At the base our the food web is the seed. Today’s agricultural seed is increasingly being produced with genetic modification. GMO’s or genetically modified organisms include plants as well as animals. These plants and animals enter the food chain as GMF’s or genetically modified foods. Do you ever stop to consider the impacts of transgenic seed, which is primarily used to grow corn, soybean, rice and cotton. Plant stock is altered genetically by one of two methods. The first method uses agrobacterium, a gram-negative bacterium that produces tumors on plant roots. The tumors contain modified T-DNA which is extracted and used to grow new plants. The second method uses a gene gun to infuse plant cells in a petri dish with trait DNA coated tungsten particles. Most of the plant cells die but the ones that survive incorporate the modified genetic traits. These cells are then grown into plants and produce GM seeds.
The first genetically modified food was a tomato that was altered to ripen without spoiling and produced a longer shelf life. This tomato was marked as a genetically modified food and was rejected by consumers; it has since been removed from stores. It was then reissued and is sold as unmarked GMF tomato paste. The United States is by far the largest producer of GM crops; other countries include Argentina, Brazil, China, Canada, India and Paraguay. The issue of genetic modification has caused much controversy globally both in public and political areas. Lets looks at who produces and who benefits from transgenic seeds, global acceptance, and some opinions of those opposed the genetic modification of food crops.
Monsanto Corporation is the world’s largest producer of genetically modified seeds.
1. Monsanto holds exclusive patent for one form of gene modification known as the roundup ready seed.
2. Roundup ready seed is modified to be resistant to the herbicide glyphosate, which is used in roundup total vegetation kill herbicide.
3. Monsanto holds patent and produces the herbicide roundup.
4. Monsanto combines herbicide resistance gene traits with insect resistance traits in seed production.
5. Farmers purchase the GM seed and then purchase roundup spray herbicide to total kill all other vegetation.
Proponents of GM crops claim.
1. GM crops produce higher yields than non-modified crops.
2. Fewer pesticides are required to spray on insect resistance crops.
3. Developing countries will benefit from disease resistant crops.
4. Crops can be engineered to combat climate change.
The opposition to GM crops has been varied both in geographic acceptance and in its impact on traditional farming. Some countries have banned the use of GM seeds altogether while others have refused food products grown with the seeds. It is estimated that in the U.S. 90% of soybeans and 60% to 80% of all corn grown is from GM seed. These two crops are used in most of the everyday processed foods that consumers purchase. An example is corn syrup that is used in everything from barbeque sauce to soft drinks. Although processed food contain ingredients that are from GM crops, the products do not require to be marked in the U.S.
As a result of vast U.S. exports of GM seed and food products importing countries have initiated responses that include.
1. Required separation of GM ingredients at the production level with GMF labeling.
2. Cutting off UN World Food program supplies and inducing famine.
3. Total GM crop failures in some developing countries.
4. Interruptions of American exports due to unauthorized gene traits.
5. Moratoriums on harvesting of GM crops due to public demands.
Environmental groups and other opponents of GM Seed claims include.
1. Cross-pollination of GM crops in adjacent fields contaminates traditional seed sources. (Farmers are then restriced from harvesting thier own seed stock)
2. Excessive roundup herbicide is sprayed and runoff damages surrounding eco systems.
3. Development of herbicide resistant weeds will create “superweeds”.
4. Long term health effects to consumers ingesting trace herbicides.
5. Insect pests developing resistance to GM modified crops creating “Monster Bugs”.
6. Genetic modified Corn Syrup is used in a majority of processed foods.
The future outlook for the use of transgenic seed seems unstoppable. The U.S. is expanding its use into other produce crops, while other countries are being forced to accept GM crops in order to compete in the global food market. As the world population continues to grow and more food is required we may have little choice other than to accept food that is designed in a laboratory.