GMOs: What Are They?

For many people the definition of a Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) is veiled at best. The terms GMO and Genetically Engineered (GE)  in regards to crops, animals or any other living thing are often used interchangeably, so an explanation might be in order.

A basic explanation can be found at Wikipedia:

A genetically modified organism (GMO) or genetically engineered organism (GEO) is an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. These techniques, generally known as recombinant DNA technology, use DNA molecules from different sources, which are combined into one molecule to create a new set of genes. This DNA is then transferred into an organism, giving it modified or novel genes. Transgenic organisms, a subset of GMOs, are organisms which have inserted DNA that originated in a different species.

In passionate and deliberate discussions with friends and family about the GMO dilemma, I noticed there was a lot of confusion regarding the difference between GMOs, GEOs and cross-breeding. Cross breeding traits is a crap-shoot effort by scientists, farmers and gardeners with a penchant for super high-quality traits within a species. But the key is here: it is from the same species: crossing a juicy tomato with a meaty tomato to try to get the best of both worlds is not genetically modifying or genetically engineering a tomato. It is simply cross-breeding tomatoes to tomatoes.

AbbyMediaRoots has put together a really great video that explains the GMO / GEO process a little deeper:

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One thing that is noted very specifically in the video is the invasive nature of genetic modification. The example of crossing a flounder with a tomato in effort to make cold-resistant tomatoes is a good one. Essentially, it describes the mentality of large crop producers: plant tomatoes where they don't belong, then get biotechnology to make them grow there. We see this mentality all over the United States, but specifically in places like the Central Valley of California who hosts industrial farms that feed twenty-five percent of the United States in a desert. It's a mentality not made from agrarian morals; it is a mentality of production and production only.

As consumers, it is our job to guide the producers by making a vote with our dollars. Certified organic food cannot use GMO / GEO seed. With the eventual deregulation of certain GMO crops (like alfalfa, for instance) it may be hard to completely regulate that organic label because of a number of issues depending on the buffer zones of "conventional" farms to organic farms; so now more than ever we must support local, accountable meat, dairy and produce from local sources whenever possible. This will help us in the fight against GMOs.

Photo credit: video still from AbbyMediaRoots via Youtube