Genetically Modified Tobacco Has Bright Future

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By: Ted Walter, Staff Member

The news has given profuse attention lately to genetically modified plants. Much of that attention has been focused on agribusiness giant, Monsanto. Just last month, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously “that when farmers use patented seed for more than one planting in violation of their licensing agreements, they are liable for damages.”[1] Another issue is whether there should be mandatory labeling of food products containing GMOs. “In all, 28 states considered genetic labeling this year, but so far the two New England states [Maine and Connecticut] are the only ones to pass legislation.”[2] One writer put it best: “Love them or hate them, this is for certain: GMOs have easily become one of the most divisive topics in the world of food production.”[3]

If it isn’t easy to tell, much of the attention casts GMOs in a negative light. And all of these issues are on a national scale. But the biggest question is how does this relate to Kentucky? More specifically, how will this impact Kentucky’s most nationally recognized crop: tobacco.

Tobacco has a long history of being genetically modified. In 1983, tobacco became the first genetically modified plant.[4] In fact, “[t]obacco often is chosen as a production platform, since it is easily modified genetically.”[5] Further, not only does tobacco have a long past of genetic modification, but the future of genetically modified tobacco is promising too. Currently, “[s]cientists are touting tobacco as the risk-free biofuel capable of weaning us off fossil fuels.”[6] Additionally, a pharmaceutical company is using genetically modified tobacco to develop flu vaccines.[7] And if those are not enough, right now lab experiments are underway “using a genetically altered version of [tobacco that] might provide a relatively inexpensive cure for the deadly virus rabies.”[8]

While there is some merit to the negative attention GMOs receive in the media, there are definitely many positive aspects to GMOs, especially for crop so important to the state of Kentucky, such as tobacco.
[1] Nina Totenberg, For Supreme Court, Monsanto’s Win Was More About Patents Than Seeds, NPR, (May 13, 2013),
[2] Bill Cummings, Few states have genetically modified food laws, Connecticut Post, (June 17, 2013)
[3] Jen Russell, Farmers Say ‘No’ to Labeling GMOs, Ag Web, (June 20, 2013)
[4] History of Genetically Modified Foods, Global Change,
[5] GMO Compass,
[6] Biofuel-ing change with tobacco, Euronews,
[7] Katherine Gammon, Fight Flu With Tobacco, Wired, (March 18, 2013)
[8] Genetically Modified Tobacco Plants Produce Antibodies to Treat Rabies, Science Daily, (February 1, 2013)