GMO Foods – Yes or No?
Genetically modified organisms (GMO) are organisms made with engineered material with the primary goal of improving the original organism. They can then be used, in some cases, to produce GMO foods. In most cases, GMOs have been altered with DNA from another organism, be it a bacterium, plant, virus or animal.
With all the controversy around genetically modified (GM) foods, sorting through huge volumes of information can seem like a daunting task. People are asking questions about GM foods and they are also raising concerns about the effects these foods may have on their health and the planet. Like most things, there’s both an upside and downside to GMOs, although to what extent they can help or harm us is a debatable aspect of this technology.
- Genetically modified animals are injected with certain specific genes so they can produce “better”. These animals are expected to have a higher resistance to disease and have overall better health, with better natural waste management. Theoretically, genetically modified crops and animals could also be more environmentally friendly because they conserve water, soil and energy.
- In a way, GMOs give farmers insurance for their crops. The GM factor helps protect the crops from disease and pests, offering a greater chance that plants with GMOs will survive better than normal plants. With the increase in crop production the prices of food will drop, thus allowing poorer countries to feed better.
- Genetically modified crops have better taste and are richer in nutrients and offer a faster output of crops. Farmers can also grow more plants or food on less land with genetically modified crops.
- Surprisingly, GMOs benefit the environment. Less chemicals, time, machinery and land are needed for GMO crops and animals, which can help reduce pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and soil erosion.
- GMOs can pose significant allergy risks, as per a Brown University study. Genetic enhancements often combine proteins not contained in the original organism, which can cause allergic reactions in humans. For example, if a protein from an organism that caused an allergic reaction is added to something that didn’t react previously, it may now prompt a new allergic reaction. In the USA food allergies among children under the age of 18 years spiked from 3.4% in 1997-99 to 5.1% in 2009-11, according to a study, though it notes that there were no conclusive scientific links to GMO foods.
- Lowered resistance to antibiotics. Some GMOs have built-in antibiotic qualities that enhance immunity, but eating them can reduce the effectiveness of actual antibiotics.
- Genes may migrate. According to The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, “through ‘gene escape,’ they can pass on to other members of the same species and perhaps other species. Genes introduced in GMOs are no exception, and interactions might occur at gene, cell, plant, and ecosystem level. Problems could result if, for example, herbicide-resistance genes got into weeds. So far, research on this is inconclusive, with scientists divided — often bitterly. But there is scientific consensus that once widely released, recalling transgenes or foreign DNA sequences, whose safety is still subject to scientific debate, will not be feasible.”
The argument over the development and marketing of GMO foods has become a political and socio-economic hot potato in the past few years. There are clearly two very different viewpoints when it comes to the health and safety of genetically engineered food — industry leaders and scientists who support GMOs and those who believe GMOs are harmful.
GMOs benefit mankind when used for purposes such as increasing the availability and quality of food and medical care, and contributing to a cleaner environment. If used wisely, they could result in an improved economy without doing more harm than good, and they could also make the most of their potential to alleviate hunger and disease worldwide. However, the full potential of GMOs cannot be realized without due diligence and thorough attention to the risks associated with each new GMO carefully.