Genetically modified fruits and vegetables are receiving strong reactions from the public of late, even though most of the foods customers are purchasing nowadays are in fact GMOs.
As a recent article from Business Insider points out, while scientists have been splicing genes from other organisms — such as bacteria — to give plants desired traits such as resistance to pests, selective breeding is a slower process whereby farmers select and grow crops with those traits over time.
Humans have been tweaking the genetics of our favorite produce for centuries and many of today’s most common foods look totally different from when man cultivated them centuries ago.
Here is a look at what produce looked like before GMOs.
Wild watermelon, as seen here, lacked the alluring red coloring and was not as sweet as today’s watermelon variety.
Humans have bred and altered watermelons to have a red, fleshy interior. GMO watermelons have even went so far as to changed the size and coloring, but still retain the same flavoring.
The first bananas were cultivated around 7,000 to 10,000 years ago in what is now Papua New Guinea. They were also grown in Southeast Asia. Modern bananas came from two wild varieties, which had large, hard like seeds.
The modern banana, with its peelable covering, smaller seeds, better taste, and improved nutrients is the result of human intervention.
Eggplants have had varying shapes and colors through time. Early eggplants were grown in China and had “spines” where the plant’s stem connects to the flowers.
Modified eggplants are more hardy and endure more extreme temperatures. They are also far more tastier than their ancestors.
The first carrots were grown in the 10th century in Persia and Asia Minor, and are believed to have been originally purple or white with a “thin, forked root.”
Farmers transformed the thin, white roots into the large, tasty orange roots that we enjoy today.
According to Business Insider, “the most iconic example of selective breeding is North American sweetcorn, which was bred from the barely edible teosinte plant.” The corn shown above was first domesticated in 7,000 BC and was “dry like a raw potato.”
Now, corn is 1,000 times larger and is much easier to peel and grow, with 6.6% of it made up of sugar, compared with just 1.9% in natural corn. About half of these changes occurred since the 15th century, when European settlers started cultivating the crop, according to Business Insider.
A lot of fear was sparked about the safety of GM foods after a scientist named Gilles-Eric Séralini published a study that found rats fed with Monsanto’s glyphosphate-resistant corn developed more tumors and died earlier than controls. After these results, many demanded tighter regulations whereas others called for an outright ban on the corn. However, numerous problems with the study came to light which led to its retraction from the journal.
First off, Séralini is an outspoken anti-GMO activist. At the time of initial publication he had conflicting interests- he was releasing a book and a documentary on the research. For the experiments, Séralini used Sprague-Dawley rats that are prone to developing spontaneous tumors. He also only used 10 rats for each group, for a period of two years which is almost a rat’s lifespan. The study was described as a “statistical fishing trip” by reviewers – if you test enough variables for long enough, you’ll get a result from something. This is not good science. The recommendation for carcinogenicity studies is that 65 or more of each sex should be used. There is a high probability that the results were due to chance.
Furthermore, there have been mounds of better designed studies that have found no health issues, further suggesting that poor study design is the likely reason for the results, not the GM maize.