GMOs are the Devil! … or are they?

Feb 05

While Monsanto is the devil, and hating on them is perfectly healthy, Monsanto does not equal GMOs.

monsanto-the-devil livingorganic

picture credit: livingorganic.com

To understand what I mean by this, you need to understand what is meant by GMO: Genetically Modified Organism. Let’s break it down. Genetically = genes (not jeans.) Modified = changed. Organism = living thing. The current trend is to fear foods that are ‘genetically modified’ because of science and other stuff you don’t understand, but there’s something you may not realize: genetic modification has been around since the beginning of agriculture. Nearly everything we eat today has changed genetically since it was first domesticated, some time in history.

mendel wikipedia.org

Gregor Mendel loved God and researched the mechanism by which pea plants passed traits to subsequent generations. In other words, he genetically manipulated organisms. photo credit: wikipedia.org

In fact, the mechanism by which organisms can be genetically modified, the allele, was discovered by a monk named Gregor Mendel.

A monk.

A guy who loves God and works for God.

Mendel discovered that by selective breeding, certain traits could be brought out in subsequent generations of pea plants. Was Mendel working for the devil? I highly doubt it. But he started the scientific journey that led to the ability scientists have today to work with genes.

But genetic modification through selective breeding was going on long before Mendel researched it. When humans first left their nomadic hunter-gatherer life and settled down to farm, they unwittingly began genetic modification of the foods they farmed by ‘weeding out’ the plants or animals with less desirable traits and taking seeds and offspring from plants and animals with desirable traits to raise the next generation.

Here are some examples of foods that have been genetically altered over thousands of generations of selective breeding. I’m comparing the foods we eat every day to their wild counterparts so you can see what a difference agriculture technology has made over the millennia. If you don’t think there is a genetic difference between the wild version and the farmed version, maybe you need to take a basic biology course and learn exactly what is meant by words like “gene” and “genome.”

banana-before

This is a wild banana. All bananas looked like this before we domesticated them – thick peel; large, hard seeds.

modern-banana

Modern bananas are the result of at least 7000 years of selective breeding. Banana farmers bred for size, colour, and sweetness, and also produced infertile bananas without seeds for your eating pleasure. Obviously populations of seedless bananas can’t survive in the wild!

wild-corn

Corn has bred from this teosinte plant, first domesticated about 9000 years ago.

modern-corn

Modern corn is 6.6% sugar, compared to just 1.9% in its wild cousin. Corn has also been bred to be 1000 times bigger than it was originally, so it produces 1000 times more food per plant.

wild-carrot

Carrots are roots, and before we modified them they looked like pretty much any other root you might see under a plant.

modern-carrot

Modern carrots have been bred for colour, size, and smoothness. Even comparing supermarket carrots to farmers market carrots, you’ll notice the difference. That’s genes, baby!

So we have been genetically modifying the organisms we eat for thousands of years, but now we can do it in a lab, using a process that cuts out years of selective breeding.

The result, however, is exactly the same: an organism with a difference in its genes. Exactly the same result.

GMOs aren’t scary; they can’t cause cancer or other health problems; in fact, scientists can use the new technology to produce food that is hardier for our changing planet, healthier for our starving neighbours, and safer for you because it can be grown without pesticides or harsh chemical fertilizers. These are desirable traits that farmers have been selectively breeding for since the beginning of agriculture. The devil has nothing to do with it.

Unless otherwise indicated, all photos come from Business Insider’s Science page. Read their post to learn more about what your foods looked like before genetic modification.

To learn more about how modern cows were painstakingly domesticated from massive, frightening beasts called aurochs, read this.

Happy-Cow-mortilto.dk

Got milk? If you do, it came from a cute little moo-cow who has been bred to be docile and stupid, and keep producing milk its whole life without making babies. Weird! This animal could never survive in the wild, p.s. Photo credit: mortilto.dk

This frightening creature, on the other hand, is a water buffalo, closest wild relative to our moo cow, and one of the most dangerous animals on the plains of Africa. She would never let you near her udder. Photo credit: travelblog.org

This frightening creature, on the other hand, is a water buffalo, a close wild relative to our moo-cow, and one of the most dangerous animals on the plains of Africa. She would never let you near her udder. Photo credit: travelblog.org

pig-backtoearthfood.wordpress

Mmm… bacon… unless you think this little piggy is too cute to eat. Photo credit: backtoearthfood.wordpress

boar-express.co.uk

Pumba here is a close wild relative to our domesticated pig. Does he look yummy? He’ll gore you if you try anything. Photo credit: express.co.uk

 

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