If you break out in a rash at the thought of genetically modified foods (GMO), read on. A sweeping study released by the National Academy of Science has concluded that GMO’s are as safe as any other food. (“GMO’s: Safe to eat, says science,” The Week, June 3, 2016, pg. 16.) GMOs are created by “using bacteria to deliver DNA into a plant, and sometimes involves combining genes from different species…” (Against the grain,” by Adel Peters, Fast Company, May 2016, pg. 49.) Because the processes involves bacteria and sometimes works across species, the industry has long been regarded with suspicion in certain quarters.
Just as some people continue to deny climate change, this new study will be met with skepticism. Only time and more data will affect attitudes. But while we wait, a new challenge is on the horizon: CRISPER. (Blog 9/11/15) CRISPR doesn’t use bacteria or DNA from a different species to alter gene characteristics. CRSPR is short for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats. The process allows gene designers to select or deselect an organism’s traits without additives and so it can be said to be more natural than GMOs.
CRSPR modification became possible when two women scientists discovered a bacteria natural to organisms, Cas9 enzyme. The enzyme’s function is to destroy foreign bacteria. But the researchers discovered it can act like a pair of scissors to removed traits from an organism’s genes.
The discovery means allergens fatal to some people, like those found in peanuts, can be removed to make the food safer to consume. For the last ten years, dairy farmers have used this method to prolong the shelf life of their products. (Ibid pg. 49.)
As the food industry turns increasingly to CRSPR, debate over GMO food labeling may disappear and a new one about CRSPR emerge. Much depends upon what the public chooses to believe about the method’s safety.