Hybrid food is the result of cross-breeding plants under controlled pollination. The hybrid seed will produce a plant with characteristics from both plants that were crossed. The purpose of cross-breeding is to produce a plant with desirable characteristics such as higher productivity, resistance to insects or improved nutrition. Hybrid foods are often referred to as genetically modified foods. More than half of all processed grocery products contain ingredients that have been altered by genetic modification, according to the 2002 documentary "Hybrid."
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Evolution of Hybrid Corn
Dating all the way back to the Mayans, crops have been altered to produce a more sustainable product. The Mayans experimented with corn to yield a more plentiful crop while making it easier to cultivate. In the 1930s, new hybrids of corn were produced to make the crop easier to grow and more resistant to insects. Milford Beeghly, the creator of this new hybrid, received much grief from farmers for altering nature. Despite the resistance from some farmers, those who used the new hybrid plant produced corn successfully. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, recognizes hybrid corn as genetically engineered food.
Advancement of Hybrid Rice
It was not until 1974 that the first hybrid rice seed was developed. Rice is a staple food for over half the world's population. While demands for rice are increasing, land and water resources are decreasing. Hybrid rice seeds can help to fill this gap. Fields using hybrid rice yield 15 to 20 percent more rice. Aside from the labor of growing rice, the hybrid seed requires 30 percent more hours of production compared to other varieties of rice seeds. This increase in production of the hybrid seeds has helped local rice communities by creating jobs and increasing farmers' incomes.
Oranges and Pummelos Make Grapefruits
Grapefruits are sold in three different varieties at the store: red, pink and yellow/white. This fruit is actually a hybrid. Oranges and pummelos are crossed to make grapefruits. If you are familiar with a Chinese grapefruit, it is not actually a grapefruit at all. The Chinese grapefruit is a pummelo, the largest citrus fruit.
Common Hybrid Vegetables and Fruits
In addition to corn and grapefruit, several other vegetables and fruits sold at the grocery store are a result of hybridization. Carrots, summer squashes, melons and cucumbers are the more common hybrid fruits and vegetables individuals consume. Tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts are other vegetables you may be able to find in hybrid form. Most hybrid crops are grown in separate fields from natural crops that could cross-pollinate with them. For example, fields of hybrid carrots are separated by 2 to 3 miles to prevent hybrid carrots from openly pollinating with other carrot plants.
- University of Illinois Extension: Hybrids & Heirlooms
- PBS.org POV: Genetically Modified Foods
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Genetically Engineered Foods
- Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations: Hybrid Rice for Food Security
- USDA Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: Grapefruit
- Produce for Better Health Foundation: Pummelo Nutrition
- Oregon State University Extension Service: How Are Hybrid and Open-Pollinated Vegetables Different?
- Oregan State University: Vegetable Seed Crops: Carrots and Hybrid Sweet Corn