Research shows that most foods we put on our table have been selectively bred in some way. Here’s a revealing before and after linkshowing how certain fruits and vegetables have evolved. On the PRO side of the equation, these modifications have improved taste and our ability to digest. For centuries, farmers have chosen the best characteristics to increase the quantity and quality of crops using “hybrid” cross-breeding of the sweetest flesh and seeds to improve their flavor, texture, and quantity.
GMO is not selective breeding, however. A source of great controversy is big businesses meddling with genetics or specifically, laboratory researchers ‘messing with nature.’ Natural food companies, health-conscious citizens, and organizations (and Natural Food Certifiers) are very concerned that such tampering may create long-term unhealthy consequences in the plant and animal kingdom. Monsanto, a giant manufacturer, has been at the center of this debate. In 1901, Monsanto began as a chemical company in St. Louis, Missouri and quickly expanded into the world’s largest drug producer of aspirin. Later, Monsanto introduced polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) considered an ideal solution for hydraulic fluid and lubricants. However, neither substance would burn or degrade. Thus, it became an international pollution problem, affecting plants, animals, and humans. The U.S. government banned PCBs in 1979. Monsanto had also manufactured “Agent Orange” a biological weapon used in Vietnam and wars since. All these chemicals have been linked to birth defects, immune system disorders, cancer, and fatalities.
So in the 1980s, Monsanto changed its “chemical” mission, buying seed companies and beginning biogenetic research. As a result, the first GMOs were created. Almost a quarter of a century later, in 1994, with approval from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), farmers began growing soybeans with Monsanto’s GMO seeds, making their crops immune to the most commonly used weed killer in the industry (another Monsanto product: Round-Up). While it has a “pokey” cowboy sound this has been connected to many side-effects and lawsuits. Percy Schmeiser, a Canadian farmer was sued by Monsanto in 1998 for refusing to pay a licensing fee when GMO Monsanto engineered seeds had “blown” onto his farm. Thus, while Percy may have grown the crop unintentionally, Monsanto wanted to make an example and took Percy to court. The story literally blew-up as it became a documentary called David vs. Monsanto, reinforcing in the public imagination the idea of the company as a Goliath using its deep pockets to prosecute poor farmers.
After years of new research, evidence in favor of GMOs is beginning to surface in the public consciousness. “The National Academy [of Sciences] in the US has done a thorough study that shows there is no evidence of harm for human health or for the health of the environment. These studies have been pretty exhaustive over the last twenty to thirty years,” said Dr. Sarah Davidson Evanega, Director of Cornell Alliance for Science, an organization that supports “evidence-based decision-making in agriculture.” She continued to exclaim, “increasingly, the coverage of technology by reputable media outlets is very much based in science – and people don’t want to get on the wrong side of science…there is a scientific consensus around climate change, and there’s a scientific consensus around the safety of GM crops, and you can’t deny one scientific consensus and embrace the other; you’re either on the side of science, or you’re not.” She is a scientist who is not opposing further production of GMOs.
A lot of the bad press about GMOs lacks scientific evidence and makes nonsensical comparisons. The American chestnut tree, for example; in an attempt to bring the tree back from near-extinction, has been engineered using a gene from wheat, protecting it from a fungal disease called ‘chestnut blight’ which “ has basically killed every nut-bearing American chestnut tree on the planet over the last hundred years,” Evanega explained. “If we think about the efforts that have been made to re-populate forests of the eastern U.S. with nearly extinct species, that’s very different from badly modified Round-Up Ready corn.”