Just What Are GMOs and the Controversary? part 1

Part One

Vermont is gearing up for a fight.  Yes, our small state that barely warrants a mention on the weather channel app or in the news is now in the news regularly.  For such a small state, we certainly have a way of being trendsetters as well as being on the forefront of civil rights and progressive legislation.  I’m so proud of our state!

But I digress.  Vermont has just passed new legislation requiring labeling of any food products containing genetically modified ingredients.  While there is a coalition of food associations (Grocery Manufacturers Association, Snack Food Association, International Dairy Foods Association and the National Association of Manufacturers) suing the state of Vermont, there is currently a motion in the US District Court to dismiss.    If the lawsuit proceeds, Vermont has already put aside $1.5M to defend the legislation.

What is this all about?  What is a gmo?  It is very difficult to research this online as most of the sites have a viewpoint and only push that viewpoint.

Before getting into what a GMO is, I would like to clarify the legislation.  The legislation DOES NOT disallow GMOs in food.  It simply states that customers should be able to KNOW what they are buying.  While one side screams that such labeling will scare people who don’t know what a GMO is, it doesn’t matter – we have a right to know what we are buying and feeding ourselves and our families.  I mean, my goodness, Canada won’t allow “all natural” on a label if the product uses enriched flour.  Why?  Because the vitamins in the flour are additives and therefore, the flour is not considered natural.   Talk about commitment to its people!

OK, now that I got that off my chest –   Wikipedia defines gmo as:

“an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. Organisms that have been genetically modified include micro-organisms such as bacteria and yeast, insects, plants, fish, and mammals. GMOs are the source of genetically modified foods and are also widely used in scientific research and to produce goods other than food.”

Thanks to the Genetic Literacy Project for this photo.
Thanks to the Genetic Literacy Project for this photo.

The precursor to genetic engineering has been going on for several thousand years.  Humans would selectively breed crops with desirable traits (or genes) and not breed crops with undesirable traits.  Applied to humans, you can see where selective breeding relates to the new debate over designer babies ( a whole new debate).

Genetic engineering started in the 1970s when genes were able to be removed, added and manipulated to produce a desired result.   Commercially available gmos became available in 1976.  It is important to note that GMO does not always refer to food.  GMOs are used in medical and biological research as well as agricultural research.  Genetic engineering remains an important (if not one of the most important) methods scientists have in learning how to combat diseases and create pharmaceuticals.

Of course, in our discussion, we are talking about GMOs in relation to food.  Crops are able to be genetically modified to resist pests, pesticides and rot.  Crops can be modified to include certain nutrients or modified to sustainably grow in areas where such a crop would normally not grow.  They can be modified to grow bigger, thereby needing less room.  It was in the 1990s that GMOs were nicknamed, ‘Frankenfoods’.

corn cartoon

There are only a few crops that are genetically modifed but, according to the National Grocers Association, about 75% of all foods contain a gmo. If you look at some of the crops that are modified, you can see why:  corn, soy, canola, sugar beets.

BTW, so you don’t have to wait for next week, organic crops do not contain any gmos.

Next week…. so why all the controversy?




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