The difference between Hybridized and Genetically Modified foods is often confusing for people. Many believe that people have been genetically modifying things for thousands of years when in reality we have only been hybridizing. What is the difference and why are the waters so murky? Does the difference even matter or are we just splitting hairs? People are rightly concerned about the safety and healthiness of their foods as can be seen by the increased demand for organic and in this same way we should be concerned about the differences between hybridization and genetically modified organisms (GMO's). Hybridization is a natural process that can be controlled by man while genetic modification is a completely lab-made process that threatens not only the existence of organic foods and thereby our health, but also the sovereignty of people over their food supply.
Hybridization is a process that has been happening naturally throughout the existence of life on earth. Whenever two plants cross pollinate or when two animals reproduce a form of hybridization occurs. The same process that determines the colour of your eyes or hair is essentially a hybridization. Your DNA remains completely human but dominant and recessive genes that you inherit from your parents produce your specific traits be they tall, short, blue eyed or brown haired. The same thing occurs in nature when two plants from the same family cross pollinate. If a large watery tomato is crossed with a small meaty tomato you mighty luckily end up with a large, meaty tomato. The DNA is still completely a tomato but different characteristics have been triggered. This cross pollination could be made possible by a bee, a backyard farmer with a cotton swab, or even by the wind but as long as the two plants are in the same family it can and does occur naturally. One thing of note about hybridization is that it doesn't always result in a line of the new hybrid that will continue with the same characteristics. For example, seed saved from our new large, meaty tomato may revert to producing plants with the characteristics of it's parents (large, watery or small, meaty) therefore if we continually want our large, meaty tomato we would need to keep cross-pollinating the parents plants in order to get the desired seed. As often as not seed from the hybridized plant will continue to produce the desired outcome and hybridization has led to a great number of the favourite foods we have been growing and eating for centuries.
Genetic Modification is an entirely man-made procedure where as the name implies, the genetic code of the organism is changed. The genetic change can be made between plants of the same family or by inserting DNA information from a completely different plant (or animal) into the DNA of another. Once made the new change is dominant and forever and any descendants from the organism will carry the modification within their DNA. It is important to understand that the changes made in genetic modification become dominate traits and that if a natural cross-pollination occurs via the wind, or by a bee, etc. between the GMO and a non-GMO plant the resulting plant will be genetically modified- there is no going back. How the new genetic information is placed into the DNA is also incredibly important as to do so they need a vector (or carrier) and what they use is either bacteria or a virus and this bacteria or virus remains as part of the new DNA passed down from generation to generation (except in the case of a genetic modification resulting in Terminator Seeds which are completely infertile). If we go back to using tomato's as an example, in order to make a frost resistant type, the anti-freeze transgene from a Winter Flounder (yes, a fish) was placed into the DNA of a tomato via bacteria. Other modifications are made to make plants resistant to certain herbicides but one result has been that the weeds we wanted to rid ourselves of with the herbicides have now also mutated and become resistant Super Weeds. One final note of importance regarding genetically modified seed is that they are patented and owned by corporations, making it no longer legal for individuals to save seed or share seed with their neighbours from one harvest to the next.
It's in the interest of certain corporations to keep the differences between hybridization and genetic modification muddy. The misinformed view that we have been genetically modifying things for centuries helps create an atmosphere of nonchalance. The fact is that there is a huge difference between the two and that genetic modification has the potential to have disastrous effects on our future food health and supplies as well as the loss of food sovereignty from individuals to corporations while hybridized foods pose no hazard to any of these things. Genetically modified seed is sold to us under the guises of higher yields which has proven to be untrue, and less use of pesticides which has also proven to be untrue and as Grandma always says "if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is".