In the modern era, when we use the word "genetic" in relation to a crop, we're usually not talking about genetic engineering through crossbreeding by a farmer who just wants to grow onions that don't make you cry. When we say "genetic," the presumption is usually that some kind of science was involved. In 1973, two American scientists named Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen developed the ability to genetically engineer DNA. By 1974, other scientists had manipulated the DNA of a rat, and by 1975 a debate was already waging over whether or not genetically engineered food was safe for consumers.
By the time the first commercial GMO food, the FLAVR SAVR tomatoes promising a longer shelf-life, were approved by the US Department of Agriculture in 1992 and shipped to market, Americans were already wary. What happened next was such an absolute public relations disaster even Monsanto, the parent company of the FLAVR SAVR, admitted to botching it. GMOs became so divisive that Monsanto lost a third of its stock value in 14 months. "Our confidence in this technology and our enthusiasm for it has, I think, been widely seen -- and understandably so -- as condescension or indeed arrogance," the chief executive of Monsanto said in 1999. In other words, instead of hearing the public's concerns and offering any reassurance on the company's science-based safety record, Monsanto brushed right past us.