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What the Heck is a GMO? (Just Label It, Part 1)

If you live in Oregon or Colorado, you have the great privilege in November to stand up to the big corporations and let them know you won’t be bought. I’m talking about measure 92 in Oregon and prop 105 in Colorado that call for labeling groceries containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

There’s a lot to be said on this topic, so let’s start at the beginning.

What the heck is a GMO?

Smithsonian magazine.com did a big disservice recently with an article called “Sorry Hipsters, That Organic Kale Is a Genetically Modified Food.” It then went on to describe selective breeding done throughout the ages.

Hybridization and selective breeding are not equal to genetic modification.

The dictionary definition for genetically modified organism:  an organism whose genome has been altered by the techniques of genetic engineering so that its DNA contains one or more genes not normally found there.

In other words, GMOs  are organisms that have had the DNA altered in a way that could not occur in nature.

For example, the new GMO salmon has genes from an eelpout fish. GMO rice has genes from a daffodil and a soil bacteria. That’s biotechnology. It’s done in a lab, not on a farm.

So what? Why add it to an already crowded label?

Well, why not? Some people are concerned that GMO food may cause health issues. What are the reasons behind such concerns?

#1 The effects of the technology itself could have unforeseen consequences. “The technology of genetic engineering is currently very crude. It is not possible to insert a new gene with any accuracy, and the transfer of new genes can disrupt the finely controlled network of DNA in an organism.” (http://www.responsibletechnology.org/gmo-basics/the-ge-process)

#2 Some of the GMO food prevalent in our food system today includes GMO corn. GMO sweet corn is genetically engineered to be herbicide resistant (Roundup Ready) and to produce its own insecticide (Bt Toxin). What this means is that the Bt corn actually has insecticide within it. Although it’s not supposed to hurt humans, the technology is still rather new. Some people are a little squeamish at ingesting an insecticide-producing vegetable. We’ll discuss the Roundup Ready crops next.

#3 Roundup Ready crops—soybean, corn, sugar beets, canola—have been engineered so that they resist the poison spray “Roundup.” What this means is that farmers can spray the whole field repeatedly to kill the weeds with herbicide without worrying about the crop. Not so good for the people eating the food, however. Unless you have no concerns about an herbicide that kills weeds dead.

#4 A final reason why folks might want to see GMOs listed on the label is that GMO food has only been on grocery shelves for 20 years. That’s really not enough time to know whether or not this stuff is bad for us. We are the test population. Some of us might want to opt out.

I for one, want a chance to opt out of this experiment. I also believe in the rights of the people. Labeling GMO food is about transparency. If there is nothing to hide, why are the big corporations spending $$$ to fight it?

My next post will discuss the opposition advertisements bombarding people in Oregon and Colorado.


S. Smith is the author of the awesome and award-winning middle grade series, Seed SaversVisit her Facebook and Pinterest pages. Follow her on TwitterSign up for the newsletter

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