Let’s get something straight that a lot of people seem to get confused about, especially with all of the debates surrounding labeling of GMOs.
GMOs are not an ingredient. It is not something we add to a food product. It is not something injected into the plant. In fact, some products derived from genetically modified plants, such as sugar, contain no DNA and and it is impossible to distinguish between a GMO and non-GMO version – even in the lab!
Genetic modification is a process of plant breeding. It is one of many ways that we breed plants and there are even different ways to genetically modify a plant. These different processes can be used when we want a plant to express a new or highly desired trait. For example, if we want a sweeter tasting apple, we may employ one of these breeding methods in an attempt to get an apple to express genes that make it taste sweeter. You can learn more about the different plant breeding methods available here.
Genetic modification has advantages. Compared to some of the other methods, it happens to be a very precise and accurate way to breed plants and achieve the desired traits and qualities. It allows us to choose which genes we edit, and not simply leave it to chance. Scientists are also able to achieve the desired genetic changes much more quickly than more traditional breeding methods.
The confusion on this issue likely stems from the push for GMO labeling. People have been told they have a “right to know” what’s in their food! But genetic modification is not in your food, it is part of how that food is produced. Similar to the fact that we may irrigate our crops, or use a green tractor, or fertilize our crops – it is simply part of the production method. While I understand that consumers are more and more interested in how their food is grown, it is absurd to expect that we will slap a label on every product so as to include every piece of the production method.
But we know that your “right to know” has really nothing to do with knowing whether a crop was genetically modified, but rather about banning the technology.