It’s okay if you don’t know your GE from your GMOs – that’s what we’re here for! While genetic engineering might seem technical or boring, it’s something you must know about. Your health could depend on it.
The terms genetically modified organisms (GMO), genetically modified (GM) and genetically engineered (GE) all refer to organisms with a unique character that have been created by biotech companies, usually in a lab environment.
What is GMO?
“In genetic engineering, the ‘genes’ responsible for a specific characteristic (called traits) are taken from one organism and forced into the DNA of another organism. In this way the characteristics of one species can be unnaturally bred into a completely unrelated one – across the boundaries between species and even plant and animal kingdoms. The resulting new species is called a genetically modified organism (GMO). Genetic modification allows scientists to mix the genes of unrelated species.” (www.acbio.org.za). An example is inserting a gene based on that of a cold-water fish into a tomato plant so that the tomato plant won’t freeze in the winter.
“While uses for genetic engineering range from oil spills to medication, perhaps the most controversial application is for food production. The first field experiments of food crops that had been genetically modified using recombinant DNA technology began in 1987. After five years of extensive health and environmental testing, Calgene’s Flavr Savr tomato became the first food crop to be approved for commercial production by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These tomatoes were modified to include a DNA sequence that inhibited production of a natural tomato protein, increasing the firmness and extending the shelf life of the Flavr Savr variety.” Read more here.
GM Crops Versus Organic
Essentially there are two types of food systems in the world today: industrialised and traditional farming methods. Industrialised agriculture or “factory farming,” which claims to promote high yields using chemical fertilisers and pesticides, is derived from mechanised methods and technology using GM seeds bought every season from big seed companies. The other – traditional agriculture or organic farming – relies on natural ecosystems, using natural fertilisers and pesticides, as well as seeds that have been produced naturally throughout seasons and shared amongst farmers. Those who advocate for GM crops often tout food security as the main reason or benefit, with disregard for human and environmental health. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation predicts that global food production per person will continue to surpass population growth for another 30 years at least, as per Biowatch South Africa. Research suggests that in South Africa there is enough food to feed the country’s population, however our main challenges are access and distribution.
GM in South Africa
You may think that GMO is the best discovery since sliced bread – many people do – hence the ongoing global debate, which is centred around the safety or long-term health impact of GMO produced foods, due to conflicting evidence on the matter. Maize, the staple food in South Africa, is genetically modified, and we are the only country in the world to have allowed our staple to be modified without knowing the health impact to the citizenry.
South Africa is the only African country that grows genetically modified maize for human consumption – and that includes pap, umbila (mealies), most cereals and additives found in processed foods.
The rest of the world grows GM maize for livestock feed, and it is banned in over 60 countries globally. Genetically engineered crop production in South Africa since the 1990s includes maize, potatoes, cotton, canola, eucalyptus, apples, soybean, sweet potato, tomatoes and wheat. We want to know if GMO has delivered what it promised when the first GM maize crop was planted in 1998, which was a solution to the climate change crisis and food insecurity.
Know Your Food!
While we at Abundance Wholesome Foods promote traditional farming methods and the rediscovery of our indigenous foods for health reasons. We also encourage consumers to be informed, to know where your food comes from and how it is grown – for health’s sake. Not much public consultation was done when GMO was introduced in South Africa, but we can remedy this by supporting organisations that do research into this controversial topic and others that promote GMO free zones in South Africa. Get involved!
Meanwhile, enjoy organically grown mealies from your local farmer while they’re in season. 🙂