There is a difference between common hybrids and genetic hybrids. Normal hybridization crosses two similar plants. Genetic hybridization uses genes from completely different species. Crops may be genetically altered to resist herbicides, pesticides and antibiotics. Some crops are also modified to increase nutritional benefits. The biggest issue is that seed companies are venturing into unknown territory on a large scale.
The most common genetic hybrid plant is corn. Called BT corn, it utilizes the biological pathogen Bacillus thuringiensis (BT) to render the corn resistant to insects. BT has been used sparingly by organic farmers for a long time. The difference is that small-scale farmers can monitor its use. BT is a non-selective pathogen and is fatal to many butterflies and other beneficial insects. When used on a large scale, it can do a lot of damage to beneficial insect populations. There is also concern that these altered corn plants will cross-pollinate with heirloom corn plants and change their genetic makeup forever. Since high fructose corn syrup is so widely used, altered corn products are already laced throughout the food chain.
Soybeans have been genetically modified for herbicide resistance. The herbicide used most extensively is glyphosate, the ingredient in Roundup. Though glyphosate appears to be harmless to humans and animals, other inactive ingredients in the herbicide are under scrutiny. Another concern is that the genes used to modify soybeans and other crops must come from the genes of another crop. A person allergic to peanuts may not be aware that a gene from a peanut plant was used to modify the soybean plant. At this time it is difficult to tell which products are made from modified crops and which ones are not. Many consumers seek out soybean products for the health benefits of the plant, but they do not want traces of chemical pesticides or herbicides in their food.
Sugar Cane and Sugar Beets
Sugar cane is another genetically altered super food. Brazil is doing trials in hopes of increasing the overall yield of sugar cane by 25 percent. In America, these efforts have slowed. Modified corn and soybeans have already raised too much controversy to introduce altered sugar cane now. A Canadian company has recently begun using genetically modified sugar beets. High fructose corn syrup has become the leading sweetener due to low cost. Many people are refusing to use it due to the chemical residues found in it. Sugar cane and sugar beet sales have been lower, but growers aim to increase yields and sales by genetically engineering these crops.
Golden rice has been genetically engineered to include beta carotene. This means that the genes of the rice plant have been joined with those of a carrot. The rice will have a high vitamin A content. This is meant to target blindness in children with vitamin A deficiencies. This is a problem in third-world countries where rice is a large part of their diet. While this seems to make perfect sense, it is hard to know the long-term repercussions of altering a plant's DNA. The same result could be obtained by eating the rice and the carrots.