If you seem to suddenly know lots of people who have all sorts of food allergies-to peanuts, wheat, gluten-you’re not imagining it. In the last decade, the number of people who suffer from food allergies has doubled to more than 12 million, or about 4% of the population. While the reasons for this phenomenon are, no doubt, complex, suspicion is growing that genetically modified food may be one factor in this growing demographic.


A genetically modified organism-GMO-is one that has been modified in a laboratory on the most fundamental level: via its DNA. DNA is the basic structure of an organism, and to manipulate an organism’s DNA is to change the very thing that characterizes it. Natural mutations occur in most organisms, and cross-pollination can occur both naturally, and through conventional breeding methods. However, a GMO is an organism that would never have existed without laboratory manipulation because the resulting changes are fundamentally contrary to the development of the species. In other words, it’s like injecting the DNA of a giraffe into that of a lion to create a brand new species altogether.

Genetic modification has made it possible not only to transfer genes from one plant to another, but to also take the DNA from non-plant organisms and transfer them to plants. The most famous example of this process is the transferring of the B.t. gene, or Bacillus thuringiensis, into corn. B.t is a naturally occurring bacterium that destroys insect larvae. Whe B.t. genes are transferred into corn, the corn is able to produce its own defenses against harmful insects, something that would never-ever-have occurred any other way except through DNA manipulation.


On the surface, there would seem to be perfectly reasonable, even noble, reasons to want to manipulate the DNA of an organism.

Creating desirable traits in a crop-or breeding out undesirable traits-for instance, is a logical objective. If the gene of a drought-tolerant plant can be inserted into the DNA of a different plant, making that formerly drought-prone plant more drought tolerant, there would be significant implications for many regions of the country and the world.

A plant that can be modified to resist disease would be welcomed by farmers, and be good news for the economy.

Being able to change a crop to increase or improve nutritional content, one would think, would be a win-win proposition for us all. . THE BAD NEWS

Why, then, is there so much concern about genetically modified (GM) or genetically engineered (GE) crops? As with any new technology, the unknown factors are key-and and profit-making grossly muddies the issue. GM technology is relatively new and hugely profitable to a select few biotechnology corporations. Seeds of GE crops are patent protected, and loyalties for their use are the primary incentive for bio tech companies to continue to tout the benefits of GMO research while downplaying the possible harm intrinsic to DNA manipulation.