Imagine yourself strolling down the produce aisle and some sparkly version of your favorite fruit catches your eye. It beckons you to come on over. The thought comes to mind, “This looks so amazing! How did the grower get it so big, bright and delicious looking?”
There can be a lot of confusion when shopping in the produce aisle. In previous blogs we have talked about the importance of buying organic and avoiding genetically engineered foods . It is important to stay informed on what foods are GMO (genetically modified organisms). Currently, the GMO foods you may find in the produce aisle include: sweet corn, papaya, zucchini, summer squash, some potatoes and some apples. For a complete list, you can go to http://www.nongmoproject.org or http://responsibletechnology.org.
Do you know the difference between genetically engineered plants and hybridization? GMOs cannot occur naturally on their own. Scientists insert DNA of an organism into another organism, one that it would never mate with naturally, creating a brand new genetic organism.
Hybridization is often done in a lab these days, but it hasn’t always been (and doesn’t have to be) done in a lab. For years, growers have been saving seeds of their most prized plants and using that seed the following year. This gradual plant selection is done naturally, which allows your body to keep up with how it digests the food each growing season. Lately, scientists have been able to speed up the process using greenhouses and getting more than one growing season each year. In some cases, chemicals or radiation is used to aid hybridization. For example, a plant may be exposed to chemicals repeatedly and the best surviving plants are selected for replant in the next trial. Now you have a plant that is resistant to a chemical. Other hybrids are bred to be sterile and therefore creates a finished product without all those pesky seeds.
This brings us to the question, “Is it safe?” Rarely, is any plant breeding done for the sake of nutrition. Usually, it is done to aid in the harvest, growing, shipping or the aesthetic appeal. Many current hybrids are thought to have less nutritional value than their heirloom grandparents of 100 years ago. Many gardeners have chosen to grow these heirloom varieties for their superior flavor and to save the seed of old. This seed can be collected and used from year to year. For more info on this topic you can check out http://www.seedsavers.org.
Organic produce in stores today are most likely hybrids, with some varieties more hybridized than others. If you want to avoid some of the modern hybrids, what are your options? You can seek out growers that use heirloom seeds, or grow your own food. In the case of wheat, many choose to buy Emmer, Einkorn or spelt instead of its hybridized semi-dwarf, high gluten version of today. Others may choose to buy a seeded watermelon instead of a seedless. How about you? Do you try to avoid modern hybrids, if so, which ones?