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The Important Difference between Cross-Breeding and GMOs

The Important Difference between Cross-Breeding and GMOs

GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, are in the news a lot lately, and most people don’t really understand what it means. Genetically modifying food is a relatively new technology, but it has roots in the ancient agricultural processes of cross-breeding plants to get a better product and yield. While related in some ways, these two processes have some very important differences. Many of the fruit trees we sell are products of cross-breeding, but none of them have been genetically modified.

What Is Cross-Breeding?

Cross-breeding of plants has been going on since ancient humans first settled down, gave up the hunter-gatherer lifestyle and started planting crops. The origins of agriculture go back over 10,000 years and cross-breeding nearly that far. It is the process of selectively breeding plants (and animals) to get desired traits. For instance, one of those ancient farmers would have noticed that one type of grain produced more useable food, while another could grow well with less water. He would have bred the two together in an attempt to get a grain that produced a lot of food and could also resist droughts.

Today, much of the produce we eat comes from this kind of cross-breeding. Over thousands of years people have been manipulating grains, fruits and vegetables to get food crops that grow better in worse condition, that produce more food, that taste better, that resist diseases, and even just to get something that looks nice. You may see plants described as hybrids, like the pluot. This means that two types of fruit, in this case a plum and an apricot, were cross-bred using this ancient technique.

What Are GMOs?

A genetically modified organism is an organism (a plant, animal or microorganism) that has been altered in its DNA, its genetic material, through a process that would not occur naturally. Genetic engineers can select specific genes to insert into the DNA of a particular organism. As with cross-breeding, the purpose is to produce, in the case of plants, foods that have certain traits, like disease-resistance, drought tolerance or higher production amounts.

Foods can even be engineered to have certain nutrients. For instance, golden rice was engineered by researchers to contain more beta-carotene, the natural substance that provides us with vitamin A in our diets. The point was to provide the millions of people around the world who are deficient in vitamin A with an easy and cheap source of this important nutrient. Another early GMO crop was Bt corn, corn engineered to be toxic to corn borer and corn earworm, two pests that destroy corn crops.

How Is Cross-Breeding Different From Genetic Engineering?

Both cross-breeding and genetic engineering involve a manipulation of genes. In cross-breeding, the manipulation is done using a natural process: breeding. Plants will naturally breed by the transfer of pollen from one to another. When we cross-breed plants, we manipulate that process. The genes of one plant get mixed with another to create something new. The cross-breeder is looking for a specific outcome, but what he actually gets could be random because of the large number of genes involved.

Genetic engineering is much more specific. It involves picking out one or more genes to insert into a specific spot in the DNA of a plant. Those inserted genes may come from the same species or a completely different plant. It is a much deeper level of genetic manipulation. Many people have concerns about GMO products for this reason.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are a few areas of legitimate concern regarding GMO foods and crops. These are concerns that separate GMO products from those created by the more natural cross-breeding technique. One concern is that allergens could be transferred from one plant to another or that the newly inserted gene in a GMO food could unwittingly result in an allergen. There is a small amount of concern that the genes transferred to a GMO food could transfer to the person eating it, although the WHO considers this a low risk. A major concern is the mixing of GMO crops with natural crops, which has already been seen to happen in spite of efforts to keep them separated.

We Use No GMO Plants

When you buy your fruit trees and other plants from our nursery, you can rest assured that you are not getting GMO products. The Food and Drug Administration only recommends that manufacturers label foods as containing GMO ingredients, and the U.S. Legislature has passed laws that would prevent any mandatory labeling, but we take this seriously. We believe in being open about how we produce and grow the plants we sell.

Many of our plants are hybrids, and practically all plants have been bred over the years for desired traits, so all are a product of many years of cross-breeding. We also use a technique called grafting. Like cross-breeding, this is an ancient and natural process. To give you plants that are healthy and mature, we physically attach a tree to a hardy root stock and encourage it to grow with the roots. By doing this we can provide a healthy, disease-resistant, pest-resistant and mature fruit tree. It is totally natural and has been in practice for thousands of years.

All of our practices in growing and developing plants at our nursery are time-tested, natural techniques for producing the best fruit trees and other plants. You can trust our products to be totally free of anything genetically modified.