Thursday, July 11, 2013

No More Tilapia GMO Nonsense

Tilapia hatcheries that throw out non-GMO claims are playing to an audience shrouded in fear and ignorance for financial gain.  The truth is, the term GMO was invented by journalists, television writers and newspaper reporters as an acronym for another made-up term, genetically modified organism.  Today the term non-GMO is used to market products to consumers who are fearful of a process that they don't understand.

Genetic improvements have been developed by breeders and growers for over 8000 years.  Moving pollen from one plant variety to another to generate new seeds with traits from both plants happens in nature with the blowing of the wind or on the bodies of bees. But even if the pollen is moved by the hands of a farmer, the results are still the same. In more modern times, scientists use other methods to induce changes by using chemical compounds or irradiation.  Obviously when people hear chemicals they immediately think of all the skull and crossbones warning labels on their household cleaners and bug sprays. But remember, to a scientist, H20 is a chemical, to the rest of us, it's just water.  And irradiation is also used to cold pasteurize hundreds of everyday foods. Even farm animals are selectively bred for a number of reasons, including the prevention of disease and improved production using such techniques as artificial insemination or embryo rescue.  The truth is, almost everything we eat today has been genetically modified in one way or another within the last 8000 years.

Genetic engineering is different from genetic improvements in that genes from any species are introduced. As a way to illustrate this difference, genetic improvements can be made by combining two types of corn but not one variety of corn and one variety of rice.  Rice pollen will not pollenate corn.  However in the laboratory, scientists can take genes from either plant and create a new variety of either.  This is genetic engineering.  The resulting plant may be more corn than rice or more rice than corn but ultimately it will be a new variety of one or the other, similar but different.  There is another level of genetic development called precision breeding which is sort of a hybrid between genetic improvement and genetic modification.  The methods used in precision breeding are far more predictable than anything else, and can result in getting exactly what the scientist is after.

For a tilapia hatchery to be truly non-GMO they would have to sell natural colored random sized and shaped, mixed-sex, certified pure strain tilapia exactly as they were from ten thousand years ago.  Like it or not, breeding for size or color is just another form of genetic improvement.  And we all know from the fear mongers that genetic improvement falls under the dark cloak of GMO.

At Backyard Tilapia, we sell everything from pure strain naturally colored tilapia exactly as they were 100 centuries ago to one of the most genetically improved hybrids of all time.  Yep, GMO's are served here, and were darn proud of it.