What do you think about Genetically Modified Foods?

There has been a lot of debate in recent years in the food world about the effect of genetically modified food crops and animals. They’ve been called Frankenfoods. I’d like to know what you think about these man-made edibles.

Here’s my take. I see GM foods as being not much different from what farmers, agronomists and backyard gardeners have been doing for centuries. In other words, they are attempting to get favorable traits in food crops and animals while getting rid of undesirable traits. Through the years, this has been done by selective breeding and cross pollination. Genetic modification is really very much the same.

The advantages of GM is that you can get the favorable traits faster and with greater reliability than with selective breeding. There’s also the ability to introduce genetic traits that would not be possible otherwise. It’s this later quality which frightens people. They have an image of a mad scientist in a dungeon laboratory developing a carnivorous tomato that will bite those trying to pick one up in the produce aisle. Or, I suppose, they fear that somehow changing the character of food by manipulating the genes will result in cancer-causing food or something similar.

I think many of these misconceptions are rooted in poor scientific education in this country. In reality, nearly all the food on our tables has been modified through human intervention and selective breeding. Take the pork roast. Do you really think the modern pig that produced that roast started out that way all those centuries ago? Of course not. Through many generations early farmers bred out the wild traits of boars and created a more docile, manageable animal. The same is true for chickens, beef cattle and sheep. It’s also true of most fruits and vegetables and grains. What scientists, most working in state-of-the-art corporate labs (not dungeons), are doing is similar but with more precision. And because these GM foods mean a large monetary investment, they’re not going to create something that kills off their customers.

That brings us to the big problem with GM foods — the economics of it. Because the companies that have developed many of these items, many already in your local grocery, have been allowed to patent them, some farmers are put behind the Eight Ball. This is mostly true just with crops, some of which have been designed to work only with specific chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Because the companies control the usage of that GM seed, farmers can be put in a bind.

Another concern raised by some environmentalists are the possibility of cross pollination with non-GM crops. In some cases, that would not be a bad thing if the GM trait makes the crop resistant to adverse conditions. But if the GM crop works with a specific chemical, than cross pollination could be a problem. However, that’s a problem that easily can be solved.

So, in the end, the health concerns I think can be set aside pending long-range study. The economic and environmental concerns can be fixed. That just leaves the killer tomatoes. Be careful if you hear growling in the supermarket.

What do you think? Do you fear GM foods? Do you think they should be labelled as genetically modified? Should they be outlawed until more research is available? Click on the comments link at the bottom of this post and tell us.

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