Posted: February 20, 2015 at 12:43 am

Chuck Bednar for @BednarChuck

As a general rule, humans like to know exactly what it is that theyre eating. In the past, this was an easy task you could pick up a tomato, a can of corn and a pack of ground beef and be fairly confident that you knew where they came from. In recent years, however, scientists have become increasingly involved in food production, causing some confusion amongst consumers.

[Related story: GMO potato approved by USDA]

If youre one of the people who sometimes feel overwhelmed when you start hearing terms such as genetic modification and selective breeding, dont worry we here at RedOrbit feel your pain, so weve created this handy little guide to help clear up some of the confusion.

Genetic modification (GMO)

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been at the center of much of the discussion over scientifically-manipulated food. While a 2010 EU-funded study found that eating GMO foods is no more risky that eating conventionally-grown products, there are laws requiring these goods to carry special labels in over 60 countries, and some remain concerned about their safety.

According to the nonprofit George Mateljan Foundation, a GMO is defined as any organism that has had its core genetic material altered using genetic engineering techniques. In other words, the crops or creatures have had their DNA or RNA fundamentally changed in a laboratory in order to add or enhance specific traits, allowing them to grow larger, stay fresh longer, and so on.

A good example of this is the Arctic apple, a genetically-modified apple produced by a Canadian company, Okanagan Specialty Fruits, that received USDA approval earlier this week. The Arctic apple underwent a process called RNA interference (RNAi), which blocked a normally-occurring enzyme and kept the apple from turning brown after it had been sliced. [Related story: GMO apple approved for sale in US]

Selective breeding

Like genetic modification, selective breeding is performed in order to promote specific traits in a plant or animal. However, the selective breeding process does not involve making any changes to the core biological makeup of a plants genetic makeup at least not directly. Rather, organisms which strongly exhibit specific characteristics are bred together to emphasize those traits.

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