The Debate Over GMO

the-Debate Over GMO

Technological advancements recently developed technologies, and methods using other newly found scientific findings are a constant in the production of many everyday items. But, did you know that some of these scientific outcomes are used to produce genetically modified crops and animals? Research and technological advancements have paved the way for genetically modified organisms, more commonly referred to as GMOs. Genetically modified organisms have been in the limelight since the 1980s, which has led to countless controversies.

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What is GMO?

GMOs are organisms or plants whose genes have been artificially changed in laboratories. Gene modification on plants and animals has been incorporated into farming and livestock production to enhance food quality and crop yield. The technology, termed genetic engineering, means that new DNA is transferred into plant cells to create new or different characteristics in genetically modified organisms. This process focuses on combining bacteria, viruses, and animal genes that do not occur naturally. For instance, one goal of this technology is to address the increasing problem of food shortages in many countries. By shortening crop cycles and altering the environment in which a crop needs to thrive, different foods would be made more accessible in dry countries.

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History

Selective breeding or artificial selection by Charles Darwin is the process that our ancestors practiced, although they had no clear idea of what genetics was all about back then. They chose organisms with the most desired traits, then combined them to propagate these traits to their offspring. The most evident alteration in plants happened through the artificial selection of corn. Corn, or maize, started as a wild grass called Teosinte. Teosinte had very tiny ears with few kernels. Because of selective breeding, Teosinte now has larger ears and noticeably more kernels, known today as corn. Though GMO technology is quite different than artificial selection, this method is still the origin of modern processes and the first example of genetic modifications.

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The GMO technology was first developed in 1973 by Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen who successfully engineered the first genetically engineered organism. This breakthrough opened up new research possibilities, but also created important concerns at the same time, including the potential consequences on our natural habitat, safety for human consumption, and possible negative effects on human health. This is because alteration of the genes is prone to a mutation that will eventually lead to irregular changes in the DNA and its genetic structure.

Common Genetically Modified Crops in the United States

Many foods that you find in grocery stores today contain ingredients that are genetically modified. This is roughly estimated at 80% in the US, with at least 90% of soy, cotton, and corn being grown using genetic technology. The most common crops that are genetically engineered include:

    • Corn
    • Soybean
    • Cotton
    • Potato
    • Papaya
    • Summer squash
    • Canola
    • Alfalfa
    • Apple
    • Sugar beets

These crops are primarily modified to make them resistant to pests and herbicides, create greater crop yields, stabilize growth in harsher conditions, and generally make farming easier. Despite the claims and research findings of known and respected organizations that GMOs are generally safe for consumption and a very sustainable way of producing crops, the controversy about the safety and potential health risks is still ongoing.

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Advantages

Genetically modified organisms or GMOs are designed to provide solutions to some existing problems encountered in farming and livestock industries. This includes:

Improved Quality

GMOs may have improved the color or longevity of some foods. They might also remove the seeds of some foods or make the plant less susceptible to changing climates. The nutrients of these modified plants have also been enhanced.

Avoid Crop Devastation

Because of GMOs, some plants have been saved from extinction. One example is the Hawaiian Rainbow Papaya. When the ringspot virus became widespread and became a destructive disease of papaya, researchers developed the rainbow variety of papaya. This modified gene made the papaya plants resistant to the ringspot virus.

Lowering the Costs of Foods

The chemicals and water needed for GM plants are often lower than their counterparts, thus lowering the price of these products in the market.

Can Reach Inaccessible Regions in the Word

GMO lengthens the shelf life of foods, allowing them to be transported to far-reaching areas without spoiling easily. This makes them more readily available to communities in need.

Maintain and Improve Nutritional Value

Some plants are altered to improve their nutritional value or address existing nutritional deficiencies. One example is rice. Rice high in beta carotene, or golden rice, was developed to help prevent blindness, especially in regions where local foods are deficient in vitamin A.

Increase Yield and Make Easier to Cultivate

Making crops resistant to pests and extreme weather conditions allows for greater crop production and makes it easier to cultivate fields in problematic surroundings.

Alleviate Hunger

Hunger and malnutrition are rampant around the globe. GMOs have helped feed hungry and malnourished people.

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Disadvantages

GMOs have improved the food industry immensely, but despite these proven benefits, ongoing concerns about the safety of human consumption and the long-term effects on our environment are abundant. Here are some of the known harmful effects of GMOs.

Allergic Reactions

As discussed, GMOs are developed by altering the genetic makeup of an organism or a plant, making it favorable to certain conditions. This process is believed to create allergic reactions for many individuals. GM crops may have allergens that when consumed, stimulate an immune response in the body.

Resistant to Antibiotics

This could be possible, as GMOs are generally incorporated with antibiotic-resistant genes, making them resistant to any pests and creating resilience. This procedure could be contributing to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, although this has not yet been validated.

Cancer Contributory

Concern has been raised linking GMOs to cancer. Cancer is caused by DNA mutations, and considering the methods used in GMO creation, many people fear that eating GMO foods might affect human DNA.

Environmental Hazard

GMO crops have been helpful to farmers; however, some negative environmental impacts have been proven by scientists. The following are significant concerns that have been observed.

    1. Herbicide & Pesticide Resistance – There has been a large increase in sales of herbicides and pesticides in the USA and Canada. This is because almost all genetically modified crops are engineered to be resistant to specific herbicides. This becomes an environmental concern because the increased use of these herbicides might become ineffective over time.
    2. High Concentration of Toxins in Soil – Toxicity is a huge concern when it comes to GM crops. One example is BT Corn (Bacillus Thuringensis Corn) for its pest controlling ability. The toxins used in the corn to control pests might also be released into the soil. Excessive toxins in the soil will also kill the bacteria essential for the growth of the plant, and if this happens the soil will then become unhealthy for planting.
    3. Disturbance in Ecosystem – GMO production is seen to have a high risk of changing our biodiversity. This means that the new characteristics developed from a modified crop disrupt the natural gene flow. Gene flow disruption will result in more weed production because they breed rapidly and compete with other crops.
    4. Contamination – There can be possible contamination of GM crops through pollen spread, seed escape, and the mixing of food and feed. This type of contamination is considered living pollution that can self-replicate. Farmers are the first to be affected by GM contamination. Once released into our environment, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) can be difficult or impossible to control or recall. Human error, biology, pollinator and wind movement, extreme weather events, and other factors make GM contamination possible.
    5. Superweeds and Superbugs – Some plants and insects have become resistant to the drugs that are supposed to kill them. These bacteria have become an environmental threat because they become more resistant over time, requiring even more pesticides and herbicides.

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Genetically modified organisms have pros and cons. The pros are often considered the solution to many existing challenges in the farming and livestock industries. However, it is impossible to ignore the concerns over human safety and environmental risks. The debate surrounding GMOs is strong. As more studies are being conducted, there is a definite need to be cautious with the use of GMOs.

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