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GMO: Biotech or Badtech?

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When we started in the industry, hardly anybody cared about where their food came from. This was the era of explosive growth in biotechnology, especially in agriculture. Today, the agriculture sector is chock-full of benefits and controversy.

Differentiating (Bio)Technologies
Generally, there are three biotechnologies widely used in commercial applications today.

1. Cross-pollination Hybrid Technology – This is, perhaps, the oldest technology. It involves selectively allowing traits from different but related plants to create hybrids. The hybrids are usually not potent after the second generation and farmers tend to keep on buying seeds after two or three planting seasons.

2. Micropropagation – Have you ever heard of growing a hectare worth of plants in bottles placed in a room the size of an average restroom cubicle? Well, the technology has been around for quite some time, so much so that it’s possible to grow plants from any part of a mature plant, not just seeds!

3. Genetic Modification – From whence comes the infamous initialization GMO, genetically modified organism. Unlike the previous two, the very nature of the plant is modified very rapidly. This is done by inserting genes with the purpose of allowing it to exhibit characteristics not normally associated with the particular plant species. One example is introducing genes from bacterium and inserting it into corn to make the crop to resist insect infestations. We know this as the controversial Bt corn.

Controversy
To our knowledge, there is no credible, verifiable, and replicable study to date that quantifies the risk of contracting any disease, illness, or condition after eating products processed from GMO sources.

So what’s all the fuss about?

Much of the controversy surrounding GMO stems from both science and quackery.

BiotechnologyThere have been studies that the techniques used in the introduction of new genetic material to plants could also transmit the same genes to humans. Concerns— such as the transfer of firefly genes to tomatoes (to increase their shelf life) could lead to glow-in-the-dark humans—are raised by these studies.

But looking closer at such studies we see that, due to the nature of the human digestive process, this is highly unlikely. The same unlikelihood occurs in nature. Think about it. When you walk in the field, how worried are you that you may accidentally swallow a firefly?

Many other studies are based more on fear than on solid science. There are studies that supposedly show the gene-splicing process yielding unwanted secondary products when interacting with a plant’s native genes. Some of these studies have scientific theories behind them, but many read more like science fiction.

If we believe the theories propounded by environmental extremists, then we must also believe that as much as 5% of all the agricultural products we consume have been contaminated by GMOs. Do you really want to obsess about differentiating the 95%? Life is too short.

Print ed: 08/09

 

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