Up until now, the discoveries showcased within this series have highlighted achievements made during the 19th century. Not by design, I promise you. All of these food science breakthroughs were hand-picked on merit alone, as is today’s: genetically modified crops.
GMOs: They Come With Baggage
But genetically modified crops come with some baggage. Unlike canning, fermentation, or milk pasteurization, where we have a solid understanding of both the science and the result, GM crops are still in their infancy. Though, some of you will probably disagree.
So, for the record, I will state my bias right now: I am not a fan of GM crops. If you agree with me, great, but I am not here to rally support for my opinion. And if you disagree, awesome, I am definitely not here to convince you otherwise. My objective is for all of us—regardless of where you stand—to recognize the achievement at hand.
The Historic Achievements of GMO Crops
Once again, we come back to Louis Pasteur. It was his initial findings on microbes, what we’ve come to call pasteurization, and the process of fermentation, that led to such organisms being modified in the first place. And a century later, genetically modified microbes are being created as a replacement to rennet in cheese production: an enzyme extracted for the lining of a cow’s stomach. By 1988, these GMOs were the first FDA-approved enzymes used in food production.
Back in 1946, scientists discovered how to transfer DNA between different organisms, and by the early 80s, we had our first GM crop: the Flavr Savr tomato. The tomato was FDA-approved on May 18, 1994, and only available for about three years, before the company which created it folded, and was acquired by Monsanto. Since then, genetically modified versions of corn, soybeans, potatoes, and much more, have received approval.
Genetically Modified Food in the US
As of 2011, the United States takes the lead in GM food production, with over 20 different crops approved. As a result, 85% of corn, 91% of soybeans, and 88% of cotton produced in the U.S. is all modified.
Consumers, farmers, activists, biotech companies, government officials, and scientists, have all weighed in on how safe (or unsafe) GM crops are. Personally, I feel it’s too early to tell. In comparison to our other breakthroughs, which were controlled experiments, like canned food, we are now injecting foreign DNA into our fragile food system, presuming we understand all environmental factors at hand, such as biodiversity or secondary pests. It’s playing God, and I don’t even believe in him (or her)!
I will confess, that’s my own hysteria speaking, but I’ve grown quite fond of eating and cannot help but be a bit paranoid at the thought of it all. On the whole, it’s not the immaturity of our scientific knowledge which disturbs me most, it’s a matter of human rights. I’m a proponent of consumer information, and my stance is unwavering.
Personally, I believe food is a human right that every single person should have access to. For this reason, governmental regulators need to make anything and everything that affects our food transparent. And while GM labeling is required in 64 different countries, it’s not here in the US, a decision I find completely absurd.
Either way, GMOs are the food science breakthrough of our era, with limitless possibilities that we are just beginning to understand.
As I bring this series to a close, I would love to know your thoughts on the GMO debate. Are you for it or against it? Or do you even care?
I would also like to extend a huge thank you to Guy Crosby, who advised on this series. Happy eating!