I've been doing a lot of reading about GMOs and "genetically modified seeds" trying to understand the concept and why it is causing such fierce debate all around the world. To understand the complete story, I decided that I needed to study what has happened over the years in agriculture and food production and specifically with plants and their "seeds."
There was a time when people harvested their crops and saved the seeds which they planted the next year. The cycle continued like that "naturally" year after year. Then, science gave us the "Hybrid" seed. They figured out how to cross-pollinate plants and select the attributes they wanted for any given year. As a youngster, I sold seeds in the 1950's, I remember the company suggested I explain the advantages of buying Hybrid seeds. I would say to my customers, "These Hybrid seeds will give you a higher yield and the plants are more resistant to disease and insects." Farming has pretty much been based on the use of Hybrid seeds since the 1950's. These seeds have been a major factor in the dramatic rise in agriculture output in this country in the last 50 years.
There is a trade-off to using hybrid seeds. Many small farmers have found out the hard way. Because Hybrid seeds cannot be saved and used the next year, farmers have to buy seeds every year. They often borrow money in springtime to buy their seeds in the hopes that the extra yield the Hybrid seeds would give them will pay off at harvest time. In good years, the farmer can make out well. However, if there is a bad year and he loses his crop, the small farmer may not have money to pay off the seed company. A lot of small farmers have gone out of business this way.
Fast forward to the present where science has given us the GMO (Genetically Modified Organism.) Hybrid seeds were created by "cross-pollinating" two distinct varieties of the "same" plant. The Genetically Modified Seed is created in a laboratory by introducing DNA from one organism (a fish, for example) into another organism (a tomato). They can also insert pesticides into the DNA so the resulting plant is pest resistant. This goes well beyond simple cross-pollination.
Concerns With GMOs (Genetically Modified Organism)
There are many concerns about Genetically Modified Seeds. These concerns fall into these three general categories.
1.) Insufficient testing and study of the safety of the food produced from GM Seeds and also the affect these seeds will have on natural crops and wild varieties.
2.) Corporate greed is driving large companies to develop and distribute GM Seeds. These large companies are able to use their considerable power and money to lobby politicians and bypass normal regulatory procedures.
3.) Food Safety. The Seed Companies are using genetic engineering to create new organisms that have never been part of the human food supply. We don't know if these new foods will be safe.
Specific Concerns Are Being Raised Concerning GM Seeds.
1.) We don't know enough about DNA. The process used in creating GM Seeds is imprecise. Apparently they can take DNA precisely from an organism but introducing the DNA into another organism is basically random. There is a risk that it can mess up the functioning of the genes in that organism.
2.) Side Effects and Mutations: Scientists do not understand living systems completely enough to perform DNA surgery without creating mutations that could be harmful to the environment and our health. They are basically experimenting with powerful forces of nature outside of the laboratory. The earth is the laboratory and we are the rats.
3.) Widespread crop failure. The GM Seeds all have identical genetic structure. If a fungus, virus or pest develops which can attack the crop, there could be widespread crop failure.
4.) Threatens the food supply. The GM plants can cross-pollinate and contaminate natural and wild varieties.