By training, I am a plant biologist. In the early 1990s I was busy making genetically modified plants (often called GMOs for Genetically Modified Organisms) as part of the research that led to my PhD. Into these plants we were putting DNA from various foreign organisms, such as viruses and bacteria.
I wasn’t, at the outset, concerned about the possible effects of GM plants on human health or the environment. One reason for this lack of concern was that I was still a very young scientist, feeling my way in the complex world of biology and of scientific research. Another reason was that we hardly imagined that GMOs like ours would be grown or eaten. So far as I was concerned, all GMOs were for research purposes only.
Gradually, however, it became clear that certain companies thought differently. Some of my older colleagues shared their skepticism with me that commercial interests were running far ahead of scientific knowledge. I listened carefully and I didn’t disagree. Today, over twenty years later, GMO crops, especially soybeans, corn, papaya, canola and cotton, are commercially grown in numerous parts of the world.
Depending on which country you live in, GMOs may be unlabeled and therefore unknowingly abundant in your diet. Processed foods are likely to contain ingredients from GMO crops, such as corn and soy. Most crops, however are still non-GMO, including rice, wheat, barley, oats, tomatoes, grapes, beans, etc. For meat eaters the mode of GMO consumption is different. There are no GMO animals used in farming (although GM salmon has been pending FDA approval since 1993); however, animal feed, especially in factory farms, is likely to be mostly GMO corn and GMO soybeans. In this case, the labeling issue and potential impacts are complicated even further.
I now believe, as a much more experienced scientist, that GMO crops still run far ahead of our understanding of their risks…