Consumers opposed to GM don’t understand plant breeding

Everyone has eaten fruit and vegetables altered through traditional crossbreeding, ‘unless you gather all your food from the wild’: breeder

RED DEER — Consumer concern about the safety of genetically modified food stems from lack of understanding about plant breeding regardless of type, says an American corn breeder and professor at Cornell University.

Margaret Smith said people have been modifying crops through domestication, selection and cross breeding for about 200 years, and genetic modification is only the newest tool available to achieve it.

That’s one reason she prefers the term “genetic engineering” to the more common “genetic modification.”

The latter implies that plants have only recently been modified, when in fact they have changed over time to better suit human wants and needs.

For example, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi and cabbage all came from the same plant, the brassica oleracea. Years of selection created the variants now available.

“I think the GMO term is problematic, but I also think we’re stuck with it,” Smith said in a March 8 presentation at the Western Canadian Dairy Seminar.


She referred to a 2001 U.S. survey in which more than 60 percent of respondents said they had never eaten a traditionally crossbred fruit or vegetable, and more than 64 percent thought they had never eaten a GM fruit or vegetable.

“Unless you are gathering all your food from the wild,” said Smith, everyone has eaten fruits and vegetables altered through traditional crossbreeding.

As for GM content, there are few examples of fresh produce on the market today beyond some varieties of sweet corn, although a non-browning apple and potatoes engineered to resist black spot and late blight are pending.

She said 83 percent of the world’s soybeans, 29 percent of maize and 24 percent of canola are GM varieties.

About 60 percent of supermarket foods have ingredients from a GM variety, said Smith, although those ingredients are chemically identical to those that are non-GM.


The safety of GM food has always been a major consumer concern, said Smith, noting that studies to date have produced no credible evidence that existing GM food is harmful.

In an interview, she acknowledged that critics of GM food often question the credibility of studies or suggest they haven’t examined the right things.

“I would argue that we have looked. That does not say we’ve looked at everything, because you can’t,” she said. “I would never look somebody in the eye and say, ‘I guarantee you these are safe,’ be-cause our food and feed systems and our bodies, the way we take in nutrition, is also very complicated and very interactive.

“Whether it’s safe or not is also a function of what else are you eating, how much of it are you eating. There are a lot of questions and the reality is, you can always think of another question to ask.”

Smith also said consumers are concerned that the rights to GM crops belong to few.


In the United States, the 96 existing approvals of crops with GM traits are mostly held by Monsanto, Aventis, Syngenta, Dow and DuPont. Various planned mergers, involving Monsanto and Bayer, Syngenta and ChemChina and Dow and Dupont, if approved, would leave four main players in the field, Smith said.

  • Jack Fanning

    I do understand, which makes me opposed.

    Maybe write an article on polygenic-induced disease resistance and see how many scientists you get denying it’s usefulness and efficiency.

    It goes both ways.

    • RobertWager

      Please elaborate. What specifically about GE crops do you oppose?

      • StopGMO

        All of it should of been opposed, in fact, none of should of been released into our food supply until it was 100% clear and without any doubts, safe for human consumption reported and documented. Do you think it is a “coincidence” to see the number of people, babies and children skyrocket with disease and illness since glyphosate ridden crops and GMOs were forced into our food supply? In fact, this toxin is found in most things these days such as, our water, urine, food, lakes, rain water etc. etc.

        • Do you think it is a “coincidence” to see the number of people, babies and children skyrocket with disease and illness since certified organic foods were forced into our food supply?

          Do you think it is a “coincidence” to see the number of people, babies and children skyrocket with disease and illness since cell phones usage dramatically increased?

          Do you think it is a “coincidence” to see the number of earth quakes and hurricanes increase while global temperatures have risen since pirates were driven from the water.

          • richard

            ……and the greatest coincidence of all…. that we cannot “feed the world” even though forty percent of the food produced in the world is wasted (National Geographic 2013)…. so much for agribiz myths….

    • Harold

      It seems that this one Professor with an opinion to offer didn’t talk to very many people. You are correct in saying that there is a big news blackout. News was intended to report both sides and was directed to those sitting on a fence. Those who know the issues do not require news reporting; they in fact in some cases create the news. It always seems that the one holding a company’s sign in their hands always thinks that the sign offers to them a few brain cells more.
      Moreover, I was taught that if I didn’t know and believe everything that my opponent believed, I was not fit for debate. (Tough class) What the professor probably does not take into account, like many others, is that people believe what their opponent is saying, but they have gone one step further to win the debate. This is why the opponent tiredly repeats and repeats it’s self; perhaps someone on the fence will listen. Notice how GM does not believe. The same thing applies in a Law Court. You win the case FIRST and then you go to court and it is not done without believing your opponent.


