Many people think that to genetically modify a plant means to improve it, make it more plentiful or nutritious, ripen it quicker, make it resistant to drought, keep it from freezing, etc. Some think the practice has been a part of agriculture for centuries, or that it’s the same thing as, say, hybridizing tomatoes or combining plums and peaches to create nectarines. While there are potential benefits of the technology including some of what is mentioned above, there is more to the story. Before defining the term, it’s important to note that current figures show that 70% of food currently on US grocery store shelves has at least one and likely more ingredients derived from genetically modified crops such as corn, soy, canola or cotton. First introduced in 1994, genetically modified foods are almost as ubiquitous in our diets as salt.
To genetically modify a food means, in very general terms, to insert the DNA of a foreign species into the seed or crop that produces the food – thereby changing it’s original DNA – forever. Genetic modification could also be described as forced or manipulated alterations to genetic material that would otherwise never occur in nature. The DNA that is inserted could be animal, bacteria, virus, or theoretically, anything that is alive and capable of producing the desired result.
The biotech industry, headed by gigantic companies like Monsanto and DuPont like to tout the virtues of genetic modification as being all beneficial – that there is no need for concerns about food or environmental safety. With a Houdini-like ability to maneuver through regulatory agencies (e.g., the FDA), they have managed to thwart all scientific efforts to do proper in-depth studies of this very new technology. But the truth is that currently, the most prevalent use of genetic engineering in agriculture is either to create crops that can withstand treatments of herbicides like Roundup, or to enable the plants themselves to release a toxin that can kill insects that bite them.
The other inconvenient truth? This is what we are eating.
The opening scenes of this video portray a pretty realistic picture of the general public’s awareness, or lack thereof, of GMOs in our every day foods.