WHAT IS A GMO EXACTLY?
An interesting development in the Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) debate has Washington, DC (and those interested in GMOs around the globe) wondering how exactly we will define “GMO” even while individual states and the U.S. are trying to legislate it.
Yes, we are trying to legislate something we haven’t completely defined yet. Welcome to America.
The latest question is, should crops and foods developed with CRISPR technology – where one precise change is made to a plants genetic makeup without inserting a gene from any other organism – be called a GMO? Opponents of GMOs say yes, but scientists tell us that if foods produced using CRISPR technology are GMOs, then every plant and crop mutant, especially those created in nature, are also GMOs.
Surely we’ve all seen this diagram. Cabbage, kale, broccoli, and other common veggies are all descendants of the same ancient plant. Each has been domesticated over years of selective breeding. Are they GMOs?
“It would be reasonable to think about a GMO as anything where a genome has been manipulated in the laboratory,” says Richard Amasino, a professor of biochemistry at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. “If you are mutagenizing it with a chemical, you’ve manipulated the genome in a laboratory.” Either way, a change of just a few DNA letters is similar to changes that happen spontaneously in nature, he says.
The term “GMO” doesn’t work anymore, says Dominique Brossard, a professor of life science communication, also at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Gene editing is “completely revolutionizing what we think genetic engineering might be,” she says.
IN OTHER NEWS:
The need for a national GMO labeling law to supercede the Vermont law is the subject of ICGA President Jeff Jarboe's recently published letter to the editor in the Dispatch-Argus, Quad Cities. Check it out here.