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GMo vs.Hybrid vs. Open Pollinated?

GM food, hybrids and open pollinated varieties - what is the difference? Is there a difference?

Talking about seed varieties is a bit of a hornets nest, as people often have very passionate opinions about this very complex subject, and the devil is very much in the detail. Is there a place for GM foods in organic production? No! In my humble opinion, there is no place for genetic modification in our food system, end-of-story. From my perspective GM is unnecessary, and is far more about profit for a few corporations, out to patent nature, and claims about "feeding the world" are bogus. The whole organic movement is in agreement that there is no place for GM foods under "organic" labels.

The question of hybrids against open pollinated varieties is much more nuanced. There is not room here to go into the detail, but broadly speaking, open pollinated varieties are the traditional and "heritage" varieties, which rely on time-tested selective breeding techniques. The big benefit of open pollinated variety breeding is that it helps to maintain genetic diversity in crops, and the chances are the more genetically diverse a given vegetable or fruit, the more nutritious it will be (this is more rule-of-thumb than written in stone). Hybrids are a complex issue, as there are different technologies used for selecting hybrids - some of which are closer to traditional selective breeding techniques, others are rather high-tech, and invasive to the biology of the plant. For me the biggest question hanging over hybrids, is that to my knowledge there are very few research results showing the nutritional status of hybrid foods. My horse sense tells me that in genetic selection you always gain a bit and lose a bit. If you are selecting for uniformity of cropping and maximum yield, probably somewhere along the line you are losing some kind of nutritional quality (e.g. polyphenol, vitamin, dry matter content). We rarely get something for nothing, and should be skeptical about claims made otherwise.

(Matthew Hayes takes full responsibilities on his opinions written above.)





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