…what’s the big deal?
This post was prompted by a question regarding GMOs on a Facebook group that I frequent. It seems that a lot of people have questions regarding GMOs. I’m going to try to answer these questions as best as I can, plus give my own personal opinion.
GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism. It is essentially any organism, plant or animal, that has been modified by humans in order to achieve a specific trait or goal. For instance, traditional maize (corn) that grew wild hundreds of years ago was VERY different than the corn we consume and feed our livestock today. This is due to humans selectively breeding the plant for traits, largely unknowingly. Corn that was undesirable was generally dug up and removed from the field. This allowed only the most desirable plants to breed and reproduce. This is genetic modification.
The issues arise when companies work to make specific genes into new genes, or the like, in a laboratory. Most of the genes that they impart onto the seeds are not natural, for traits like disease and pesticide or herbicide resistance. Creating plants that are resistant to one species of beetle often, in turn, creates a beetle that can eventually consume that plant and is resistant to the genetic modification. Natural, selective modification vs laboratory modification are very different. Natural modification takes much longer, but often produces much healthier, stronger plants. Laboratory modification can have many issues, one gene altering another in ways that were not considered during initial trials. There are pros and cons to both methods. Perhaps the largest issue with GMOs is the fact that only one or two companies create and control the GMO market, Monsanto being the largest. The monopoly they have created is HIGHLY detrimental to our food system and overall health.
GMOs can be very beneficial – ie. the creation of drought resistant plants for cultivation in areas that have little water and little plant growth. They can also be negative, especially in the amount of pesticides and other toxins that can be sprayed onto the GMO produce – in an effort to keep bugs and disease at bay, the plants are often exposed to very large amounts of poisons/pesticides that are harmful to the environment and consumers. A natural ecosystem is all a system of checks and balances, and introducing something unnatural into that ecosystem will inevitably alter it, and not always for the better.
What can you do? First off, when you buy your seeds to plant your garden, shop for heritage and heirloom seed brands. These seeds have been largely kept free from genetic modification via laboratory. Many websites (ie. rareseeds.com) are dedicated to entirely GMO-free seeds. If you do grow your own produce, save your seeds for next season! Also, when shopping for your foods at grocery stores, pay attention to labeling! Many labels will tell you if your food is GMO free or not. Personally, I believe there are FAR more issues with our current food system than GMOs, so I just make sure that I wash my fresh produce well and grow as much of my own foods as possible.
Purchasing heritage, home-bred & raised livestock for your meat is another way to avoid inadvertent GMOs. Hogs and cattle raised in a small-farm setting are much less likely to be fed commercial, GMO feed. Additionally, breeds of livestock that are heritage breeds are from lineages that were selectively bred, but have thrived through generations for specific purposes. Certain heritage breeds of pork forage better than commercial breeds. Many heritage breed chickens, though slower growing, can free range better and keep feed costs low. Look into heritage breeds and small farmers to purchase your meats, rather than just running to the grocery store for some steaks.