What is a GMO?
By Cynthia DeWitte
The acronym GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism. Two related acronyms are GE (genetically engineered) and GM (genetically modified). All GMOs are unnatural and should be considered dangerous. GMOs are genetically altered in a laboratory where the genes of one animal, plant, virus or bacteria are artificially injected into the genetic structure of a different animal, plant, virus or bacteria. The idea is to force a foreign gene into the organism in order to produce a desired trait that does not occur in nature in that organism.
Therefore, GMOs are not naturally occurring organisms and GMO plants are not produced by traditional methods where plants are crossed through natural processes. Under normal conditions, a plant or animal is only able to reproduce after its own kind. In other words, an apple tree cannot reproduce with a corn plant. The genetic structures of these plants make it impossible for them to naturally create an apple-corn tree.
The same is true with animals. A sheep cannot reproduce with a cow. Their genetic structures are different and they cannot reproduce with one another. In traditional plant breeding, a horticulturist selects which plants he wants to breed. The plants are then pollinated by hand taking the pollen from one plant and fertilizing another plant. If he took the pollen from a rose and tried to fertilize a plum tree, nothing would happen, same thing if he used sheep sperm on a plant – nothing.
With genetically modified organisms, genes from one species are forced into the genetic make-up of another organism. This can be done from one plant to another of the same species or it can be done from different species of plants or even taking genes from animals and injecting them into plants and injecting genes from plants into animals. If a scientist wants a certain quality in one organism, it is possible to use a gene from a completely different organism to get the desired quality that the scientist seeks, however, this desired quality comes as a package deal. Genes are a lot more complicated than, “this gene does this and that gene does that.”
In genetic modification (GM) breeding, the idea is to take a single gene, extract it from one organism and impose it into a new organism. Genes are tied to the DNA where one gene can make multiple differences and can bring with it viruses and other unexpected problems.
Traditional breeding is like any other natural reproduction. It is not possible to choose which specific genes the new plant will have and never can one gene be injected into the new plant. All of the genes are involved in the reproduction process. With GM breeding, only one gene is involved that may or may not be from the same species. With traditional breeding, there is no way to cross from one kind (group of related animals or plants) to another. It has never been shown to happen – ever.
With GM breeding, a gene from an animal can be injected into a plant. For example, a gene that is only found in a particular frog can be injected into a potato, so that the potato produces a toxin. This toxin is normally only produced by frogs in South America so the frog can resist bacteria, fungi and other pathogens. However, I have found no evidence to suggest that when scientists do this, they check how this might impact people who are eating this toxin in their potatoes. This experimental potato has been created at the University of Victoria. According to GMO Compass, GMO potatoes are not currently being sold for consumption. GMO development is being done on potatoes to combat various potato diseases, but so far nothing is on the market for human consumption that I can find.
One Gene: Multiple Impacts
It gets a lot more complicated. When genes are messed with, it can have unforeseen consequences. According to an article in “Independent Science News,” “Regulators Discover a Hidden Viral Gene in Commercial GMO Crops.” As discussed earlier, the idea is to inject one gene into an organism, however, this can have a wide range of consequences, because genes do not exist in a vacuum. Changing the genetic structure by only one gene can cause changes far beyond that one gene.
Crops are being modified to resist pests and herbicides, so that farmers can control both pests and weeds without killing the crop. Genes are being altered in these plants so that herbicides can be used on them and they will survive. The thing about GMO is that you can’t wash it off. The modifications are part of the genetic structure of the plant. Many of these plants are being modified by the addition of bacteria DNA that causes the plant to produce insecticide. The insecticide is part of the plant, including the parts that we eat. I don’t know about you, but I am not interested in eating insecticide.
There are so many problems with GMO besides insecticide being an integral part of these plants. When we start messing with the genetic structure of a plant, we don’t know what that does to the plant as a whole. Proper testing and reporting has not been done on GMO foods, because the FDA has not required it. The FDA uses what is called “substantial equivalence” as the reasoning behind this. Substantial equivalence means that if it is corn, that’s all that matters. It is substantially equivalent to all the other corn, so there is no need to test it. In other words, corn is corn, we all know that, so no testing of this new kind of corn is needed. Of course, this is ridiculous, because it may look and taste like corn, but it has added genetic material that makes it different from any corn that has ever been consumed and we have no way of knowing what that could do to those who eat it and the environment around it. This is why all studies conducted for FDA approval of GMOs were inadequate and all of the serious research of GMO dangers that we know of is being done by outside organizations.
According to, State of the Science on the Health Risks of GM Foods, “Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been linked to thousands of toxic or allergic-type reactions, thousands of sick, sterile, and dead livestock, and damage to virtually every organ and system studied in lab animals. Nearly every independent animal feeding safety study shows adverse or unexplained effects.” There is a lot of reliable information out there about GMO crops and why they are dangerous to our health and well-being. The more people are aware of the problems, the more likely we are to stop this problem. I have touched the tip of the iceberg here on what kind of problems that GMOs pose to our health and our environment, but the sources listed at a the bottom can give you a starting point if you wish to look into this further. Be aware, however, that not all my sources are against GMO and some of their comments are misleading when compared with true science.
How to Avoid GMOs
- zucchini squash
- yellow squash
- canola oil
- corn oil
Avoid them like the plague they are.
This should not be a big problem, because if you are not eating processed foods, you can avoid most GMOs. Since organic is grown from non-GMO seeds, choose organic instead or skip the food entirely. The problem comes when processed foods are a part of your diet. Non-organic soy, corn, sugar beets and canola, and cottonseed oils are mostly GMO, which are contained in 70-80% of all processed foods. If you are buying a packaged cake mix, tortillas, salad dressing, or any number of things that have soy, corn, sugar (that is not identified as cane sugar), canola oil or cottonseeds oil, it probably has GMO ingredients. One of the most difficult products to find non-GMO is salad dressing. For our family I have begun making my own dressing. Most commercially made salad dressings have soy in them, but I have found that making salad dressing is easy. I can even make a good blue cheese dressing.
Learn to cook using real, whole ingredients rather than packaged foods. Learn to read labels, so you know what is in your foods, like salad dressings and other condiments, which most people buy rather than making. With some condiments, homemade is probably not going to happen, but making your own salad dressing is not complicated. You can use the blender and it turns out great.
It may seem good enough to only eat foods that do not have GMO components, but unfortunately, farmers may not be able to guarantee that their organic crops do not contain GMO. This is because GMO crops are infecting other crops anywhere near them through cross contamination and pollen drift. GMO crops can infect other nearby crops during reproduction as the pollen from a GMO plant can be carried to an organic or otherwise non-GMO plant nearby. This can happen with any kind of GMO plant. Development is being done on GMO forests that could utterly destroy the natural environment. People are not over-reacting to the seriousness of this issue. There is little that can be done to protect non-GMO crops from reproducing with GMO crops through natural means, unless there is great distance or other natural barriers between them. This means that the integrity of our entire food chain, including organic crops, is being compromised by GMO crops.
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Genetic Engineering at a Historic Crossroads http://www.sierraclub.org/biotech/report.aspx
Institute for Responsible Technology, State of the Science GMO, State of the Science on the Health Risks of GM Foods 2013 (This has all sorts of information for those who want documentation. It can be found here: http://responsibletechnology.org/media/multimedia/state_science_gmo.pdf )