of whose crop is gmo.
Why are we allowing big business to dictate to ALL of us in regard to what we put in our mouths? This is MY choice to make, not Monsanto’s, and I resent being told what is or is not good for me by an entity interested only in the bottom line! Label the food or take off the market!
Speak with your legislators and let’s get this mess fixed!

8 jason { 04.11.12 at 1:34 pm }

Thank god that we don’t have to put up with GMO in the UK, because you see, once we realized what they where planning (genetically modified food) people went ape, and demanded that the government act to prevent this from ever happening.

Non of our potatoes or indeed any of our vegetables anywhere in the UK is GMO and it’s also against the law to sell or produce anything with gmo…which is great for us, unfortunately here in the UK we also have elm disease which can and does transfer onto other plants and trees..things like blight can be extremely bad here..

9 Gayle MacBride { 04.11.12 at 1:24 pm }

That a major corporation has successfully inserted an insecticide into every cell of a potato plant may be good news to the potato farmer at first glance. Do I really want to eat a potato that is laden with insecticide. I do not. Cross-contamination between GMO plants and non-GMO plants leaves me with the strong possibility that I am unknowingly consuming GMO produce, even when I buy organic and grow my own food organically. The corporate patent holders of the GMO-DNA can claim ownership of any plant carrying that falls under their patent criteria threatens every farmer and even home-gardeners in that their plantings can be and probably are cross contaminated and thereby “owned” by the patent holder. Add to that the loss of viable seed, and the corporation gain ultimate control of our food industry. Their interests are not in our best health interest but in their bottom line and increase in the power of their institution. It is a huge threat that should raise the hackles in everyone of us.

10 Margaret { 04.11.12 at 12:56 pm }

This is what happens when people do not stand up for themselves and let whatever happens, happen. Welcome to another stepping stone of The New World Order. It only gets worse from here.

11 Jerica { 04.11.12 at 12:05 pm }

This article is good, but fails to address 3 major issues that I personally have with GMOs:

1. The increased use of herbicide. Glyphosate is the main ingredient in Round-Up, and majority of GM crops are “RR-ready,” so farmers can load the field up with endocrine-disrupting chemical several times per season. This stuff certainly gets into groundwater and likely ends up in drinking water (not to mention it’s ALL over the plants that we are about to EAT!). Do we need MORE hormone-disruption in our society where more than 25% of couples have some fertility issue when trying to conceive??

2. We are so concerned about bees and butterflies–what about the humans consuming this stuff? If a plant will kill a pest that eats it, what does that signify for humans? And if a plant is engineered to produce higher yield, is it also producing more nutrients? That seems doubtful… Eating is not only about getting full. You must have minerals and vitamins to thrive, not just survive.

3. The use of terminator gene is especially scary to me. If GM DNA is cross-contaminating other crops, doesn’t this imply that the terminator gene may also spread to non-GM crops? This would mean that traditionally developed seed could become sterile, meaning that the current crop is the last one that can be produced–the subsequent generations will be terminated. Why do we want to allow a corporation to hold the key to world-wide food production? If the cross-pollination goes too far, will we always have to buy our seed from Monsanto just to eat? Heaven help us…

12 jillian { 04.11.12 at 9:46 am }

True, farmers have cross pollinated and used the best animals to breed with each other. BUT scientists are using different species. This is the issue and goes against nature. In nature a dog cannot breed with a cow or a plant cannot breed with a fish. Scientist are playing god and when playing a role that is not yours destruction will occur.

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