What is a GMO?

A genetically modified organism (GMO) is a plant or animal that has been genetically engineered: its genes have been manipulated in a laboratory. Often times the process combines genetic material from two organisms which could never breed and produce babies in nature (for example a tomato + a fish, or corn + a bacterium – these organisms could never mate naturally). 

The genetic engineering process is accomplished one of two ways: by a coarse, blasting process called a “gene gun,” or by using a virus to introduce the foreign genetic material. Recent independent studies in Europe are now questioning whether the process itself is safe.

By contrast, in traditional plant breeding, the pollen and reproductive parts of two relatively similar plants are combined naturally (for example pollen from a yellow crookneck squash introduced into the flower of a green zucchini, combining two plants which are close relatives and able to mate in nature). Traditional plant breeding is the way mankind has saved seed and produced new vegetable varieties for millennia.

Genetic engineering has only been with us for a brief decade or so. Its long-term impacts on human health are completely untested and there is no transparency of scientific findings. The companies that produce GMOs avoided government approvals through loopholes in the law. GMOs raise serious economic issues and monopoly issues of corporate control, and they strip away farmers’ autonomy. Studies now prove that GMOs have not lived up to their producers’ claims of “higher yields” or “feeding the world”; indeed, science is proving that the yields from small-scale, mixed-crop farms are higher.

Genetic engineering is producing food plants which are highly dependent on agricultural chemicals, in a world which is just awakening to the multifold wisdom of organics. The diversity of GMOs is extremely narrow, which places our international food supply in serious threat. And GMOs are very difficult to contain – as evidenced by the accidental spread of GMO corn and wheat – the wind can carry GMO pollen to pollute the fields of farmers who intended to grow crops free of GMOs.

That is why we must set aside physical areas – like the City of Los Angeles – to be GMO-free. We must create places where heirloom food plants can safely be cultivated and heirloom varieties can be preserved. We need this for the future of food and the survival of humanity.

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