GMO vs. Cross-Breeding
It’s not uncommon to confuse cross-breeding with genetic modification but understanding the difference between these two processes can mean a world of difference the next time you're at the grocery store.
Crossbreeding is done by agriculturalists (i.e. the farmer) to create hybrid foods through cross-pollination - the transfer of pollen from the flower of one plant to the stigma of another. While this can occur naturally in the wild, a lot of the methods of cross pollination have been around for hundreds of years, unlike GMOs which have had their genetic makeup altered in a lab. A few interesting products of crossbreeding include Blood limes, Tayberries, Pluots, Plumcots, Peacotums, Tangelos, Oroblancos, Rangpurs, Limequats, and Pineberries.
Genetic modification, on the other hand, is a relatively recent development within the food industry. In a lab, a scientist takes the genetic material of a food and alters it in a way that would not occur naturally through mating or crossbreeding. One of the main goals of GMO foods and seeds is to improve crop protection. GMO crops that are currently on the market are mainly aimed at providing an increased level of resistance to diseases caused by insects or viruses, or through increased tolerance to herbicides.
So why, if GMO products have the potential to provide stronger crops, are we so worried?
What it all boils down to is the Chaos Theory, aka. the Butterfly Effect. We have only scratched the surface when it comes to studying genetics. Not long ago scientists were convinced that by mapping out the human genetic makeup we would be able to manipulate genes, swapping the bad for the good, and the good for the superhuman. But what that project taught us is that genes are much more complex than we ever thought possible. So far no studies have shown dangerous effects but the concern lies in the unknown. Not enough time has passed to see long-term effects of consuming these genetically-altered foods and what these small changes could mean for the health of consumers over their lifetime.
The unpredictability of making smaller changes that affect a much larger ecosystem (including our body’s function and well-being), means that we do not yet understand the human body enough to know how these changes will affect us now and in the future our future selves and future generations. As with all things that are progressing faster than we can understand them, it is wise to proceed with caution and understanding. So enjoy that blood lime but think twice about the GMO canola sitting on the grocery store shelf.