|What Crop Traits are Genetically Engineered (or GMO)?|
|Joe Lawrence, Cornell PRO-DAIRY|
|A great deal of discussion continues on potential markets for “GMO Free” crops and products, such as milk, from animals fed these crops.|
GMO is the commonly used term for a genetically modified organism, and is really being misused in this context. In reality many things in agriculture are genetically modified compared to its ancestors. Humans have used selection criteria to propagate crops that better fit their needs for thousands of years. In the last century this has been accelerated by what are now commonly referred to as conventional plant breeding techniques.
When we hear terms such as GMO free corn or GMO free milk the groups looking for these products are actually referring to genetically engineered (GE) crops. The definition of genetic engineering is “the deliberate modification of the characteristics of an organism by manipulating its genetic material.” The primary examples of this in row crops are herbicide tolerant crops and crops with traits that protect them from certain insect pest, notably the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) trait.
As producers are asked to consider shifting production to “GMO Free” and the potential price incentives attached to that shift there are a number of questions surrounding what it means to be “GMO Free.”
Here we will address a few areas of question.
What traits are derived from genetic engineering?
In the case of “GMO free” milk, guidelines are being developed referring to the total amount of contamination in the total ration fed to the dairy herd. In this case the producer needs to account for potential contamination from all feed ingredients from homegrown forages to purchased grains and other additives. The producer assumes a great deal of risk in assuring the final product remains under defined thresholds for contamination. When purchasing seed for planting or feed ingredients it will be important to verify with the supplier if they have tested their products and what level of contamination has been found.