In the past few weeks, I’ve encountered several people who had the same statement. “GMOs aren’t bad, we’ve been genetically modifying things for centuries.” I then jump on my soapbox and politely inform them that they are mistaken.
What they are referring to, that people have been doing for centuries, is hybridization. A hybrid plant is not a genetically modified plant. The two are not interchangeable, they are actually very, very different.
First, you need to understand something. Genetic modification is deliberately altering an organisms genome. It isn’t just cross-pollinating two of the same species to improve something such as yield (that’s what a hybrid is). It is deliberate modifidcation of the plant by direct manipulation.
Genetic modification isn’t preformed by a farmer out in their field. It is preformed by a scientist in a lab coat in a lab manipulating a genome of the plant, and not necessarily with another plant. Two completely different scenarios, folks. While the goal is the same (to improve a species in some way, usually yield) the roads to get there are different. The former is a completely natural process assisted by humans, the latter? Since when is manipulating a plants genetic makeup by inserting bacteria in it natural?
Hybrid VS GMO (there’s a difference)
What is a hybrid?
People have been creating hybrid plants for thousands of years. The thing about creating a hybrid is this: it’s just doing what happens naturally anyway. In fact, sometimes nature creates hybrids all on its own! Two plants of the same species are cross-pollinated, creating a new variety. Sometimes, humans do this. They cross-pollinate two different varieties of the same plant to try to create a better plant. Completely natural process. No lab required.
When we started doing this, thousands of years ago, it took years to create a new variety. This new variety would stand up better to local climate, be more pest and disease resistant, and even provide larger yields.
In the mid 1800s, a method of hybridization called F1 Hybrids, was discovered. This resulted in a changed plant in just one generation, instead of several. These F1 Hybrids are still completely natural, it just doesn’t take as long to create a plant with the traits you’re looking for.
The problem with hybrid varieties (in comparison to their heirloom counterparts.) Is they don’t “reproduce true” in the second generation. You can save seed from them, replant them the following year, and not get the traits that the original hybrid possessed.
For this reason, you have to purchase hybrid seeds over and over every year. The plant coming from the seed saved will more than likely be nothing like the first generation plant. It’s not really a big deal to a backyard gardener, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with hybrid plants, it just makes you more dependent on seed companies.
It is also incredibly detrimental to large-scale farmers. They become dependent on the seed company to provide them with fresh hybrid seeds every year, which means they have to spend more money. The seeds require special fertilizers, which require more money. Farmers weren’t used to having to do any more than save seed from their open-pollinated crop from the year before. Now, they have to spend money (and lots of it) to get the high yielding plants they grew the year before.
See? Completely natural. While humans can control cross-pollination in order to get the traits in a plant they want (by crossing two varieties that have the traits they desire), cross-pollination can occur naturally in nature all on its own. This is why we keep varieties of the same species further apart, so they are less likely to cross-pollinate.
What is a Genetically Modified Organism?
A genetically modified organism (GMO) is a plant that has been deliberately changed. A gene out of its genome can be completely removed, a gene from a completely different species can be added to it, a gene from a completely different kingdom can be added as is the case with a thing like most corn grown in the United States today. They can literally implant the seeds genome with genes from a completely different kingdom (say bacteria) to result in a plant resistant to a specific disease or pest. They can implant it with pesticides to make it resistant to those pesticides and herbicides being sprayed on it. That means that these chemicals can be sprayed all over the crop, and it won’t kill it.
That’s not natural!!
The problem with GMO plants (aside from the obvious) is the possible outcomes are infinite. It could result in anything from a non-nutritive plant variety to something that is completely toxic to humans and other animals. The other problem is we have no idea how these plants will behave over long term, or their actual affects on the organisms that consume them. Very little in the way of research has been done, because these varieties are patented and the companies (like Monsanto) will not allow anyone to even look at their GMO seeds and study them.
We are eating things that no one has ever used before, that have no studies being done on them, are literally spliced with pesticides and herbicides (and then have a healthy coating sprayed on them between planting and harvest), and are being patented and hidden away from public eye. The other problem is, these seeds and plants are not required to be labeled. Wind can carry pollen and cross-pollinate non-GMO Varieties with The GMO varieties. This is a problem for several reasons. You and I can’t even legally grow a GMO crop, you’ve got to be a farmer.
What can you do?
I avoid GMO like the plague it really is. It’s not natural, and no one has the slightest of clues how it will affect us and our animals in the future. To avoid GMO:
- Grow your own, or buy from local farmers markets
- If you buy ingredients from the store, try to buy simple one ingredient items
- Buy organic produce and other goods
- Buy Non-GMO Project Certified goods
- Know your farmer and their practices, this goes back to: buy local!
- Remember your meat. Most livestock are fed GMO crops. Buy local, buy grass fed or pastured, and/or buy organic.
I still consume hybrid varieties of vegetables and fruits now and again. I don’t see anything wrong with the natural process of it. I do personally only purchase open-pollinated, heirloom seed for my personal garden, and I encourage you to do the same. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with hybrid plants, it keeps everyone who uses them dependent on a company to produce those seeds for them every year. As someone who is adamant about self-sufficiency this is not congruent to our way of life. So, I try not to consume much in the hybrid variety range and stick with locally grown heirloom varieties for things I cannot (or do not) grow in my own personal garden.
Alright, I’ll get off my soapbox. I hope this post was a helpful and informative one. The next time someone says there isn’t anything wrong with GMO plants and tries to compare them to hybrids, give em an earful and send them here to educate them on the difference between the two. There really is no comparing them at all.
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