A Letter to the Editor

I don’t subscribe to an old-fashioned (i.e. paper) newspaper so it’s something of a treat when I’m at my parents’ house to start my day with a mug of tea and the comics. I always start with them and occasionally will delve into other sections. Today I happened to glance through the regional section and came across this article about the changing relationship between DuPont and Monsanto. It wasn’t a good way to start the day.

I don’t want to get into the politics or health concerns of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Not yet, at least. But I do want to point out how big corporations use the media to manipulate their image. GMOs have gotten a bad rap lately so Monsanto and DuPont are doing what they can to distance themselves from the term. The article never mentions the term “GMO” or “genetically modified,” choosing instead to refer to the new seed technology as “hybrids.” That would be fine if it weren’t wholly incorrect and misleading.

A hybrid is a crossbreed of two variations of the same species. It’s like a labradoodle. You take two dogs – a Labrador and a poodle – and bred them in hopes of getting a dog with a lab’s temperament and personality and a poodle’s hypoallergenic coat. Labs and poodles are different, but at the end of the day they are both dogs.

A three-year-old labradoodle.

The same can be done with plants. Remember Punnett Squares from biology? It’s like that. Let’s say you have one tomato variety that has great texture but mediocre flavor. You can cross pollinate that tomato with a different variety that is known for its flavor. The hope is that you get the best of both tomatoes in their “offspring.” Farmers have been doing this for centuries with great success. It is a perfectly safe and natural practice. Think of it as facilitating natural selection.

This is not what DuPont and Monsanto are doing. Their focus is genetic modification which takes desirable genes from one species and injects them into the DNA of an entirely different species. These are creatures which, left to their own devices, could not reproduce. For example, there are goats that have been injected with spider DNA so that they produce silk protein in their milk. That is genetic modification. Most corn and soy plants grown in the US have been genetically modified in one or two ways. They are modified to survived being sprayed with herbicides (mainly Roundup) and/or to produce their own pesticides. When a bug tries to eat GMO corn, it’s stomach explodes. Literally. Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is inserted into a plant’s DNA and then “destroys the insect by disturbing the digestive system.”

I sent a letter to the editor explaining the mistake and requesting they print a clarification. I’ll keep you posted.

2 thoughts on “A Letter to the Editor

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