I've been accused of spouting bad science, and so I wanted to get a few facts straight.
First is to link to an article on Gregor Mendel, who was alluded to in a recent comment as the Father of Genetics. Mendel was a monk and a teacher in the 19th Century, who, through trial and error (using pea plants), discovered that it was possible to isolate and bring out hereditary characteristics in offspring that aren't evident in parents.
It was not new stuff, exactly. In fact, people had been manipulating plants and animals for centuries before Mendel's research. In the book 1491, for example, Charles Mann states that there is no "ancient" plant that is exactly like what natives called maize. It is suggested that humans created this plant by cross-pollinating several grass-like plants to create this grass with a huge seed head. One of the reasons anthropologists believe this to be true is because of the nature of the corn seed head, which is very tight clusters of seeds that, without some help, wouldn't be able to propagate. Specifically, unlike other grasses, the seeds don't easily release from the plant and blow away in the wind.
Many animal species have been subjected to human intervention, as well. Every breed of animal that has been domesticated by humans has been altered using selective breeding. A woman named Mrs. Campbell, for instance, wanted a duck that was flightless and didn't need a pond to be healthy, and she crossed a couple of different breeds and ended up with a brown/green duck, the color of which reminded her of the English uniforms - Khakis. And that's what her duck breed is called, Khaki Campbells. I have two of them in the backyard. If Padoda, the drake "Call" duck, is ever able to sucessfully fertilize his dames, we'll have something else.
But let's be very clear here, and I'll bold face and italicize it so that we can all really see these words and let them sink in selective breeding so that a flower is bigger is not the same as splicing a gene of a plant with the gene of an animal so that the flower will be poisonous to aphids.
What humans have done for centuries through selective breeding and hybridization is to take a plant or an animal and breed it with the same species of plant or animal to highlight certain desired characteristics that are already genetically programmed into that plant or animal.
Genetically modified organisms are not the same thing. In fact, this definition on FreeDictionary.com makes it pretty clear that simple selective breeding could not produce a GMO.
We can play semantics and say that "breeding is genetic manipulation," and justify genetically modifying our food plants by pretending it's all the same, but we would be deluding ourselves and anyone we're trying to convince. Monsanto and their ilk are not creating disease-resistant corn or sweeter beets or more cold tolerate tomatoes by cross-breeding corn with corn or beets with beets or tomatoes with tomatoes. Rather, they are adding genes from bacteria to the corn and genes from fish to the tomatoes. They are changing the DNA code of these vegetables by adding DNA code from an organism that would never, in a natural setting, be able to cross-breed with that other organism.
There's another fact that we should discuss, too, and that is that, while humans have had a hand in genetically altering many species through selective breeding programs, nature, herself, is pretty adept at creating new species through happenstance.
For instance, I had, what is probably, a new breed of squash in my garden this summer. It had the shape of a pumpkin, with the skin color and texture of a butternut squash, but the meat was like a pattypan. What happened was that we had a butternut squash in our winter CSA share, and we ate the squash and threw the seeds in the compost pile. We also had a patty pan that we'd bought, because it was tiny and cute, and it ended up in the compost, too. In the spring, I prepared my beds, adding a dressing of, mostly, finished compost, and planted some hubbard squash seeds. When the vines grew, the fruit they bore was not hubbard squash. It was a natural, accidental, genetic modification through cross-pollination, when the patty pan or butternut seeds actually grew and produced flowers and then, all of the squash plants were pollinated by the bees.
The fact is that my ducks are DUCKS. My squash was SQUASH. But the seeds, the Bt corn and the fish tomato, are not corn or tomato, they are something else, and those something else's have been proven in numerous studies to be unhealthy for human consumption.
What's most disturbing is that many countries around the globe have already moved to ban GMO seed and GMO food imports. Europe requires that food containing GMO ingredients must be labeled as such. Haitian farmers are burning GMO seeds to prevent them from contaiminating their crops. Most recently, Russia has (temporarily) banned import of US grown corn, and China has banned import of US grown soy - because both of these crops are GMOs. Their motivation was research that shows these foods are unsafe for human consumption. And, in fact, China is buying land in Africa and South America so that they can grow their own, non-GMO soybeans.
I'm left, wondering, why the US is still struggling to ban these products when, even countries like Haiti, where starvation is a real issue, won't accept GMO seeds, because they seem to understand what those seeds really are.
Genetically modified organisms, also referred to as genetically engineered organisms, are not the same as crops or animals that have undergone selective breeding, and to claim so is to be grossly misleading or misinformed ... or to just not understand what the scientists at Monsanto are really doing.
Of course, none of this matters, because if one believes gene-splicing is just a more efficient equivalent to decades of selective breeding and is comfortable eating corn that has a gene that is designed to explode the stomach of its predators ... and a predator is defined as something that eats something else ... then, I say, go right ahead and eat it.
Just ... stand over there ... away from me ... when you do.