GMO Pros and Cons
Foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMO) are the subject of controversy. They are known by many different names such as “transgenic food”, “genetically engineered food”, “biotech food” and “GMO food“.
So what is GMO food? Although different people and groups have different definitions, GMO food can generally be thought of as foods that are manufactured from crops whose genetic foundation has been altered through a process called recombinant DNA, or gene splicing, to provide the plant a desirable trait. The modification is usually carried out in the lab using molecular procedures or genetic engineering although there are others who would argue that crops produced through traditional breeding can also be regarded as GMO food.
The first GMO food crop, a variety of tomato created by Monsanto Corp. was submitted for acceptance to the US FDA in August 1994 and came to market that same year. Over the following fourteen years, a total of 111 bio-engineered food products finished the US FDA “consultation procedures” on bio-engineered foods. Besides the tomato, the selection of products includes soybean, corn, cotton, potatoes, flax, canola, squash, papaya, radicchio, sugar beet, rice, cantaloupe, and wheat. According to estimations by the Grocery Manufacturers of America, between 70 percent and 75 percent of all processed food for sale in the U.S. may contain ingredients derived from genetically engineered plants.
Support for GMO food comes from various sectors: researchers, economists, and, understandably, from the farming and food companies. Their arguments for GMO Food are:
GMO food combats world hunger. The earth’s human population has reached an all-time high of over 6 and a half billion. Over 20% of these people are in some measure victims of poverty and hunger. That GMO foods might help to eradicate world hunger is one of the noblest motivations powering the development of GMO foods. GMO foods supposedly are simpler to grow and bring higher yields. In poverty-stricken parts of the planet, higher yields can save countless lives and bring much-needed economic benefits. In fact, a recent U.N. publication said “…the economic results so far suggest that farmers in developing nations can gain from transgenic crops…”
GMO crops are better. GMO crops are made to be sturdier and much more robust than their non-modified relatives. They’re meant to be resistant to drought, diseases, and unwanted pests. The Hawaiian papaya industry, for instance, only managed to survive a virus crisis after the introduction of more resilient transgenic kinds.
GMO food is mature. The argument that modified foods have been around for many years has great merit. The wide variety of many plants that we see today came about through natural and also traditional man-made plant cross-breeding that took place over many centuries of agriculture. That is why peppers appear in diverse shapes, colors, and taste, from the really spicy hot to the sweet types. This is also why we are able to more than 1000 kinds of tomatoes.
GMO food combats malnutrition. In a world struggling with malnutrition, GMO food can answer the necessity for more nutritious food. To cite an example, Swiss investigators strove to produce rice strains that contain large amounts of beta-carotene and iron to deal with vitamin A and iron deficiency. Poor nutrition can relate to both under nutrition as well as improper nutrition. People in rich and established countries may have sufficient food but not the appropriate nutrition necessary to keep them healthy. For this reason, scientists at the European-funded FLORA project have developed strains of vegetables and fruit with increased antioxidants. FLORA is short for “flavonoids and related phenolics for healthy living using orally recommended antioxidants” and it views itself as “a participant in the future of medicine. Through genetic engineering, FLORA oranges possess higher than normal flavonoids and phenolics. The FLORA purple tomatoes have three times the quantity of the antioxidant anthocyanins when compared with normal tomatoes.
GMO food is helpful for the environment. The damage to the environment that pesticides such as DDT bring about is well-known. The use of artificial fertilizers in the farmlands resulted in the Eutrophication of waterways and lakes all over the world. GMO foods translate into less use of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers, and so less pollution.
GMO food can assist medicine. GMO food can be utilized in creating medicinal products in the so-called “medical molecular farming: which is the manufacturing of antibodies, bio pharmaceuticals and edible vaccines in plants.” As recently as 2005, Indian scientists reported the potential use of transgenic bananas in transporting vaccines to protect against hepatitis B. In the same year, the biotech company GTC Biotherapeutics based in Framingham, Massachusetts produced a herd of genetically modified goats that produce milk which contains a human anticoagulant agent called anti-thrombin.
