We know that the right things happen when we use nature as our guide. Genetic modification is a big hot button among consumers and the natural foods industry. And there is a lot of confusion about hybridization vs. GMOs (genetically modified organisms). What is genetic modification exactly? Well it isn’t a Pluot. This article is reposted from our friend and client, The FruitGuys, and lays a wonderful foundation.
Hybrids vs. GMOs
By Heidi Lewis
To understand the difference between genetically modified food and naturally hybridized food, we need to understand the hybrid process. Natural hybridization is nothing more than a cross between two related species or cultivars. Hybrids have happened naturally throughout history via cross-pollination, but gardeners, farmers, and horticulturists have created the bulk of modern hybrids (such as the many stone fruit combos), often over the course of many years.
Sometimes, the result of a plant pairing (both in the wild or controlled) turns out to be superior to the parent plants. This is known as “hybrid vigor.” Some of the hundreds of vigorous results we benefit from are slicer tomatoes, tangelos, peppermint, seedless watermelon, grapefruit, and even wheat—in other words, hundreds of natural hybrid foods we eat every day. Included in this group of plants that have, over many years, made or been bred for adaptation, including roses, irises, and other cut flowers.
To hybridize plants, you need to be a keen observer and have deep knowledge of the plants you want to improve. Gregor Mendel, the father of modern genetics, spent his monastic life observing pea plants. Luther Burbank, the genius behind much of the produce we eat today, said, “The secret of improved plant breeding, apart from scientific knowledge, is love.”
Genetically engineered or GMO foods are not hybridized foods or hybrid foods. They can contain genetic material from one organism (say a fish) that would never naturally be found in another organism (say a tomato). GMO experiments have actually included combining fish and tomatoes, and bacteria with corn—not improvements we would want to eat.
Following is the definition of genetically engineered food per the proposed California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act. (blogger footnote: This proposal has been defeated since this blog’s original posting.)
(c) Genetically engineered.
(1) “Genetically engineered” means any food that is produced from an organism or organisms in which the genetic material has been changed through the application of:
(i) In vitro nucleic acid techniques, including recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) techniques and the direct injection of nucleic acid into cells or organelles, or
(ii) Fusion of cells (including protoplast fusion) or hybridization techniques that overcome natural physiological, reproductive, or recombination barriers, where the donor cells/protoplasts do not fall within the same taxonomic family, in a way that does not occur by natural multiplication or natural recombination.
(2) For purposes of this subsection (c):
(i) “Organism” means any biological entity capable of replication, reproduction or transferring genetic material.
(ii) “In vitro nucleic acid techniques” include but are not limited to recombinant DNA or RNA techniques that use vector systems and techniques involving the direct introduction into the organisms of hereditary materials prepared outside the organisms such as microinjection, macro-injection, chemoporation, electroporation, microencapsulation, and liposome fusion.