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What Are GMOs?

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Genetic Engineering page, and our Millions Against Monsanto page.


I spent the past month speaking to random people everywhere that I went. I asked all of them the same question, "Do you know what GMO stands for and what it is?" While some people either knew what it was or at least had heard of it, I was surprised by the number of people who had never heard of GMO. This article is dedicated to those of you who looked at me with wonder, and then shook your head "no."

A GMO (genetically modified organism) is the result of a laboratory process where genes from the DNA of one species are extracted and artificially forced into the genes of an unrelated plant or animal. The foreign genes may come from bacteria, viruses, insects, animals or even humans. Since this involves the transfer of genes, GMOs are also known as "transgenic" organisms.

The genetic engineering technology was developed in the 1970s. In the early 1990s, the tomato was one of the first to be victim of this technology. The anti-freeze genes from an Arctic fish were forced into tomato DNA, allowing the plants to survive frost. Fortunately, this type of tomato was not introduced into the marketplace. Actually, it never left the lab.

In 1976, a major biotechnology company manufactured an herbicide called Roundup. When the farmers sprayed this herbicide on their crops, not only would it kill the weeds, but it would also kill the crops. This biotech company developed genetically modified crops after finding bacteria in a chemical waste dump near its factory that were not dying in the presence of the herbicide. The bacterial gene that produced the protein that allowed it to survive in the presence of herbicide was inserted into soy, corn, cotton and canola.

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