    The author claims that GMOs are created like conventional plants by selective breeding is not true. Selective breeding uses only plants of the crop being bred. The conventional food we eat has been tested by evolutionary forces for thousands of years and have been consumed for millenniums with out harm to humans.

    GMOs are cobbled together in a lab from the genes of unrelated organisms and they have not been through evolutionary pressure and they are released to the environment with out any safety testing.

    Readers should be aware that Cornell University has received over 5 million dollars from the Gates Foundation to support GMO industry messaging outreach.

  • debbie3554

    I do understand the difference between plant breeding and cobbling together assorted bits and fragments in a lab to create something novel.

  • Rob Bright

    People who support GMOs either don’t understand genetic engineering, or have vested interests in the technology. This article is blatant, antiscience, industry propaganda.

    • Harold

      “Consumers opposed to GM don’t understand plant breeding”. Who are the one’s not opposed to GE? Consumers who buy GM don’t understand plant breeding and therefore cannot be accounted as those who support GE technology. A simple trip to the Supermarket can fact check this. How can you oppose or support GE technology as a shopper if you do not know everything that GE is. The industry that creates GMO is not a consumer, and the ones in opposition are not the consumers either. If either are consumers at all, they are the consumers of knowledge and this places both at opposite ends of the same science desk. Science is not the servant to only GE technology. You are correct; this article is blatant Industry driven propaganda.

    • “People who support GMOs either don’t understand genetic engineering, or have vested interests in the technology. ”

      … You do realise people who are educated in science are more likely to support GMOs don’t you?

      This article is blatant, scientific, truth.

      • E. Sandwich

        That is an generalized over simplified blanket claim that is not supported by any facts.

        • Hi E. Sandwich how are you?

          While it is a generalisation, this has been shown to be true.

          • E. Sandwich

            Can you give us a citation that supports your claim?

          • Yes I could, but in the past I have giving citations to you and you dismiss them as junk industry pseudoscience, even though that is not the case.

  • grinninglibber

    I understand perfectly that 98 percent of GMOs are for the purpose of being able to spray toxic chemicals on food products

    • Harold

      GMO is more so to capture the crop by patent and then to spray another patent toxic chemical on the food product. You missed a step.

    • patrick

      oh for petes sake………

  • SageThinker

    This attempt to make it seem that GMOs are just an extension of cross breeding is merely a propaganda meme for the biotech industry. Why not just be honest? The propaganda moves really generate more distrust than anything else. GMOs are a special class of organisms in regard to how they are produced and the possible genetic code combinations.

  • Clearly I was just copying what you said in an attempt to illustrate the fact that correlation does not necessarily mean causation.

  • Wrong, with 4% of the food supply tainted by certified organic food and people tending to eat 3 or more times a day everyday, it is obvious almost all people have been exposed to organic food. The probability is very very high of organic food causing serious disease, 50 people died and 3000 were made very sick in 2011 because of organic food.

    On top of that certified organic food is not the same as any foods that have been eaten for multiple generations, certified organic uses pesticides that often have not been thoroughly tested.

    “Children and babies don’t use cell phones.”

    … where do you get your information.

    • E. Sandwich

      Conventional GMO foods are allowed to routinely have 19 times more pesticide residues than the 4% of organic foods that exceeded USDA limits for pesticide residues in organic food.

      You claim that organic food that was not certified was not the same food is not true. For centuries all food was organic.

      The pesticide that are allowed in organic food under certain conditions are also used in conventional GMO food production. One of the most important rules for applying approved pesticide on organic crops is “the following synthetic substances may be used in organic crop production: PROVIDED, THAT, USE OF SUCH SUBSTANCES DO NOT CONTRIBUTE TO CONTAMINATION OF CROPS, SOIL, OR WATER.” This is from “§205.601 Synthetic substances allowed for use in organic crop production.

      • Hi E.

        Seams we can agree that synthetic chemicals can be used responsibly, what criteria would you recommend when assessing if a chemical should be used in agriculture?

        Also I disagree with your first two sentences.