It’s complicated; but here is a quick summary of what the controversy over genetically modified foods is all about.
GM engineering involves reconfiguring the genes in crop plants or adding new genes that have been created in the laboratory.
Scientific modification of plants is not something new. Since time began, nature has been modifying plants and animals through natural evolution, meaning that the plants and animals that adapt best to the changing environment survive and pass their genes on to their offspring. Those that are least fit do not survive. Farmers, too, have been helping nature improve crops for generations by saving the seeds of the best tomatoes and apples to use for next year’s crop. This is a kind of genetic selection—the most favorable plants succeed.
Seed companies have been contributing to this genetic strengthening, too. Today’s seed catalogs show traditional genetic selection at its finest, promising flowers with bigger blooms, tomatoes that ripen early, and new varieties of old species. Genetic selection has always been cultivated, first by nature and later with help from flower growers and farmers. It’s nature at its best.
But here’s the problem—today’s genetic tinkering is not being undertaken by farmers. It is being driven by chemical (i.e., pesticide) manufacturers and plant geneticists, and it is proceeding on a macro scale. The chemical manufacturers’ goal is not to produce a tastier apple, a juicier tomato, or more nourishing corn, but rather to modify food crops, such as corn and soybeans, so that the crops will be resistant to the pesticides that these same companies make. Then, when it comes time to weed vast tracts of planted corn or soybeans, the agro-business can spray the pesticide-resistant crops with the chemical company’s product to kill the weeds—rather than perform the tedious task of mechanical weeding. The weeds die, the crops live, and the pesticide company makes money. At first glance it appears to be an efficient way to weed a big field.