Are All GMOs Created Equal?

Some people see GMOs as the answer to our dilemma on how to feed the planet’s population. Others view them as the worst thing since trans fats—remember those?

This article isn’t about judging whether GMOs are good or bad. Instead, let’s review how GMOs are created and the differences between artificial selection and genetic modification.   

 Artificial Selection and Genetic Modification

Artificial Selection can be thought of as natural selection on steroids! It involves human intervention to create something new, such as broccoli, cauliflower, the sweetest, least-seedy watermelons, and cabbage derived from the wild mustard plant. In these examples, humans didn’t rely solely on mother nature and evolution. Rather, we dirtied our hands to nudge along the process of determining which plants pass their genes on and which don’t.

It’s important to remember that artificial selection is very different from genetic modification. We don’t want to confuse these two, as artificial selection is ubiquitous—whether it’s chicken breeds that produce large eggs or the beloved family Labrador retriever. 

Genetic Modification requires much greater human intervention. In one simple sentence, GMOs are organisms that have had their DNA changed to serve another purpose—such as to generate higher yield, higher nutrient density, or a resistance to pesticides. Genetic modification allows us to make changes to DNA in a short time in evolutionary speak—in a matter of a few years.

Should We or Shouldn’t We? This might be the question

For some types of GMOs, there isn’t a right answer as to whether we should or shouldn’t. On the one hand, the creation of a super plant that has pesticides built into its DNA, has higher yields per acre, and higher dollar value sounds great. But the potential problems down the road—such as herbicide runoff into rivers and eventually oceans—are looming issues that need to be confronted.

Is It Worth It? 
Maybe, maybe not. When it comes to GMOs, the issues are often far more complex than simply being able to determine right or wrong. But if nothing else, being educated, knowing your food source, and supporting those who farm and produce with values in line with yours is still the best way to go. 
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Laurie Gelb

Laurie Gelb

Laurie Gelb is the Co-op's Member Engagement Specialist. Contact her at LaurieGelb@coopfoodstore.com.