Are genetically modified foods (commonly called GMOs) and hybrid foods the same thing? Think about it. Have you ever eaten a Honeycrisp apple? A Honeycrisp is a hybrid. Have you ever seen an organic Honeycrisp? You can buy USDA certified organic Honeycrisps, and certified organic food cannot contain GMOs.
If you follow the logic, hybrid foods and GMOs obviously can’t be the same. But, what is the difference?
Hybrid produce is created when two different varieties of a fruit or vegetable, or two different types of a fruit or vegetable, are crossed with each other. When kale is crossed with Brussels sprouts, a new vegetable called Kalettes is produced.
When compatible plants are cross-bred, new varieties are created. Sometimes this happens in nature; sometimes it happens on a farm or plantation. Grapefruits are a hybrid of a pomelo and a sweet orange. They were crossbred on plantations in the 18th century. The Honeycrisp was created under more scientific conditions at the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station's Horticultural Research Center around 1960.
No matter how a hybrid fruit or vegetables comes to be, it is not genetically modified. According to the NonGMO Project, a GMOs are “plants or animals that have been genetically engineered with DNA from bacteria, viruses or other plants and animals. These experimental combinations of genes from different species cannot occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding.”
While the creation of hybrid fruits and vegetables create a bigger variety, GMO produce does not increase the variety of fruits and vegetables available. Eighty percent of GMOs are “are engineered for herbicide tolerance.” They contain toxic chemicals that are designed to kill weeds or pests, but there has been little research done on what these chemicals do to human health. That’s why GMOs are controversial.
If you’ve been eating grapefruits or Honeycrisps or even Kalettes, go ahead and keep on eating them. There is no health risk in eating a hybrid. If you regularly consume GMO foods, however, you might want to learn more about them. A good place to start is MNN's GMO page.