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

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.

Singularity Hub

Consumers Opposed to GM don’t Understand Plant Breeding

RED DEER — Consumer concern about the safety of genetically modified food stems from lack of understanding about plant breeding regardless of type, says an American corn breeder and professor at Cornell University.

Margaret Smith said people have been modifying crops through domestication, selection and cross breeding for about 200 years, and genetic modification is only the newest tool available to achieve it.

She referred to a 2001 U.S. survey in which more than 60 percent of respondents said they had never eaten a traditionally crossbred fruit or vegetable, and more than 64 percent thought they had never eaten a GM fruit or vegetable.

As for GM content, there are few examples of fresh produce on the market today beyond some varieties of sweet corn, although a non-browning apple and potatoes engineered to resist black spot and late blight are pending.

She said 83 percent of the world’s soybeans, 29 percent of maize and 24 percent of canola are GM varieties.

About 60 percent of supermarket foods have ingredients from a GM variety, said Smith, although those ingredients are chemically identical to those that are non-GM.

The safety of GM food has always been a major consumer concern, said Smith, noting that studies to date have produced no credible evidence that existing GM food is harmful.

Smith also said consumers are concerned that the rights to GM crops belong to few.

In the United States, the 96 existing approvals of crops with GM traits are mostly held by Monsanto, Aventis, Syngenta, Dow and DuPont. Various planned mergers, involving Monsanto and Bayer, Syngenta and ChemChina and Dow and Dupont, if approved, would leave four main players in the field, Smith said.

The Western Producer

Future Of Genetically Modified Food May Lie In New Apple

Would you buy a genetically modified apple that resists browning for weeks rather than only a few minutes after being sliced? The answer may come before the next Arctic apple begins to discolor.

Apples turn brown when their flesh is exposed to a certain enzyme, such as when the skin is broken or bruised. Okanagan reduced that enzyme and claims the sliced apples can last up to three weeks without oxidizing. While the company acknowledges there’s nothing “wrong” with browning, browned fruit is more likely to be thrown away, especially by children, according to the company.

To Jenkins, the Arctic apple experiment is more about putting a positive spin on GMOs. He said companies genetically altering food are battling a perception by a large chunk of the population that GMOs are bad for some unclear reason. If the public turns against GMOs, Jenkins said not only would that mark the end of genetically modified fruits and vegetables, but “anything” made with GMOs – “all fast food, all processed food, all soda pop, all everything.” It’s the producers’ hope, Jenkins said, that a GMO product can be developed and widely accepted.

“If they can say, ‘Look, everybody loves the Arctic apple. See, GMOs aren’t that bad,’ then suddenly everyone will be talking about GMOs in a different kind of way and nobody will resist them,” he said. “Nobody will be demanding labels for them, and it will be a PR bonanza.”

According to Okanagan’s website, the first two varieties of Arctic apples will be the Arctic Granny and the Arctic Golden. Fuji is next in line with others to follow.

Wisconsin Public Radio

GMO Tobacco Plants Reveal the Promise of Hyper-Productive Food Crops

Researchers specializing in genetic modification have developed a super­powered strain of tobacco plants that grow substantially faster and more efficiently than conventional crops, according to a new report published in the journal Science.

How did the experiment work? The researchers inserted genes into the DNA of tobacco plants that they believed would increase three specific proteins that are involved in photosynthesis, the process of turning sunlight into energy.

“The objective was simply to boost the level of three proteins already present in tobacco,” Long explained. By boosting these proteins, the researchers reasoned that the plants would grow more with the same amount of sunlight. Once they had produced multiple modified tobacco plants, they selected the three most productive specimens and planted them alongside regular tobacco crops.

Of the modified plants, two were 20 percent more productive than the standard strain, and one was 14 percent more productive.

In other words, the GMOs were bigger and better.

Across America Patch

3 GMO Potatoes Get USDA Approval

This week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture formally approved two new types of genetically engineered potatoes, both of which were developed by Simplot, the Idaho-based spud giant.

It’s hardly an exaggeration to say that over the past two decades, the agriculture industry in the U.S. has wholeheartedly embraced GMO crops with gusto. Almost all of the soy and corn grown in the U.S.—upwards of 90 percent for both crops—is genetically modified. Same goes for canola. More than half of sugar beets are also grown from GMO seeds.

The three new varieties—Ranger Russet, Atlantic and Russet Burbank—all follow that first generation in that they are designed to minimize bruising and black spots, as well as reduce the amount of a chemical that is potentially carcinogenic that develops when potatoes are cooked at high temperatures. The trio of 2.0 cultivars have also been engineered to resist the pathogen that causes late blight, the disease that led to the great Irish potato famine in the mid-19th century and for “enhanced cold storage,” a trait that may be of particular interest to potato chip makers, according to The Associated Press.

EcoWatch