What is it?
First of all, what is a GMO, or Genetically Modified Organism? Put simply, a GMO is an organism that has been genetically modified to improve its ability to grow in environments that it is not native to, resist pests without having to spray pesticides, tolerate extreme weather conditions, produce more food (such as milk in cows), or show other desired traits. GMOs are produced through a technique which is generally known as recombinant DNA technology. In this technique DNA molecules from varies sources are combined into one molecule to create a completely new set of genes. This DNA is then transferred into an organism, which gives it modified or novel genes. Transgenic organisms, on the other hand, which are a different kind of GMO, are organisms that have DNA inserted into their genes from a different species. This process requires just three main components: the gene that is going to be transferred, the organism into which that gene is going to be transferred (this organism is known as the target species), and a vector to carry the into the target species’ cells. The gene to be transferred must be cut out and isolated from the original organism. This is usually done by restriction enzymes, which are like molecular scissors, which recognize specific sequences in the DNA and cut it out of those places. This technology has many advantages. Through the use of GMOs more food could be produced for less many, thus lowering the cost to the consumer without lowering the profits of the farmers. Essential nutrients could be implanted into important, everyday foods such as rice or corn. Not to mention that with insect resistant crops, not only is more of the crop saved, but fewer pesticides have to be sprayed. Sounds great right? So, what’s the problem? The problem is that this relatively new technology is still being tested, and in fact some problems have occurred as a result of these GMOs. In the United States it is not required that genetically modified foods be labeled any differently than foods that grow naturally without modification.
U.S. versus Europe
The food and drug administration policy regarding genetically modified foods states that no safety studies are needed on these modified foods due to the fact that organisms which are genetically modified are substantially equivalent to foods that are natural. This policy is somewhat outdated and considering that research and unpredictable tests are still being done, I’d say that it’s not very accurate. Meanwhile, the European policy says something quite different. It states that GMOs must receive authorization before they enter the market. This applies to GMOs used in food and animal feed, and to seeds for genetically modified crops. Why are these policies so different? Probably the biggest reason is that Europeans are more wary about their food in general than most Americans are. In 1996 Europe experienced a “mad cow disease”, also known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, which made European consumers distrustful of reassurances that genetically modified foods are safe for consumption. Although mad cow disease had nothing to do with the genetic modification of food, it generated consumer anxieties about food safety at the same time in 1996 U.S.-grown GM soybeans were first being cleared for import into the EU. Immediately, activist groups started speaking out against GMOs. These well-publicized campaigns and the backlash against genetic modification of foods forced the European government to reconsider their policy regarding GMOs.
Before Genetic Engineering
It may be argued that genetically modified organisms have been around as long as humans have been successfully breeding different plants and animals to achieve a desired result. Genetic engineering itself is a relatively new technology which was introduced to the world in the mid to late 1900s. However, before genetic engineering, breeding was used to...