GMO food is safe. The designers of GMO crops are swift to assure that GMO food is safe and pose no threat to health. GMO crops are regulated by three agencies: the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the US FDA. “The FDA ensures that foods produced from these crops are safe for humans and animals to eat, the USDA makes sure the plants are safe to cultivate, and the EPA ensures that pesticides delivered into the plants are safe for human and animal consumption as well as the environment.
According to the US FDA, “bio-engineered foods do not present any dangers for people which are different from traditional foods … We make sure there are no potential risks, such as an unexpected allergen or poisonous substance in the food, or that the food is not changed in some manner that would impact its nutritional value.
The adversaries of GMO food are frequently scientists, environmentalists, and various consumer groups. Additionally, many entertainment celebrities are openly anti-GMO, thus establishing role models for the general public. Among the most well-known and outspoken GMO skeptic is Charles, England’s Prince of Wales.
GMO food is a a for profit enterprise. As defined by its foes, GMO food is being created to make money and nothing else. They cite the multinational giant Monsanto, a pioneer in GMO research and owner of the infamous Roundup herbacide. Companies like Monsanto are not likely in the GMO business for strictly noble reasons.
GMO food is unregulated. The use of GMO food in the world is nearly an unregulated free-for-all activity. Going through the US FDA consultation procedures is primarily voluntary. Anti-GMO groups and apprehensive scientists are requesting more controls and restrictions.
There are also accounts of GMO plants escaping field tests and finding their way to the natural environment, thousands of miles away. In 2006, rice which included genes from the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (the notorious Bt) arrived at European grocery stores, causing a big outcry. The bacterial gene rendered the rice resistant to pests and the transgenic rice was a test plant which had not yet been approved for human consumption.
GMO food can damage the environment. GMO food is affecting their environment and many of these consequences might be harmful. The effects are especially evident in other living organisms within the vicinity.
There are worries, for example, how cross-pollination with pollens from GMO crops can impact non-GMO plants.
Resistance enhancement is another major issue. In China researchers used antibiotic-resistance marker genes to derive resilient transgenic rice strains. There are fears the marker genes are going to be adopted by naturally occurring gut bacteria and result in resistant, more pathogenic strains.
Some other studies also point to potential side effects on animal life including insects which closely interact with the GMO plants. One of the most well-known incidents were the assertions that pollens from transgenic corn plants with Bt insecticidal gene markers are negatively influencing monarch butterflies in North America. Even though experts say that the butterflies were safe from Bt, environmentalists were not satisfied.
GMO food can be detrimental to human health. The main concerns about adverse effects of GMO foods on health are the transfer of antibiotic resistance, toxicity and allergenicity. Along with genetic alterations come new compounds in the crops which we virtually know nothing about. These compounds may be in the form of allergens and little-known proteins whose influences to human health are not easy to predict. In the food chain, this can even have an impact on animals given GMO plants and slaughtered for human use.
GMO food is not “better”. Western Europe is a stronghold of anti-GMO opinion. A European study asserted that organic foods – which are exclusively not genetically modified-, are absolutely better and more nutritious than their non-organic alternatives.
What Comes Next?
The potential risks versus added benefits of GMO food are not an easy issue to settle. There’s an urgent need for increasing food production and GMO food appears to be in the very best position to tackle this need. In the short-term, GMO food is probably the solution to food shortages.
Presently, there is not enough clear scientific evidence to back up the potential perils associated with GMO food. However, as with anything else new and innovative, the long-term benefits and negative effects can only be speculated upon. One thing is certain” the debate over GMO pros and cons isn’t going away anytime soon.
Responsibility needs to be on the professionals, the health authorities, as well as the companies to act sensibly and also to be as transparent as they can be.