Genetically Modified Organisms, or GMOs, have become a flash point in the organic/anti-food industry fight. So much so that a group of activists visited a Chicago Whole Foods Market recently wearing hazmat suits to protest the grocery’s stocking of products made with GMOs. Such a severe response begs the question, “Um, so what are GMOs?”
Five Facts about GMOs
- GMOs are seeds in which genetics have been purposefully adulterated in a lab to produce a plant with a specific characteristic. This is different from selective breeding. Selective breeding is “mating” two strains of plants to produce a hybrid with desired characteristics. For example, breeding a strain of super juicy tomatoes with cherry tomatoes to produce small, juicy delights. This kinda stuff has been happening for centuries. GMOs first appeared in 1998.
- The primary goal of GMOs is to alter plants to be more resistant to pesticides. They’re designed to make conventional farming easier. By creating a plant that is resistant to pesticides and herbicides, farmers can use more chemicals and only kill weeds and bugs, not their crop.
- GMOs are amazingly common. Over 70% of processed foods are made with GMOs. Some of the most common crops are almost exclusively GMO products:
- 93% of soy
- 86% of corn
- 88% of cotton
- 93% of canola seeds
- Farmers sign binding contracts to use GMOs. The same companies that make the chemicals farmers use on their crops develop GMOs. Therefore, to use conventional farming methods farmers are forced to use a specific GMO. Farmers then become beholden to price changes.
- The United States is the only industrialized nation that does not require products to be labeled as containing GMOs. This the center of the fight over GMOs in the United States. Check back for this week’s Friday Focus for a full discussion of the debate over GMO use and labeling in the US.