In the spirit of the Thanksgiving feast I enjoyed last night, I want to share one of the many things I was thankful for. I wanted to share this with my visitors because it’s not something that is commonly appreciated in this era governed by the precautionary principle and the relative ignorance of science. I want to say thank you to all the food scientists out there that are hard at work on developing genetically engineered foods or GMOs.
Now before you come at this humble NYC personal trainer with the online equivalent of a pitch fork for supporting what are derisively called “frankenfoods”, I implore you to read on. In most cases, GMOs are simply the product of a simpler and more direct process of crossbreeding–a process that farmers have used to create better tasting vegetables, more drought resistant plants or fruits with less seeds for generations. Crossbreeding can often take decades and tens of thousands of painstaking crosses to achieve the desired genetic change. Genetically engineering food can produce similar results very efficiently and cost effectively.
Another crucial benefit of genetically engineering foods, one which cannot be done with traditional crossbreeding methods, is that scientists can transfer non-plant genes into a plant. Scientists can, for example, transfer a gene from a virus into a plant. This isn’t done to kill us or alter our genetic makeup. It’s done to protect the specific crops from the virus that infects and damages them. The genetically altered plant then employs this foreign gene to make its own protection against disease. As for us, when we eat the plant, the foreign protein in the plant is simply digested into its component amino acids. Our digestive systems do not see these foreign proteins any differently then any of the other naturally occurring proteins found in the plant.
And the benefits are not just superficial such as making baby carrots or tomatoes sweeter or watermelons seedless. These genetic changes have the potential of having a tremendous beneficial impact on the health of those in developing countries. The scarcity of nutritious food in such countries is not always due to inadequate food production as many may believe. Rather, its often the result of massive losses in the food supply system of those countries due to harsh weather conditions, the infestation of their crops with pests, and the deterioration of the crops during transport or storage.
So won’t you join me in giving thanks to our marvelous food scientists around the world? Perhaps someday everyone, no matter where they find themselves around the globe, will be able to enjoy the variety and plenty that we in more developed countries often take for granted. That would be a day for which we could all be truly thankful.