Not that long ago I thought GMO food was common, but it’s really not. I would see massive seedless grapes and assume it was the miracle of GMO. People would say ‘look how large that strawberry is, must be GMO!’ But it turns out these are just done using conventional farming techniques. But the more I learn about those, the more they seem scary, and GMO seems safe to me.
Human Consumption GMO Foods
There are only 4 GMO food crops approved as of 2016:
- Canola for cooking oil, margarine and emulsifiers in packaged foods.
- Maize/corn for corn syrup, corn starch and animal feed.
- Soybean for soybean oil
- Sugar beets.
Two new crops that are being approved. Apples which will take years for the apple trees to grow, and potatoes, which might come to market some time soon.
There are some crops used for animal feed or raw materials, like cotton, and alfalfa. Bangladesh has eggplant. And some are ornamental like carnations. Or just poplar trees in China. Wikipedia has a full list of crops from around the world.
First GMO Animal
Just recently Canada and the US have approved Atlantic salmon, the first GMO animal approved as food.
Scary Alternatives to GMO
I never realized the alternatives to GMO food were so scary. I’m talking about conventional foods. How do we get big strawberries and seedless grapes?
- First, the ancient technique of selective breeding. That is, saving the seeds of the bigger and better strawberry plants and growing more of them.
- Second, is using radiation to encourage mutations in the plants, planting them, seeing if we like what comes up. We might notice some changes, but many other changes would go undetected at first.
- Third, is a chemical path. When the plant is growing expose it to a bunch of chemical that make the seeds shrivel up and are sterile. Presto: you have seedless watermelon.
According to Health Canada’s definition of genetic modifications, all the above count.
What is genetically modified (GM) food? Essentially, a GM food is one derived from an organism that has had some of its heritable traits changed. This can involve:
- Traditional techniques of crossbreeding.
- Using chemicals or radiation to alter the genetic make-up of the organism’s cells in a process called mutagenesis.
- Applying recombinant DNA or genetic engineering techniques – for instance, introducing a gene from one species into another species.
Apparently, patenting nature is not a GMO issue. Hybrid seeds were patented 100 years ago.
Today I learned that Flavr Savr Tomato was approved for use in Canada in 1997, but the product was discontinued in 1997. Today there are no GMO tomatoes on the market.
Most claims about GMO apply to conventional farming, and sometimes organic farming.
A friend told me you cannot patent plants, only seeds. Does this mean you cannot patent DNA, but just the process of putting this bit of DNA into that plant?
Lots of hybrid plants are propagation prohibited. If someone reproduces one (which hard because they usually aren’t fertile) you must pay a licensing fee. Here, collecting seeds (or patenting seeds) is another issue, it seems.
BT is used in organic farming.
Feedback and Corrections
This is just a few quick notes I’ve written down recently. Any errors? New information? Interesting facts or articles? Post them below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.