I Don’t Care About Your Moral Objections

Please don’t tell me that I shouldn’t use genetically modified products because “the businesses that own them are bad, multinationals that exploit farmers”, while you’re living in a privileged county, with food on your plate and an education. If you were in a position where you could guarantee that you would get enough food from your next crop to feed your family so that your family could survive, you would do everything to ensure that. Look, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) can sound scary, when portrayed in a negative light. But in reality, they are safe and vital for global food security.

Now for a micro history in about GMOs and farming

At some point in humanity’s long and underwhelming history we realized that if we selected seeds from a plant that grew big, nutritious foods, and planted them, there was a chance that the new plant would also be big. We then did that over and over again, until we got what we can buy in the supermarket. This was some of the first instances of Genetically modifying food.

Another approach to this selective breeding is to deliberately pollinate one plant with the pollen of another to try to create a desired plant. This is known as hybrid or cross breeding (f1 crops refers to the first generation of hybrid crops) . This could be “mixing” red and white roses to create a pink one, or a mule being conceived by a horse and a donkey. This method is widely used today, but like mules, the offspring might be sterile or like the pink rose, may have red, white or pink flowers. This is not always ideal for farmers and often requires them to re-buy seeds every season to get the best yields.

After World War II, a new way to create new and improve varieties of crops was invented. It used radiation to create random changes in the makeup of the plants. This was a very hit and miss approach but it produced some of the crops that we still eat today. The nashi pear that we have today is a result of this. A fungus threatened the survival of the pear, so a number of plants were grown near some radioactive material. This caused mutations in the plant, one of which was resistant to the fungi. Farmers and scientists then used this to grow a crop of resistant pears and the rest, they say, is history. This approach worked well, but it couldn’t be predicted what new traits the new plant would have.

When you hear about GMOs, you usually think about genetically engineered organisms. But what are they? And how are they made?

What are they GEOs?
All living things are made up of genes, these are the instructions in our body that tells us how to grow. Genetically engineered organisms have just had a very small number of genes added to them, so that they do something else, for example, they might produce a different vitamin on top of everything else they produce.

How they are made
1) Find out what you want to do – make a crop produce a vitamin
2) Find a bacteria or other organism that has a gene that can do that.
3)Put that gene into the genes of the crop you want to alter. There are many ways to do this, one of which is using a gene gun, which shoots the gene into the cells that you want to change. This is rather hit and miss, so it is done with lots of seed, which are then planted and then checked to see if it worked. Another way is to use a specific bacterium that can put its genes into the cells of other plants.
4) Once you have a plant that has been genetically engineered correctly, the gene needs to be introduced into the existing crop. To do this, a similar method to how cross or hybrid breeding is performed, until you have a new crop.

Yes, there are many arguments against GMOs, for example, that farmers are forced to buy new seeds every season (because they are not allowed to replant seeds). Or, that Round Up crops (crops that are designed to be resistant to a herbicide) result in the release of herbicides into our waterways. This is often, however, not the whole story, nor the bigger picture.

The idea that farms using GM crops will have to rebuy seeds for every new crop is correct, but often farmers who aren’t growing these crops will have to do the same. For farmers using hybrid crops, they will have to rebuy crops each season, because otherwise they will have a field of red, white and pink flowers, which isn’t ideal. With crops like Round Up, the herbicide used is very effective, resulting in less herbicides being needed, which means less leaching into our waterways. If your argument is with Monsanto and patenting seeds, then your argument is not with GMOS but with capitalism.

GMO crops can produce vast amounts of food per hectare, compared to selective and hybrid bred crops. This food has less defects, so less is wasted by our ideal perceptions of food. This food also can be fortified to have higher levels of nutrients or even have nutrients that are not naturally found in that species. This results in more people can be fed with the same amount of resources. If you are against GM products, then that is tantamount to acknowledging that some people do not have the same right as you do to readily available, nutritious food (and that is a discussion for a different time).