GMO - A layman’s guide.

March 02, 2018

Chef's Satchel's thoughts about GMO

The communities we build together, for ourselves and our successors depend on co-existence, teamwork, integrity, and sustainability. We strive for evolution through reformation, through science and knowledge, technological advancement and constant improvisation with the help of ideation. Having said this, how many of us are aware of the changes, the updates that occur on a quotidian basis, scientifically? How many of us dig deeper solely out of interest and not because of an appetite for hearsay? Speaking for all of us, I’d say, a handful. The handful that perchance is intentionally interested in a particular subject of matter. For most of us, enjoying a bite of tattle-talk with our cups of tea has become somewhat burlesque, attributed to social media, of course. I am referring to our limited understanding of the term ‘GMO’ and all the work being done under that title.


[Photo by Melissa Askew]

What do we know about GMO? For starters, GMO is an abbreviation, not an acronym. (As stated by Neil deGrasse Tyson). It stands for ‘Genetically Modified Organisms’. This is the easy part. The term establishes what’s irrefutable; genetic mutation. But how? Why? When? These are some of the many questions we shall answer today. Let’s say hello to GMO!!

Genetically modified organisms are organisms in which the genes of another completely unrelated species are administered. Also known as ‘genetically engineered’, ‘biotech seeds’, ‘transgenic crops’, genetic mutation’  and a number of other less recognized terms. Food that is manufactured with the help of genetic modification is referred to as GM Food.

This is why we possibly need genetically modified food: The world eats 11 million pounds of food every day.  By 2050, we will require 70% more, according to the UN estimate. This, however, will not be possible without the help of a potent, more resilient type of crop that not only is quicker and easier to grow but is pest resistant and harmless to the environment. Let’s simplify this further. One of the motives behind genetic modification is resistance to different viruses making plants vulnerable to diseases created by such viruses, resulting in better crop yield. Also, production with lower costs which result in better benefits ( in terms of sustenance and nutrition).


Let’s talk about how safe GM food is! Honestly, there isn't yet a horse’s mouth to get a reliable answer from. Those that favor the science of genetic modification might believe that there is no significant difference between GM crops and the crops that are bred conventionally. Further on, assumably, there are no health issues related to the consumption of GM foods. However, the general mass has never been shown clear proof of the afore statement. This argument still holds strong. Let’s just brave this one out.


[ Photo by NeONBRAND]

What about labeling the GM foods on the shelves of our supermarkets and the crops grown for the production of dairy and meat? Yes and no, depending on the country you reside in. So far, 64 countries from around the world are required to label foods that are genetically modified. Surprisingly, 28 countries belonging to the European Union along with Russia, China, Brazil, Japan, Australia and even the United States of America has no such labeling laws, yet. (Look up GMO labeling laws in your country). Foods labeled as 'natural' and 'non-GMO' are not necessarily organic. They could contain a certain, significant or not, amount of GMO interference. Hence, always be thorough and informed about what the labels on the food that you purchase could indicate. 

Let’s look at the foods that qualify as ‘genetically modified’. Majorly, ‘commodity crops’ used in the production of processed foods and as fodder for the dairy (industry) animals are most likely genetically modified. Though there are only several GM crops that are widely available, they are commodity crops that often get further processed into a variety of ingredients. Most of these basic commodity crops are complexified and broken into ingredients used in packaged foods. These ingredients are typically present as amino acids, alcohol, aspartame, ascorbic acid, sodium ascorbate, citric acid, high fructose corn syrup, soy lecithin, yeast derivatives etc.

Many GM ingredients are disguised and so, not as easy to identify. Most restaurants serve GM food unless mentioned ‘organic’. Some of the more known GM crops are Alfalfa, Cotton, Canola, Maize, Potato, Soybean, Sugar beet, Squash, Papaya, Tomatoes.


[Photo by Jonathan Brinkhorst]


[Photo by Martin Adams]

How about how beneficial or not GMO could be to farmers? Let’s look at some of the advantages:

‘Zero tillage farming’,’ direct farming’ or ‘no-till farming’ are agricultural practices that help with the decrease in soil erosion and excessive water wastage. Using GM crops could help to prevent soil erosion and eventually sustain soil nutrition. Farmers end up spending huge sums of money just to maintain machinery, the health of the farm animals and to procure abundant yield. GM crops that might be immune to insects and weeds could help in cutting down the use of large amounts of pesticides that could profit the farmer, in due course. GM crops could grow in any planting conditions thus helping farmers yield crop on their lands, irrespective of their location, weather conditions and other enemies of the agricultural ecosystem.

Let’s look at some of the disadvantages:

Cost: GM seeds might not be re-useable. Year-to-year, upon harvesting, farmers have to purchase new seeds which could eat into profit.

Cross-pollination/contamination: Contamination of organic./non-GMO crops with genetically modified crops are inevitable. This happens as a result of pollination and nutrient interference through the soil and quite likely, irrigation water.



[Photo by Noah Buscher]


Ever thought about how GMOs might affect the environment? Pros: Certain GMO foods have been modified to be made resistant to insects and pests. This might reduce the number of pesticides used on crops, thus reducing the overall use of the pesticide itself. The claim is that GMO crops and animals could require fewer chemicals, investment, time and energy and could possibly lessen environmental pollution and soil erosion, preserving the soil for future generations to come. Cons: Allergic reactions: Genetic modification could add nutrients that were not native to the original plant or animal, possibly causing allergic reactions in the human body. A decrease in antibiotic productivity: Certain GMO foods could have had antibiotic features built into them to make them immune or resistant to diseases or viruses. On consuming these gm foods, the antibiotics strive in the body making the medicines less effective.


[Photo by Anton Sharov]

Consider GMO as the yin-yang. We are simply at the beginning of what could be the biggest agricultural revolution mankind will ever see. Whether advantageous or disadvantageous is eventually for the consumer to decide. While you will find infinite articles, research and studies conducted, there is no holy grail to summing up this assessment. With everything, you might have understood about GMOs on a surficial level, as a consumer, or simply, a curious reader, be aware and make choices based on your understanding of the subject.



[Photo by Milan Popovic]


[Featured Image by Blair Fraiser]