The Future of Food: To GMO or Not To GMO?

Germany, Bavaria, Munich, Scientists in greenhouse examining parsley plant

An organic diet has never been more in style than it is right now, with millions of consumers willing to shell out extra dollars for organic foods. Most of us have a vague idea that organic is better because it’s more natural and free of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and pesticides.

But what does “natural” even mean? The line is harder to draw than we may think.

How different is food from GM crops as compared to food from non-GM crops?

Humans have been “genetically modifying” plants and animals for thousands of years. Five hundred years ago, say a farmer noticed some corn was a little sweeter. To replicate that flavor, the farmer might select those seeds for the next crop. That new trait came about by random genetic mutation, and establishing a noticeably sweeter flavor using selective breeding would take years, if not decades.

Some GM foods, like BT crops, are engineered to contain a form of pesticide, which means they don’t need to be sprayed with chemical pesticides. Eating food that produces a pesticide sounds scary, but as the video notes, pesticide doesn’t always mean it is inedible or harmful to humans. Many substances harm insects or animals, but not humans—coffee is one example.

Much of the backlash against GMOs is less about genetic engineering and more about the business practices of the corporations that control our food supply. GMO crops have been a money-maker for herbicide companies—and as crops have been modified to be herbicide-resistant, herbicide use increases. For companies making GMO seeds and associated herbicides, that’s a lot of power over something as critical as how we feed ourselves.

GMOs are part of the larger genetic engineering debate, which is only going to intensify. New techniques are getting easier, cheaper, and more precise by the year. Tech can do damage or be a force for good; the real trick is weighing risk and benefit impartially and making choices that steer us in the right direction.

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