Top 10 Surprising Facts about Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)

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Many people today hear the phrase “genetically modified” and it hits some kind of fear button inside of them. While it’s understandable to want to be informed about the process involved in anything we consume or use on a regular basis, there is a certain amount of misinformation that has caused some hysteria among a segment of people. There is also a lot of general confusion about what GMO’s are. While science has advanced with some new techniques and possibilities, many of the methods we are using today are not that far off from genetic modifications that farmers have been using for thousands of years.

10. All Of Your Apples Are Actually Clones

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Apples are one of the most unassuming and ubiquitous fruits in existence. They go in cider, alcoholic cider, juice, pies, and about everything you can imagine. There are enough varieties to satisfy almost everyone, and many different types are cherished for how well they work for different purposes. Some people would be loath to go without Granny Smith apples when baking a pie, but probably wouldn’t want to eat one by itself as a hand fruit. One of the things that are most beloved about apples are all the delicious varieties, but many people don’t realize that every single apple they are eating is the fruit equivalent of a clone.

Many people chalk up the uniformity of their produce to marketers throwing out vast amounts of food that doesn’t fit the look they think consumers want, and this is true for most products, but in the case of apples, farmers have to go the extra mile. The way apples grow, if you just let them grow naturally, they will come up with something different tasting and unique every single time. It might be close and have some characteristics, but it will be a different fruit altogether. This has allowed farmers to experiment and create some amazing varieties, but it also means that you don’t just plant a “red delicious” apple seed. You take a branch from a previous red delicious apple tree and graft it onto a different young apple tree at the right time in its life. If we did not graft apple trees, all of our favorite varieties of apple would have long ago ceased to exist.

9. GMO’s Have Been Around For A Very Long Time

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Many people misunderstand GMO’s to be a recent invention, but for those who know their origins, the backlash can seem a little over the top. Some of the people who are most active against GMO’s misunderstand and think that this is something that only started happening recently. While some of the methods used today may be more advanced, and it’s perfectly acceptable to question processes, attacking the very concept of genetic modification of food and livestock is a strange position to take.

Just as an example, scientists have recently found evidence of sweet potatoes that were genetically modified by farmers 8,000 years ago. The farmers needed a new and better food source, so when they found a plant that seemed to be a good crop, but wasn’t quite edible, they decided to work around that. These farmers used a bacteria that they introduced into the crop – which added new DNA – and it caused it to flourish into something that would actually be edible. Scientists have found that all sweet potatoes so far share this gene, which means that all sweet potatoes are millennia old GMO’s. Scientists also believe that the process the farmers used to create the sweet potatoes we know today is incredibly similar to the process food scientists use today for GMO crops.

8. In A Consumer Poll 80% Of People Wanted Mandatory Labeling On Food With DNA

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Last year an annual consumer poll asked people about GMO’s as well as questioned people on whether they supported mandatory labeling on food containing DNA. As most of you probably know, DNA is the basic building blocks of all life – you won’t find food products without it. However, roughly 80% of the people polled said that they wanted mandatory labeling for any food or drinks that had DNA. Many people were quite alarmed when seeing the poll, because it shows such a complete misunderstanding of basic science.

However, some people have claimed that the poll may have been somewhat misleading. They point out that a similar number of people polled wanted more labeling for GMO products, which means people may have thought that it was essentially a similar part of the same question. The disturbing issue remains though – even if the consumers polled thought they were just answering a question about GMO’s, it shows that they did not have any idea what DNA really is. It is also interesting to note that the same people on the poll who gave this answer that showed a stunning lack of scientific knowledge, also polled as being very anti-GMO. This doesn’t mean we are suggesting that those who have concerns about GMO’s don’t understand science, but it is clear that there is a lot of confusion and misinformation regarding the entire issue.

