The image above illustrates the type of propaganda that is commonly shared on the Internet about GMOs. Images like those are often shared without the “sharer” taking the time to understand what “genetically modified” actually means and without realizing that they likely already depend on the many of the benefits of genetic modification.
Some of the benefits of genetic modification include resistance to disease, pests, weeds, or drought. Some modifications produce higher yield to create more efficient use of land and less use of herbicides and pesticides. Others improve taste, texture, flavor, nutritional value, appearance.
Here’s how crops are genetically modified
Traditional breeding involves crossing plants and selecting favorable offspring. Many thousands of genes may be affected during the process. Desired gene(s) are inserted with other genetic material. There are no safety testing requirements.
Mutagenesis sounds awesome and from an X-Men movie, but it’s really just exposing the seeds to chemicals or radiation to increase the mutation rate in hopes of discovering favorable traits. This leads to random changes in the genome and is usually unpredictable. There’s no way to assess how many genes are affected. Again, no safety testing is required.
RNA Interference involves switching particular genes on or off using RNA. This process is highly targeted, and only one or two genes are typically silenced at a time. Safety testing is required.
Transgenics involves the insertion of selected genes using recombinant DNA methods (like in Jurassic Park… but not really). Typically, one to four genes are affected, and they are inserted at known locations. Safety testing is required for this method.
Anti-GMO groups often take issue with the methods of transgenics and RNA interference, but here’s the thing:
Traditional breeding – which has been used for centuries in the domestication of plants and animals affects almost all crops and almost all domesticated animals – affects thousands of genes at a time, and requires no testing surrounds us in our every day lives. We depend on it. This is genetic modification.
So if you are strictly opposed to genetic modification, you should be opposed to eating many of the fruits and vegetables we have today.
Need a reminder? Here’s what a few vegetables looked like before domestication (AKA: before genetic modification):
This is wild carrot, before humans domesticated it.
This stubby hole-filled thing… is wild banana, prior to domestication.
And what about those yellow things that look like tomatoes, but aren’t? That’s wild eggplant. Not. Even. Close.
Modern eggplant looks entirely different:
Hint: This tasted like raw potato and was bred from the barely edible teosinte plant. It’s natural corn, and is nothing like it’s modern day (delicious) cousin.
Here’s some delicious peaches-and-cream corn.
And last, we have natural watermelon, which is full of the white stuff that’s usually tossed aside.
Modern watermelon – only full of the good stuff, minus the seeds.
To learn more, visit Science Alert – they’ve got a few more examples and go into more detail for each of the wild/modern version of the plants. You can also visit an earlier article posted on Relatively Interesting about GMOs.