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What Is A GMO And How Does It Differ From Organic?
Recently, we discussed what the actual definition of organic is when it comes to various products and some of the regulations the United States Department of Agriculture places on organic producers. When it comes to the definition of organic, it is also important to talk about what makes it different from GMO foods, given that there is still talk around whether there are actually any notable differences and if one is better for you than the other.
GMO means “genetically modified organism,” which is the simplest terms is anything that had its genetic material – or part of its DNA or RNA – modified. The exact definition of GMO can vary, with the broadest stating that any genes modified by nature constitute GMOs, and the strictest stating that the modification must be done within a laboratory. There are various ways in which this genetic material can be altered by engineers, but it always involves first isolating the gene that will eventually be inserted into the host organism, or the end product, and combining it with other genetic material, such as different parts of DNA. This leads to the original organism being different in some way, such as being more resistant to certain diseases, pests, or environmental factors.
It is important to note, as stated earlier, that genetic variation can and often does occur naturally as well. This happens due to natural selection, which is the process in which organisms that are better adapted to their environments survive longer and produce more offspring with those beneficial characteristics. We actually touched on this when we discussed how honeybees survive the winter, regarding the few feral populations that managed to stay alive and survive many factors that killed off most of the other feral colonies. If scientists are able to discover certain genetic characteristics that helped these honeybees adapt, they could use them to help increase the feral honeybee population through the use of either genetic modification or crossbreeding.
When it comes to specifically how GMOs are different from organic products, the short answer is that anything certified organic is prohibited from having any genetically modified products included in it or used in its production. This means that while a genetically modified strawberry can obviously not be labeled organic, the soil it was grown in cannot have been genetically modified or treated with GMOs, either, and an organically certified cow cannot eat any modified corn or hay.
While there are differences in the production of GMO and organic products, there is debate over how either can affect our health and the environment. There has been evidence showing that organic farms can be better for the environment, in part due to the much lower levels of pesticides and additives being introduced. It is also very easy to find many websites discussing how GMOs are harmful, while other articles and studies claim that they are not nearly as dangerous as many believe. Then again, there are also studies that state there is no consensus within the scientific community on this topic. Overall, as with any subject, it is important to do your own responsible research and to try and speak with professionals before coming to a conclusion.