According to research conducted by the supermarket chain, a growing percentage of their customers desire to know the source of their food purchases. Safeway management decided that more product transparency would be a welcomed value-added benefit for their shoppers. To kick things off, Safeway will be offering “Buy 2, Get 1 Free” on many items in the GMO aisle with use of the Safeway Club Card.
The term GM foods or GMOs (genetically-modified organisms) is most commonly used to refer to crop plants created that have had specific changes in their DNA using the methods of genetic engineering. These techniques allow far greater control over a food’s genetic structure than previously afforded by methods such as selective breeding and mutation breeding. Most genetic modification of foods have focused on crops in high demand by farmers such as soybean, corn, canola, and cottonseed oil. GM livestock have also been experimentally developed, although none are currently on the market. Commercial sale of genetically modified crops began in 1994, with the arrival of the delayed ripening tomato.
The world population has topped 6 billion people and is predicted to double in the next 50 years. Ensuring an adequate food supply for this booming population is going to be a major challenge in the years to come. GM foods promise to meet this need in a number of ways:
Crop losses from insect pests can result in major financial losses for farmers and starvation in developing countries. Growing pest-resistant foods such as GM corn can help eliminate the application of chemical pesticides and reduce the cost of bringing a crop to market.
For some crops, it is not cost-effective to remove weeds by physical means so farmers will often spray large quantities of different herbicides (weed-killer) to destroy weeds. In a stroke of scientific progress, Monsanto has created a strain of soybeans genetically modified to be not affected by their herbicide product Roundup.
There are many viruses, fungi and bacteria that cause plant diseases. Plant biologists are working to create plants with genetically-engineered resistance to these diseases.
Unexpected frost can destroy sensitive seedlings. An antifreeze gene from cold water fish has been introduced into plants that would allow them to tolerate cold temperatures that normally would kill seedlings.
As the world population grows and more land is utilized for housing instead of food production, farmers will need to grow crops in locations previously unsuited for plant cultivation. Creating plants that can withstand long periods of drought or high salt content in soil and groundwater will help people to grow crops in formerly inhospitable places.
Malnutrition is common in third world countries where impoverished peoples rely on a single crop such as rice for the main staple of their diet. However, rice does not contain adequate amounts of all necessary nutrients to prevent malnutrition. If rice could be genetically engineered to contain additional vitamins and minerals, nutrient deficiencies could be alleviated.
Medicines and vaccines often are costly to produce and sometimes require special storage conditions not readily available in third world countries. Researchers are working to develop edible vaccines in tomatoes and potatoes.
There is broad scientific consensus that food on the market derived from GM crops poses no greater risk to human health than conventional food.
So in conclusion, I guess I’ll be seeing you in the GMO aisle at Safeway!
Disclosure As of the time of writing, the author owns significant holdings in preferred shares of Safeway, Monsanto, and Dow Chemical.