Wednesday, March 28, 2012

GMO vs Hybrid: What's the Difference?

We tend to surround ourselves with like-minded thinkers. Our worlds become insular and we begin to think "Doesn't everyone feel/think this same way?" Or we don't think about what others might believe. Political views, religious affiliations, parenting styles, hobbies, jobs, even the way we feed our families. We surround ourselves with people that think like us. Sometimes it's a real shocker to find out that not only are there people who don't take the same stance or have the same perspective as you...but heck, they don't even know what you're talking about.

The other day one of my local acquaintances posted a link on her Facebook about folks picketing Monsanto. Down with GMOs and all that. I read through the article, cheering the "Occupy Monsanto" peeps on. I scrolled down to the comments — and was blown away. 90% of the comments were, while not necessarily supporting Monsanto, definitely railing against the occupiers. As I continued to scroll down, several commenters —to their credit — made note that they really didn't know much about GMO foods. What's the big deal anyway? All kinds of plants are hybrids! It dawned on me then, that I live in an insular world where all my friends are local, home-growin' food advocates. They're the type that watched "Food, Inc." and "Supersize Me." They breastfeed and make their own baby food. They buy local raw honey, organic produce, and eggs from my backyard.

But, not everyone is like that. 10 years ago, I wasn't so much like this either. We ate a lot of veggies, I grew some (hybrid) tomatoes in my little townhouse plot, I made sure to wash all my fruit and veg to get rid of pesticide residues. But I wasn't paying organic prices. Not worth it. Then I started doing more reading and research, thinking "Will this really effect my kids?" Pregnancy can do that to you sometimes. I decided some changes were in order. And I decided I wanted to be more in control of what my family eats, of what I eat. If I choose to eat a McDonald's burger, I want to make an educated choice. And I learned about organic foods, hybrids, and GMOs.

What is a GMO? Genetically Modified Organism.
Ok, but what is a GMO? From Wikipedia: "A genetically modified organism (GMO) or genetically engineered organism (GEO) is an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. These techniques, generally known as recombinant DNA technology, use DNA molecules from different sources, which are combined into one molecule to create a new set of genes. This DNA is then transferred into an organism, giving it modified or novel genes. GMOs are the constituents of genetically modified foods."  It can be any plant, animal or microorganism which has been genetically altered using molecular genetics techniques such as gene cloning and protein engineering.

Simply put, a GMO is when genes from one or more organisms are altered (combined, etc.), in a lab setting, then added added into a new organism.
Some examples:
  • An herbicide resistant gene is taken from bacteria and inserted into the soybean plant, making the soybean itself resistant to farmer sprayed herbicides. 
  • Sweet corn is modified to produce its own insecticide (a toxin to insects). The insect-killing gene comes from the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis. 
  • rBGH, or recombinant bovine growth hormone given to dairy cows. The hormone, which is synthesized from genetically modified bacteria, produces higher milk yields by keeping milk-producing cells alive in cows for longer than normal. 
Then, what is a hybrid? Hybridization is a naturally occurring genetic process where individuals from two genetically distinct populations mate. The DNA of the offspring contains genetic characteristics from both "parents." Many of the varieties of garden seeds (flower and veg) are hybrids. They've been cross pollinated to get a plant that has the good characteristics of both parent plants. 

Aren't they the same thing, sorta kinda? Yes, in that there's some genetic tinkering going on. No, in that GMOs are a) done in a lab,  b) take genes from unrelated organisms and insert them in others and c) hybridization occurs naturally, typically among like species.Think of it this way, hybridization is like human reproduction: unrelated adults of the same species mate and they get a wonderful little brown eyed baby. Genetically modified: Scientists go in and "adjust" the DNA of the baby to get it to have blue eyes.

But what's the big deal? Well, that depends on your stance. For some, it's not. GMO can purportedly be used to increase nutrition in some foods, like rice. It can be used to eliminate viruses in others, such as papaya. I say "purportedly" because reports are showing that that hasn't panned out too well.

For opponents, the list is great: environmental issues, inability to save seeds for next year's crop, health issues, very poor regulation, and strong arm tactics.

I could tell you what I think, but really you should take some time, read about the issue, and make up your own mind.

Here are some links that might be helpful in your research:

1 comment:

  1. Hi Andrea, I just dropped by to say that you won the mending book giveaway over on so congratulations!

    Do drop me an email to give me your address so that it can be mailed to you; your copy will be coming direct from Storey Publishing over in the US. Enjoy your week!


Thanks for the comments!