What is a GMO? Can you define this abbreviation? Many people can’t, which is one of the reasons consumers and even producers fear this technology. Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are a crop or animal that has altered DNA to improve specific qualities.
There are many misconceptions about GMOs. To begin with, it is a new scientific technology used for a multitude of reasons from relieving hunger and blindness, to soil and water conservation. Farmers and scientists have been altering genetics for centuries, albeit slowly. In the 1940’s, scientists devised a theory to introduce new genes to plants in a lab, and since then these crops have been commercially produced. More than 70% of GMO crops are fed to animals, where they are broken down to produce quality proteins that we enjoy. After digesting the crops, animals have shown no GMO-DNA expression in any meat, milk, or egg product. GMO crops are processed the same way as conventional crops in the body, with no detectable difference.
To better understand GMOs, we should understand how they work. Genetic engineering is found at the DNA level, where desired traits are pulled from donor sources, anything from another plant to a soil bacterium, and placed in the recipient DNA. For example, Vitamin A deficiency affects a huge amount of the world population, about 124 million children worldwide, and can cause blindness, and other diseases. To combat this issue, scientists created a crop called Golden Rice. Since rice is already a culturally accepted food in most countries, it would be easily integrated to the food system. Adding the gene for Beta-carotene production, giving the rice a “golden” color, allows this genetically engineered rice to provide the Vitamin A that no other natural rice cultivar could.
DNA is made up of proteins.. Everything living contains DNA, strawberries, pork, eggs, and broccoli all have DNA whether or not they have been modified. When consumed, these proteins are broken down into any of the 21 naturally-occurring amino acids to be utilized by the body. Some foods, like broccoli, wouldn’t exist without genetic manipulation. Many plants are the product of generations of selection, plants with the biggest leave, largest buds, or most grains produced, saved back for next year’s crops. Today’s genetic engineering allows us to make these changes more quickly, and with more precision.
Why would we genetically modify a crop? The most common answer is an increase in production, and a decrease in inputs. By making crops more tolerant of herbicides or resistant to insects, we can protect them better and produce more food on less ground. This protects the environment by preserving uncultivated lands, and reducing pesticide inputs by 1.36 billion pounds since 1996. Farmers can now target specific weeds or insects without harming their crops, and in some cases, don’t need to use any chemicals to defend against some pests. In turn, farmers reduce emissions with less pesticide use and less passes over the field. In fact, the reduced emissions would be the equivalent of taking 12 million cars off the road for one year. Not only does reduced tillage improve air quality, but it reduces soil erosion. Less tillage means less loosened soil to wash off fields. Which also improves water quality, and many GMO crops conserve water by being drought-tolerant.
GMO crops are not to be feared. Would you deny yourself the latest technology in your job? Perhaps give up your iPhone? Genetically Modified Organisms are some of the newest technological advancements in agriculture, and serve to protect the environment and provide food and nutrients to nourish the world’s growing population. There have been more than 20 researchers performing almost 900 studies for more than 20 years to approve the safety of these products. To learn more about the GMO-world, please visit www.gmoanswers.com for reliable information.
It has been a pleasure writing for you this past month, thank you all for reading. I hope this series has answered some of your questions and helps you all shop as confident, informed consumers.