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GMO Crops Monday August 12, 2013

The Bitter Taste of GMO Crops

When was the last time you had good fruit? I mean REALLY good fruit. The kind that makes your tastebuds dance and your mouth water. An apple or an orange that wasn't a bland disappointment.

If you aren't buying organic, chances are it's been quite a while, and there's a reason for that. Modern agriculture. The bulk of North American produce has systematically had its flavour stripped away in favour of larger yields, longer shelf lives, and aesthetics.

This process began with selective breeding of crops as a means of increasing profit. The main idea being that more is better no matter what nutritional advantages may be lost on the way. If an agricultural company can, say, get twice as many strawberries per acre but the berries are a little less succulent, they're going to go for it. With modern advances in science, crops have been further bastardized through genetic engineering. There's no denying that the use of Genetically Modified Organisms - GMOs - has dramatically changed the face of agriculture.

In a nutshell, GMOs are crops that have been genetically engineered for a specific purpose. Some modifications have been for the benefit of consumers. "Golden Rice", for example, was engineered to produce beta-carotene, and intended to help fight vitamin A deficiency that kills and blinds hundreds of thousands of children around the world. But other modifications have been to improve agricultural profits by making crops resistant to certain chemicals and viruses, or to delay ripening and increase shelf life.

You may have heard of crops being referred to as "Roundup Ready". These are crops that have been genetically engineered to be resistant to the herbicide known as "Roundup". This modification allows farms to spray their entire field, but only weeds will actually be killed - until so-called "Superweeds" develop, of course. The rest of the crop - the food we eat - will survive the toxic bath and arrive on our tables. Are they safe? There's debate, but one recent two-year study found that rats fed the "Roundup Ready" corn - and those dosed with Roundup itself - were much more prone to tumors than rats in control groups. That obviously demands further study.

Genetically Modified Organisms or GMOs now make up the majority of produce sold in supermarkets. They also make up the majority of ingredients in processed foods. In North America if it isn't marked as certified organic, chances are the product includes GMOs.

As consumers I believe we all have a personal responsibility to educate ourselves about the risks of eating genetically modified and chemical laden foods. The organic alternatives are full of flavour, and free of pesticides and herbicides. They also tend to be local growers, individually invested in their farms and crops. From my perspective, it makes it pretty easy to decide between the two. If we buy organic we will be voting with our dollars, and modern agriculture will have no choice but to reform in the future. Not convinced yet? Go to your local farmers' market and pick up a fresh, naturally-ripened piece of fruit and give it a taste. You'll see for yourself.