Sunday, October 12, 2014

Ignorance about GMOs is funny until you think about it.

This is funny. But it is also sad.

The basic fact is that all the foods we eat are genetically modified from their wild ancestors. That is true for plant and animal based foods. All the common food sources have been modified by long periods of selection. You can find some traditional cultivars if you try hard enough, but anything you buy in your market is almost certainly the result of scientific breeding.

If you think about it, the offspring of a male and a female gets half of its genes from each parent. If a plant breeder finds a variety that has genes providing protection against a specific disease or pest, and tries to move them into cultivation, the breeder brings thousands of genes from that variety into cross with varieties that are already commercial -- that have lots of useful genes. The breeder then goes through generations of cross breeding trying to keep the new useful gene, not to lose too many of the good genes from the commercial varieties, and to eliminate the unwanted genes from the original plant with the the new useful ones.

In recent decades, scientists have discovered ways to add a single gene to a plant. This makes it possible to keep almost all of the useful genes from an existing commercial variety and add a specific trait that is wanted. Plant breeding is faster. Moreover, a gene can be added that was found anywhere in nature, not just in a closely related plant. Then government regulatory agencies require extensive safety testing.

In case you never thought about it, existing crops include many genes that make people sick. I have three food allergies, and know from experience that common foods that don't affect most people affect me like poison ivy. Some people are so allergic to peanuts that they can die from eating them. You are likely to be as safe eating a GMO food as one that you regularly eat.

I know it is a pain to read all that stuff about nutrition, but I wish people would not make snap judgments about GMOs. They will be needed to feed the world's growing population as the global climate is changing.

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