Beat The Buzz – What Is A GMO?

Let’s start with something big: GMOs and biotechnology. These words can be scary, especially when connected with something you eat. Many people think that biotechnology doesn’t have a place in the kitchen – why should I feed my family something that’s made in a lab? That can’t be healthy! It seems that GMO fear drives a lot of other food fears: gluten-free and the wheat concern, organics and the banishment of chemicals, and even the fight against large-scale farms can be traced back to GMO fear.


What is a GMO?

GMO stands for genetically modified organism. Scientists have taken a desirable gene from one organism and inserted it into another to reproduce this trait. Ever heard of glowing plants? Scientists took the gene for bioluminescence from fireflies (the gene that makes them light up!) and inserted it into the plants. Now when the plants grow, they can glow too!

In agriculture, GMO crops  can be found almost anywhere. In Canada, we grow GMO canola, corn, and soybeans, plus a few others! Around the world, you can find papaya, cotton, cassava and even salmon. These crops are genetically modified for pest and insect resistance, faster growth, and increased yield. All of these traits help the farmer and allow them to feed more people with less product.

Are they bad for you?

Not at all! Genetic modification of crops is to aid the farmer and to change how the product grows – not to change how humans are affected. They are designed to produce more food and to reduce production costs. GMOs have posed no risk to human health!

How do they help us?

GMO crops reduce operating costs for producers, which in turn makes your purchases less expensive! Pest-resistant crops, such as Bt soybeans or corn, have an inserted trait that allow them to grow a natural protein (in this case, Bacillus thurigiensis, or Bt). This acts as a natural pesticide that protects the crop from damaging insects. This reduces the farmer’s need to spray insecticides, which saves money – savings that get passed down the consumer chain! As well, because of reduced spraying, there are immediate environmental benefits. It’s a win-win!

GMO crops also mean a better source of income and security for the farmer. In Atlantic Canada, where the growing season is short, “magic beans” have been introduced. Soybeans that grow faster mean that the producer is able to complete a full growth cycle in a short season. Even wheat is genetically modified – dating all the way back to the 1960’s! Wheat has been modified to produce a shorter stalk and a larger head. This means a higher yield with less waste during production.

Where can I learn more?

Check out this video for a great visual history of GMOs and a bit of background information on them.

This video has been produced by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) to celebrate Canada’s research farms. It’s a great look into the science behind some of our crops.

Want the real dirt on farming? Check out this publication by Farm and Food Care for information on all parts of agriculture – GMOs and biotechnology, and more!


GMOs are not something to be scared of! They are an important part of our food system and have been for a long time, you just may not realize it. Remember: they’re not harmful. They help out the producer and the consumer!

Happy eating,

Emma — The Suburban Aggie

 

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