What is a GMO?
A genetically modified organism (GMO) is an organism that has acquired one or more genes by artificial means. It can be a plant, animal or microorganism whose genetic code has been altered, subtracted, or added (either from the same species or a different species) in order to give it characteristics that it does not have naturally.
If the gene is from another species, the organism is also known as a transgenic organism. GMOs are found extensively in many food products. The soybean is by far the world's most cultivated transgenic plant, followed by corn, cotton, and canola. The United States, Argentina, Canada and China, in that order, are the biggest producers. Although these practices primarily provide food for animals, a small percentage also lands on your plate!
Different countries have adopted different approaches to the touchy topic of labelling GMOs.
The principle of precaution In Europe, the labelling of GMOs is obligatory, and caution prevails. When in doubt, do not eat it. Products are labelled, and it is left to the consumer to make their choice.
Benefits of GMOs
- Agriculture -GMOS provide us with agricultural products with a higher yield; insect and herbicide resistant. Fruits and vegetables that grow in dry environments and are cold resistant.
But what if insects developed immunity to pesticides?
- Food Production - Tomatoes that do not rot. Salmon that fatten up quickly. Pigs with less fat and better nutritional value.
- Forestry - Fast-growing trees whose ligneous fibre is of higher quality, less difficult to process, and resistant to harmful insects, illnesses and environmental stresses.
- Health - Rice enriched with vitamin A. Bananas as vaccines. Sheep whose milk contains insulin. Alfalfa that produces hemoglobin.
- Environment - Fish that detect pollutants in the water. Plants that create biodegradable plastics. PCB-decomposing bacteria. Sugar beets that produce gas.
- Basic Research - Mice with human diseases to test vaccines and medications. Fruit flies to study the structure and function of genes. Fluorescent fish to understand human development.
(http://nature.ca/genome/03/d/30/03d_34_e.cfm#d53 using genomics)