7. Neil Degrasse Tyson’s Take On GMO’s

Neil Degrasse Tyson is a very well-known figure in today’s society.  As a scientist he has name recognition and great respect among the average American, and has used that as a vehicle to educate the public about basic science whenever he can get the chance. He even hosted a short TV show of the same name as a homage to Carl Sagan’s The Cosmos. It was inevitable then, that eventually he would get into the debate about GMO’s. Last year he came out writing that he felt that the backlash against GMO’s was largely anti-science, and many people erupted in a furor against him, causing him to explain his comments even further. He explains that while it’s okay to be concerned about large companies like Monsanto and how much control they have over food production, or to be concerned about specific issues or processes involved in food production or modification, but that being against genetic modification in general is not sensible.

We have been using methods – perhaps not as advanced as some today – to modify our foods and our livestock for thousands of years. We have selected for specific traits, spliced plants together and gone to great lengths to change the nature around us to better suit our needs. Tyson’s overall point is that our tendency to do that has certainly not stopped the human race from thriving. He also wrote on Twitter that even your dogs and cats are GMO.

6. Many People Mean Something Very Different When They Say They Are Anti-GMO

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GMO’s are a controversial topic these days, and it seems that there is more than one type of person who is raising concerns about the topic. On the one hand there are those who are legitimately concerned with certain specific issues regarding actions by some big companies and will occasionally highlight a specific process. It’s not unreasonable either to question specifics about any process, whether it’s been proven to be safe or not. However, especially in light of polls where some people against GMO’s don’t understand the role of DNA, it seems there is another type of anti-GMO activist who is really against big companies like Monsanto for alleged abusive business practices – as well as accusations they are trying to take over the world – and not so much for the actual genetic modification of food and livestock.

Some people have argued that some of the crusades against Monsanto have not been entirely fair, and may be a product of hysteria more than anything else. Of course this doesn’t mean they aren’t trying to grow their company and become as strong a global force as possible – most companies aspire to this – and many big companies will gladly stomp on small businessmen, or farmers, who don’t want to play ball with them. It may well be that Monsanto has been involved in many shady business practices, but if that is what people are against they should fight the ethics of the company itself, not the concept of genetic modification. It only plays into their hands to muddle the larger issue instead of focusing on them specifically.

5. Some Of The Claims Against Monsanto Are Overblown

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One of the most popular claims about the evils of Monsanto is that they go after farmers who use their seeds without paying royalty fees and try to take them down. There is some truth to this – if you try to use their seeds without every paying anything to them they will ask for their royalty fees. However you feel about this, it is not particularly surprising, or the most unreasonable demand you will ever hear of a corporation. The even more popular claim is that Monsanto waits for poor farmers who have accidentally had pollen from Monsanto’s seeds blow to their fields, and then sue the poor farmers who could never have prevented this. It has been shared widely as an example of them being insanely, gleefully evil, but it doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.

While most people were under the impression Monsanto was doing this left and right, the truth was the story broke when a group of farmers sued Monsanto – not the other way around – citing the possibility that Monsanto could sue them for that in the future. The judge thought the claim was insane since Monsanto hadn’t even tried to sue them yet, and threw out the case. There is one case where a man claims Monsanto was suing him unfairly, but later admitted to planting some of their seeds in his fields, and then later saving the seeds from crop production and using them in his fields – in other words he sank his own case and admitted it was no accident they ended up in his fields. Some people may still be concerned about seeds having royalties attached in the first place, and that is a fair debate to have, but Monsanto isn’t bankrupting farmers with lawsuits because some pollen from Monsanto seeds drifted to the farmer’s property.

4. The World Seed Bank Is Supported By Many In The Biotechnology Movement

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For those who aren’t aware of it, the World Seed Bank is located in Norway and is a project that spans many countries of the world. The idea is to keep a safe stock of every kind of seed imaginable in the case of global catastrophe. Whether it were to be a drought in only one part of the world, or something that affected much of the globe, the seed bank is designed to ensure we can rebuild our flora if necessary. The seed bank has many seeds that are GMO, and while this makes especial sense because a doomsday vault would be a good place to experiment with seeds resistant to all kinds of difficult conditions, many people are concerned about the backers of the vault.

