GMO 101: The Basics of Genetically Modified Organisms

When it comes to hot topics, nothing is more scorching these days than any and everything to do with our food – or more specially, where it comes from and how it’s produced. Whether we’re talking organic fruit, humanely raised meat, or chemical-free everything (more on all that fancy jargon here), our society has become completely captivated by the clean-eating movement. As young professionals (YPs) in particular, we have taken our position at the forefront of this foodie revolution.

YPs have the knowledge, desire, and resources needed to educate ourselves, and to seek out the foods that are good for us and good for our environment. And that’s just where that big buzzword GMO comes into play. You’ve certainly heard of this arduous acronym before. But if you’re like us, you find it a bit tough to come up with a clear thought on the matter through all the opinions and political yacking that so often accompanies any mention of GMOs. So here we offer some basic though notable points on this headlining issue to help you sort through all the buzz and blah-blah and form your own YP-savvy opinion: 

– GMO stands for “genetically modified organism.” This broad term is used to describe any organism (from bacteria to plant to animal) that has had its DNA modified, most often fused with another species, resulting in an organism that does not normally occur in nature. (Some say “Franken-food,” but we’re staying neutral here)

– The first GMO food product to hit the market was the Flvr Svr tomato in 1994, which was designed to stay ripe for a longer period of time.

– Some of the most common GMO food products today are tomatoes, soybeans, wheat, papaya, maize, rice, potatoes, milk, and rapeseed and canola oils.

– While much of what we hear about GMOs in the media concerns plant and animal food production (“genetically engineered food” or GE foods), the term and practice are also used in the medical field – in pharmaceuticals and gene therapy, for example – as well as in the production of some biofuels.    

– That said, one of the main purposes of developing GMO technology was to produce plant foods (aka “genetically modified crops” or GMCs) that could grow in less favourable/natural conditions, and are resistant to herbicides, pesticides, and certain viruses and diseases. 

– There is evidence to suggest that pests and weeds are now becoming stronger with this subsequent increase in herbicide and pesticide use.  

– While some believe that GMCs allow farmers to turn a greater profit, others fear that the potential for cross contamination with strains of GMOs unfit for human consumption may actually cost them more in the end.

– GMOs have the potential to cross pollinate/contaminate wild organisms. 

– Most who are pro-GMO believe that GE technology can be the solution for world hunger. (Google “Golden Rice” for more on that.) 

– The anti-GMOs fear that because the technology is so new, the long-term effects of consuming GE foods cannot yet be known. 

– Some studies suggest that GMOs may cause certain allergies or may lead to some cancers. 

– There is debate about whether or not GMOs can actually yield more nutritious foods.

– At this time, labeling of GMO food products in Canada is voluntary. 

As YPs, it’s our responsibility to be in the know about these tough topics so that we can confidently take our position as the next generation of decision-makers and power players. When dealing with such an important and popular issue like this one, however, it can be hard to decipher what’s true and what’s not. Again, these are very basic points on a very vast topic, and we hope they will encourage you to dive deeper into the subject yourself to figure out where you stand. 


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