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Conference and World Food Day 2017

What do we know about GMOs and what about natural food?

Ivan-Krešimir Svetec, PhD
Faculty of Food Technology and Biotechnology, University of Zagreb

In human civilisation agriculture emerged around 10,000 years ago. Our ancestors took plants from nature and began to cultivate them. Year after year they planted and sow seeds of those plants that had desirable properties. Therefore, over time, the edible parts of the plant, such as fruit, potato tubers or corn clips, became bigger and bigger. Therefore, today’s plants that feed the humanity are very different from those natural plants which humans started to domesticate and grow long time ago. The difference in appearance is the result of the difference on the gene level. In other words, by cultivating plants over thousands of years, humans unknowingly conducted genetic engineering. Moreover, to produce enough food, forests were cut down and biodiversity slowly began to diminish. With the discovery of new continents, individual plant species were expanded to areas where they never grew before. Of course, in these days that would be unacceptable, especially in countries that take great care of their flora and fauna. With the scientific advances of the twentieth century humans began to improve plants deliberately, by crossing plants of desirable properties, using mutagens and selecting offspring of even better qualities. The use of mutagens accelerated the rate of changes on the gene level and produced the plant varieties that are feeding us today. So we could argue that we are eating mutants but we named this food natural because it’s not a GMO (genetically modified organism). Namely, only the organisms that are modified by genetic engineering which allows precise genetic changes in order to achieve the desired properties are considered to be GMOs. Lately, an increasing number of discussions is being held on GMOs, GM-products and GM-food towards which the public’s negative opinion is already preconceived. That is why we often wonder if we eat GM food and how it affects our health. Listening to the debate about GM food, the impression is gained that consumers have a choice whether to consume GMOs or natural foods. Moreover, the market also offers ecological and organic food. However, the fact is that the consumers are not adequately informed and do not know what are the characteristics of these products or even why are they labelled “natural” “ecological”, “organic”, etc. Therefore, the purpose of this lecture is to answer these and many other questions, such as whether we are eating natural food, why we consider GM food unnatural, is GM food harmful to our health, what so called natural food really is and what is GM food, how it is regulated by the GMO legislation and can we choose which food we eat.