Bill and Melinda Gates and their foundation have donated a very significant chunk of money into the project, and Monsanto and other biotechnology companies have had a hand in the effort as well. The people at the core of the projects functioning are biotechnology experts. Considering that Bill Gates is already the subject of a plethora of conspiracy theories, it is not surprising that many of the same people who are against GMO’s are not convinced that the seed bank is really a good thing.

3. The FDA Does Not Have Strict Labeling For GMO’s

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Many of the people who are concerned about GMO’s think that the government is, indeed, making sure that they know what has been modified. However, the truth is that while the FDA will test all new foods that enter the market to see if they are safe, whether or not they are genetically modified is not something that matters to the FDA at all – it simply isn’t a part of their process. In a recent decision on Genetically Engineered Salmon, where they concluded that it was safe to eat, they explained that it is not mandatory for food suppliers to explain whether the salmon they are selling is GE or not. The FDA does offer a process for voluntary labeling, but states that it is only for companies that wish to make the distinction to their customers.

While some people may be concerned with whether something has been genetically modified, it’s clear the FDA does not think that the fact of modification matters in and of itself. While it may seem dismissive of them, the truth is that the FDA still has stringent standards. You can’t just create a new genetically modified product and start selling it – it has to be tested and approved as safe for human consumption first. It’s just that whether or not it has been genetically modified has nothing to do with whether or not it will be accepted.

2. Some GMO’s May Be Good For The Environment

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It’s curious that many of the same people railing against GMO crops are also many of the same people who are greatly worried about the environment. They may not realize that many of the modifications are designed in order to have less of an environmental impact. Many GM crops are modified so that they will have natural insecticides of various sorts, which is one way of reducing an incredible amount of noxious artificial pesticides being sprayed into the air every year. They are also designed with traits that help increase overall yield, and are often resistant against various different weather problems. With many environmental issues plaguing farmers today, this is nothing but a good thing.

A meta-analysis of 147 different studies of GM plants found that farmers were getting about 20% better yield in terms of crops, but also using almost 40% less pesticides. Pesticides tend to be incredibly harmful to the environment, so any major reduction would be a great benefit to air quality. Another interesting thing these studies found is that smaller, poorer countries were actually getting even more yield, and even greater use, out of using GM seeds. This means that they could be especially helpful in parts of the world where many people are going hungry.

1. Some Countries Have Taken An Extreme Stance Against GMO’s

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In 2015 many countries around the world were shocked when several countries that were known for at least fairly intelligent policies normally, decided to take an extremely strange stance and ban all GM crop cultivation. These countries included Germany, France, Austria, Denmark, Greece, Hungary, The Netherlands, Italy, and Poland. Russia also came out sometime last year and made a big deal about banning GM corn and other similar crops. While some around the world cheered this decision on, many were completely baffled. Scotland also joined in the decision, while England led the charge in Europe of those saying that the decision was completely inane.

Some people have legitimate issues about biotech, but the problem was that several political leaders openly admitted that they hadn’t even consulted their science advisers about the issue, and that it was really about keeping up their green reputation around the world – because many people currently associate anti-GMO with being a green party type. It’s hard to deny, no matter what side of the issue you fall on, that deciding a scientific issue based on your reputation instead of actually considering the science is completely ridiculous. Some people have pointed out that not only was the decision incredibly politically based, but that it was also hypocritical in the extreme. Many of these countries import vast amounts of GMO livestock feed every year, so it’s clear the anti-GMO stance is just for appearances.


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4 Comments

  1. As long as there are hungry people in the world, those whining about GMOs need to STFU. Let’s feed the starving masses by any means possible.

    Let’s use “science” for the good…for once.

    • Agreed, and you will also find idiots wanting organic everything that reduces yields of foods thus further exasperating the problem

  2. Gustavo Woltmann on

    The phrase GMO sounds scary, but like the article says, science has screwed around with plenty of foods. Just look up the modern banana.

  3. The difference between GMO and selective plant breeding are miles apart – good job at being a suck for GMO. you inbred moron, Most Americans don’t want this crap, but our own fed gov and willing shills are ramming it down our throats – literally.
    I hope you and your families reap all that you sow. May your genetics be scrambled and your children be mutated by the crap you’d shove down the the mouths of others.

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