A Staunch Support Of Genetically Modified Organisms Used As Food Using The Example Of Bananas
Genetic modification. Sounds scary? It really shouldn’t, seeing how almost everything with genes has undergone modification at some point. Genetic modification is not just a process that happens in a lab with in a rack of test tubes leading to a suspended foetus in a cylindrical tank filled with amniotic fluid, it comprises of genetic variations arising from a number of factors including, but not limited to, genetic drift, natural selection, gene flow, mutations and artificial selection (which includes selective breeding). As astute readers would have probably by this time have noticed, all of those are mechanisms for evolution (which is a fact, deal with it) and that the latter has been practiced for millennia by farmers and livestock breeders. Hence when opposition for genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that are used as food is brought up, those who have diligently studied science are dumbfounded. How does opposing the very foundation of our food source make any sense?
Still confused at what I mean by this? Let’s consider an example, the humble banana. Pop over to any supermarket and you would see bunches upon bunches of these wonky yellow fruits (except in Waitrose where they’re green as it is common knowledge that all rich people buy bananas in anticipation of eating them in the future rather than partaking of them at the time of purchase). One would assume these bananas to be non-GMO. They don’t glow in the dark, taste the same as they had always tasted and are essentially the
same fruit as they were from millions of years ago. Or were they? At least two of those supposed facts are completely wrong, and there is nothing to suggest that the third would do any harm. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The banana did not always look the same. Let us compare the modern banana with its wild counterpart. The latter is a scrawny, seed-filled bitter berry (look it up) that’s nigh on inedible. Through years and years of selective breeding, careful crop cultivation and separation from wild varieties, a succulent, seedless variety was born. Now, if we need a potassium fix or wish to add some body to our smoothies, we seek out this innocent GMO without a worry in the world. And this wasn’t even the only or the last time the banana was genetically modified.
Big Mike And Mr. Cavendish
Have you ever wondered why banana flavoured sweets always taste nothing like any banana you have ever eaten? A lot of people have. Very bright, very creative people. So creative were they that a whole hypothesis on why that is so came about. Enter the Gros Michel banana, or Big Mike to anglophones. Up until the 1950s, Big Mike was the main variety of banana exported to the United States. Now, Big Mike was a sturdy lad, thick and robust, but like all men, was a little prone to man-flu. The particular strain he was afflicted with was Fusarium Oxysporum, a fungal pathogen that causes a disease affecting plant roots called the Panama disease.
Due to this, there was a huge shortage of bananas in the world, creating a niche for resistant varieties of banana to emerge. The now common Cavendish was then cultivated by the Gros Michel exporters as they were losing too much money.
Where this story ties in with banana sweets is the fact that Big Mike and the Cavendish taste slightly different. Big Mike, it is said, was used as the basis for flavour for sweets and when it lost popularity, the sweet flavouring was kept the same whereas the public perception of what a banana should taste like changed to the Cavendish flavour. This seems like a fair recollection of events, especially considering that even the experts who work with banana flavouring admit that Big Mike tastes very similar to banana sweets. Case closed? Not really. The truth is banana flavouring comes from a chemical called isoamyl acetate, also called ‘banana ester’, which is the essence of the banana smell and is contained in all types of bananas. As is well known, flavour is mostly smell, not taste, hence this chemical should closely mimic any banana, but it doesn’t. It resembles Big Mike most closely due to the high content of banana ester in Big Mike compared to the Cavendish, which contains more volatile components leading to a more complex flavour.
But I digress. The point of that is careful cultivation can produce genetic variations which are favourable to those who cultivate it. This, by definition, is genetic modification. That it is slightly less sophisticated compared to lab coat wearers synthesizing genes to splice into organisms to give a better quality of food shouldn’t matter. The problem with GMOs is not bad science, it’s bad PR. Having been raised on quality science fiction, where lab coat wearers cause everything from a zombie apocalypse to a dinosaur apocalypse through genetic modification, it is understandable that the public is a little suspicious of human meddling in something so fundamental as the gene pool.
However, pseudoscientists, or fake scientists for Anglophones , often purport the idea that the very idea of genetic modification is so abhorrent that GMOs should be banned. Most of the arguments against GMOs, though, are infantile at best. Citing non-labelling of GMO ingredients in food items and asking why that is so if there is nothing to hide, blatantly stating GMO foods aren’t safe without any proof backing it up and claiming GMOs require more chemicals such as pesticides to survive when the very point of genetic modification is to improve resistance to diseases thus reducing the need for these chemicals in the first place.
However, some points raised by the anti-GMO coalition need to be considered more finely. When it comes to genetic modification, the product alongside the method used to product said product are both open to be covered by trademarks and patents. Here, there is an issue of the welfare of farmers who grow crops that would be deemed outdated by the GMO crops. When companies own the seeds of a more resilient crop, they can charge however much they’d like to sell the seeds to those who would buy them. These would be farmer growing the less resilient crop, desperate to salvage their failing business. When faced with the exorbitant prices of GMO companies, small farmers would lose out, affecting their livelihood. Add to this the effects of the uncontrolled accidental spreading of a negative gene throughout the environment, producing massive detriments to food yields and quality, we can see why there must be certain measures such as governmental policies to mitigate these circumstances
With all of this taken into consideration, the final verdict is simple. GMOs are not as detrimental as they are painted to be. In fact, most of the time, their resilience, nutrient content and yield far outweigh so-called organic produce. They are cheaper to produce and do not affect the environment as badly as they are touted to and any disaster situation arising from concerns expressed by those who oppose them are rare and can be accounted for. We should not be so blind as to turn our backs to possibly the most viable way to fill our ever increasing demand for food. It can the inedible edible, the afflicted crop to a resilient one and generally make our world a better place. We here at YME Insider would like to say to those who go against GMO foods to look at themselves in the mirror and check their privilege. Not everyone can afford $5.00 organic tomatoes, nor should they. Not using science to positively affect the world around us is not bio-conservatism, it’s short-sightedness. The Prime Directive starts and ends with Star Trek, it’s time to live in the real world.