“To GMO or not GMO?” that is the Question
Well actually the first question is “What is a GMO?”
GMO stands for “genetically modified organism”. Scientists have identified individual genes in living organisms (bacterium, plants, viruses, animals, insects, etc.) and are currently experimenting by splicing genes to cultivate preferred traits in the subject.
For instance vegetables can be modified to have better look, longer shelf life, brighter colour, better taste, pest resistance, and so on.
That doesn’t sound much different from grafting or hybridization where people have been cross-breeding within a species for specific traits for centuries, be it roses, cattle or dogs.
Except that genetic engineering allows for DNA modification across unrelated organisms and unintended consequences can occur.
When an organism (i.e. plant) contains genetic material from an unrelated organism (i.e. insect) that has been artificially introduced, the organism is considered “transgenic”.
As a limited example, say a hazelnut gene was put into a broccoli plant to improve the taste, could that give someone with a nut allergy an allergic reaction?
Or an insect gene is placed in a plant, which is eaten by cattle, and then somehow impacts us through milk or meat. Who knows?
The pros may be tremendous. Controlling the food supply could mean:
- mitigating world hunger
- greater production
- expanded geographic range (i.e. development of varieties that mature earlier and tolerate cooler climates)
- better looking and tasting products
- longer shelf life
- new exciting products
- healthier products
- drought resistance (water savings)
- pest resistance
- reduced use of pesticide and herbicide chemicals
- reduced fuel usage (fewer trips across the field applying chemicals)
- less waste
The cons may also be tremendous.
- unintended consequences
- seed monopolies / food monopolies
- illness, perhaps death
- long-term damage to our natural (aka non-engineered) environment and processes
So the question “To GMO or not GMO?” is not easy to answer.
With the influences of big companies like Monsanto, Bayer, and DuPont, North America and others have embraced GMO technology while most of the European Union and Russia have banned some or all of GMO products (article).
In Canada the following GMO products have been approved for sale (not necessarily a complete list):
Additionally approval for wheat and alfalfa is being pursued.
Knowing that the world is expected to feed 9 billion people by 2050 and that we will need a plethora of food production methods, it is intriguing to think about all the possibilities and what the future holds in store for us.
In an ideal world, we, our children and our grandchildren, would have options and the educated choice to say “yes” or “no” to eating GMOs.