In this blog, we review how do Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) differ from hybrid plants. Later this week we will take on the Pros and Cons of GMOs. What’s the concern? Stay tuned to the next blog in this series…

Scientifically, a “genetically modified organism” or GMO doesn’t actually exist. Instead, genetic modification is a process of transformation. It is not a product itself.

Having an all-encompassing, scientific definition for this politicized acronym may be difficult, if not impossible, due to many factors. Hence, creating challenges for regulators raising economic, socio-political and commercial concerns.

GMOs are widely understood as new traits created through modern genetic manipulation of plants or animals. By extracting genetic material from unrelated species, combining synthetic or heavily modified DNA into an organism’s genetic code, science has generated something new through “transgenesis.” Seems like biblical Genesis, some feel…is it good or not? We will discuss both positions.

Of course, farmers have wisely sought ways to breed more resilient animals and plants, for centuries, seeking ways to improve traits. They have wanted to assist animals and plants by providing optimal health, resistance to insects and disease. Additionally, every farmer wants their products to taste better and sell more quantities as well. Global advancements in biotechnology have given these breeders a new way to affect more precise control over the process. Nowadays, many seeds planted in U.S. farmlands, particularly regarding grain crops are genetically engineered. The foods that result from them are popularly referred to as GMOs.

What are the main products which contain GMOs;

  • Those that are considered high-risk, meaning that there might be health concerns for consumers. Alfalfa, canola, corn, cotton, Hawaiian papaya, soy, sugar, beet, yellow summer squash/zucchini, animal products, microbes, and enzymes.
  • Foods that have very low-risk in that they are not produced in this fashion are; lentils, spinach, tomatoes, sesame seeds, avocados
  • Foods which are monitored for potential risk in the future, but nothing reported currently are; Flax, mustard, rice, wheat, apple, mushroom, orange, pineapple, potato, camelina (false flax), salmon, sugarcane.

Let’s discuss hybrid plants.
These are vegetables created when breeders intentionally cross-pollinate two different varieties of a commercial crop, aiming to produce an offspring, or hybrid, that contains the best traits of each of the vegetable parents. As we all know, from watching bees and butterflies, they naturally “cross-pollinate” within members of the same species. For thousands of years, farmers have interbred closely or distant related individual plants and vegetables to produce new crops varieties with more desirable qualities. For example; a mildew-resistant pea may be crossed with a high-yield pea which is more susceptible to rotting. Thus a better end-product. Farmers use non-laboratory potting techniques of cross-seeding. Unlike hybrid seeds, GMOs are not created using such natural, low-tech methods. GMO seed varieties are created in a lab using high-tech and sophisticated techniques like “gene-splicing.”

This will lead us into our dialogue later this week on Pros and Cons.

The term genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is a useless and imprecise category used to pigeonhole products…. It is theoretically and practically impossible to precisely specify a supposed common denominator for all these products.
Giovanni Tagliabue, Italian life sciences philosopher, Nature

“GMOs are produced by human actions that are clearly defined, both scientifically and legally. Hence, although humans have been breeding plants for millennia, they have not been directly modifying genetic material until very recently.”
Janet Carter, soil scientist, and Greenpeace consultant

In our next blog this week we will address the controversy head-on.