GMO vs. Hybrid: an important distinction

Let me start by saying that I am not a scientist, nor do I have all the answers regarding this topic. I am, however, a passionate follower of the GMO debate, and I have been exposed to both sides of the debate regarding both GMOs and Hybrids. That said, I urge you to review this post for informational purposes only. Please do your own research if this topic interests you. 

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photo source: tabor-roeder via flickr

There has been much debate regarding the safety of GMOs over the last few years, and for good reason. GMOs are a relatively new scientific discovery. GMOs are also now very abundant in our food supply. GMOs are not the same as hybridized plants and animals, and it is important to understand and distinguish the difference between the two.

Let me explain…

In its simplest definition, a Hybrid  is “an offspring of two animals or plants of different races, breeds, varieties, species, or genera.” A good example of a Hybrid is a mule, which is the offspring of male donkey and female horse. It has been claimed that mules are more patient, sure-footed, hardy and long-lived than horses, and they are considered less obstinate, faster, and more intelligent than donkeys.

A GMO or Genetically Modified Organism, on the other hand, is defined as “an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. Organisms that have been genetically modified include micro-organisms such as bacteria and yeast, insects, plants, fish, and mammals.”  A good example of a GMO is AquAdvantage Salmon which  “is the trade name for a genetically modified Atlantic salmon developed by AquaBounty Technologies. A growth hormone-regulating gene from a Pacific Chinook and a promoter from an ocean pout were added to the Atlantic’s 40,000 genes. These genes enable it to grow year-round instead of only during spring and summer.”  AquAdvantage salmon is currently the first GMO animal proposed to be introduced as a food for human consumption. Now you know…

This begs the question – What is Genetic Engineering?

Genetic engineering, also called genetic modification, “is the direct manipulation of an organism’s genome using biotechnology. New DNA may be inserted in the host genome by first isolating and copying the genetic material of interest using molecular cloning methods to generate a DNA sequence, or by synthesizing the DNA, and then inserting this construct into the host organism. Genes may be removed, or ‘knocked out’, using a nuclease. Gene targeting is a different technique that uses homologous recombination to change an endogenous gene, and can be used to delete a gene, remove exons, add a gene, or introduce point mutations.”

OK…Now that we have the details out of the way, let’s break it down, shall we?

Simply put, Hybrids are created by means of natural reproduction guided by low-tech human intervention, while GMOs are are high-tech organisms created in a lab which would have virtually no chance of occurring in nature.

So, why are Hybrids and GMOs so popular? The answer is simple – They both allow humans to promote desired traits in both plants and animals. They are substantially different means to an end though.

The commercialization and mass distribution of Hybrids as food started around the 1920’s – almost 100 years ago. Personally, I feel that’s enough time to evaluate the safety and integrity of such a technology. We’ve been eating hybrid plants and animals for a few generations now and we haven’t seen any tangible reason to question their affect on our general health. Although, I’m not proposing this is enough information to gauge the safety of Hybrids, it is a good start. To support any theory like this, long -term scientific studies must accompany the theory, otherwise it’s just a ‘hunch’.

GMOs, on the other hand, were first introduced to our commercial food supply in the late 1970’s. Since then, they have quickly become common products in the U.S. food supply. This is not the case in the European Union. The EU has been much more cautious and strategic about the adoption of GMOs for human consumption. Personally, I prefer the EU approach here.

I think it’s very important to weigh the great opportunities associated with GMO science against the potential threats that they pose to our ecosystem and general health.

One of the most important considerations is how relatively new GMOs are as a food source. Time will tell how much impact GMOs will have on the health and well-being of both the ecosystem and human/animal populations of the world. In reality, we’re altering the DNA of the natural world without truly understanding how it might effect us in the future. We’re going back to the ‘hunch’ mentality here. No long-term studies (that I know of) have been done on GMOs to measure their impact on health, etc.

The second consideration I’d like to propose is much different. This consideration has to do with corporate profit vs. security of our food supply. There have been many recent examples of small farmers being sued by large chemical companies who develop, manufacture, patent, and sell GMO seeds. I’m not going to go into a ton of detail here, but this is the controversial topic that inspired my passion about GMOs in general. Although this is a very important topic, it’s a (very detailed) topic for another blog post. For now, all I will say is this…There are some serious moral and ethical dilemmas to consider when seed/chemical companies start creating a monopoly of the food supply and making it very difficult for farmers to buy seeds, fertilizers and pesticides from any other source. For the future stability of our food supply, we must, as a society, maintain control of our seeds. It is my unwavering opinion that the marketing and sale of living organisims with associated patents is a dangerous game to play, and we must consider all possible outcomes.  Allowing the majority of our food supply to be owned and managed by a handful of very large companies is a very unstable solution for the problem which is this: how do we feed 7 billion+ people???

I urge you to do your research on GMOs and Hybrids in general, because the more you know, the more you’ll be able to make informed decisions on your attitude towards GMOs and Hybrids. The point of this article is not necessarily to sway your opinion, but to get you thinking about the food industry and what you eat.

If you’d like to try to avoid GMOs for whatever reason, start by informing yourself. Do some research. Buy more organic products. Support your local organic farmers. Every dollar you spend is an informal vote for the types of products you want for the future. This is how the world works, folks. Consumers dictate demand, at least for now. Look for the “Non-GMO Project” logo on products at the grocery store and hope that manufactures get the message – that the safety and integrity of our food supply is of the utmost importance.

Non-GMO.Project_logo

What do you think about GMOs and Hybrids? Let me know by leaving a comment.

Sources:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hybrid_(biology)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mule

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetically_modified_organism

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AquAdvantage_salmon

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetic_engineering

http://www.ehow.com/about_6196835_history-hybrid-seed-corn.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetically_modified_organism

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regulation_of_genetically_modified_organisms_in_the_European_Union

http://www.pbs.org/pov/hybrid/getinvolved_article.php

http://www.motherearthnews.com/real-food/hybrid-seeds-vs-gmos-zb0z1301zsor.aspx

http://www.livestrong.com/article/139536-hybrid-vegetable-vs-genetically-modified/

http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/issues/309/ge-fish/aquadvantage-salmon#

 

 

 

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