Managing GMOs the Right Way: The Genetic Engineering Debate
The looming campaign of genetically modified organisms [GMOs] is one that has grown increasingly contentious. GMOs are plants that have been genetically altered to make them more resistant to drought, pests, viruses, and to improve their nutritional value as well as shelf life. With today’s anti-GMO campaigns which are aimed at the termination of genetically engineered foods stating they are unnatural, unhealthy, and detrimental to natural resources. While in certain cases genetic modification has the potential to effect the environment negatively, the jointly fumbled claims of GMOs misleads conceptions of a practice that has a great potential for good.
The first argument surrounding this topic draws that genetic engineering is too radical of a technology, and growing food naturally is always a better choice. Consider pasteurization, an unnatural process that has saved millions by killing the bacteria that are present in purely “natural” milk and other products. People develop negative images of GMOs in their mind because of profound ideals represented in online articles. As they set forth that genetic engineering appears to be a technology which produces pigs that glow in the dark by using jellyfish DNA, and tomatoes that resist frost using a cold-water fish. Although, these radical examples from the article were not used directly to appeal to the reader’s emotions, ideas like these can still be used in writings against GMOs to try and scare you away from them.
However, using apples as an example, biologists modify them to suppress the enzyme that causes browning and reinserts them into the leaf tissue. The way it works: Scientists extract a tiny amount of DNA from an organism, modify or make copies of it, then they incorporate it into the genome of the same species. By either using bacteria to deliver new genetic material, or by shooting a bit of DNA-coated metal pellets into plant cells using a gene gun. Which is much more accurate than traditional methods that involve breeders hand-pollinating blossoms in hopes of producing a plant with the desired trait. This traditional method is known as selective breeding, the modification involving selectively choosing plants or animals to reproduce a desired trait. The only significant difference between GM and traditional selective breeding is that now we can accelerate this process in a lab.
Contamination of Crops
The next and well justified claim fears modified genes can spread pollen to organic crops contaminating neighboring farms. Wayne Parrot, a crop geneticist at the University of Georgia, states the risks of cross pollination are relatively low and you can reduce its chance by staggering plant schedules. Insuring that fields pollinate during different windows of time. Arguments are vast when it comes GM crops being developed to tolerate pesticides and herbicides. Monsanto, the largest company to produce roundup ready crops, created these GM crop so entire fields can be sprayed more liberally with herbicides like glyphosate yet only kill weeds. While I do not agree with this type of GM including a vast majority of others, the fundamental problem with this argument is that it creates a mass over-generalization: just because you don’t like roundup ready wheat or soybeans doesn’t mean anything to do with GMOs is bad news.
People are worried that genetic engineering could introduce harmful proteins such as allergens or toxins, and how could you blame them? Except, studies from The World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the British Royal Society have come to the same conclusion: Consuming foods containing ingredients derived from GM crops are no riskier than consuming the same foods containing ingredients from crop plants modified by conventional plant improvement techniques.
Politics of GMOs
Another concern is to believe that all research on GMOs has been funded by big ag corporations. This simply isn’t true due to over the past decade, hundreds of independent researchers have published peer reviewed safety studies. With over a dozen medical and scientific groups, including the World Health Organization and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, have concluded GMOs are presently safe for markets.
Benefits of GMOs
Genetically engineered crops are often pointed out since a sturdier crop will yield higher after harvest. They become a hardier plant since the organism was engineered to be less susceptible to unpredictable environmental conditions such as floods or droughts. As our world is reaching alarming numbers of population growth by potentially adding 2 billion more people by the year of 2050, we will need to contemplate how to feed our future generations.
Increasing crop yields that could be generated by GMOs can also be beneficial in alleviating food deficits in developing countries. Yet many still strongly oppose this idea such as Greenpeace strictly because it is a GMO. With the inevitable population growth, food scarcity will become an even bigger problem. Which means food production will need to increase in order to remediate global hunger. With climate change and population growth threatening food supplies, GMOs could be one step in the right direction in attempting to make the world food-secure.
Being able to find a balance between managing GMOs correctly and not being caught blind to stigmas will not be an easy task. As most issues argued about today, most tend to jump to opinions rather quickly, locking in their stance before having a rational debate. This article was not designed into making you pick a side for GMOs. Rather to look at both sides and find reasonable solutions to fixing significant worldwide problems, while not being brought down by emotionally biased oppositions.
1. Borel, Brooke. “GMO Facts: 10 Common GMO Claims Debunked.” Popular Science, 11 July 2014. http://www.popsci.com/article/science/core-truths-10-common-gmo-claims-debunked
2. Lallanilla, Marc. “GMOs: Facts About Genetically Modified Food.” Live Science, 11 Jan. 2016. http://www.livescience.com/40895-gmo-facts.html
Salzberg, Steven. “Nobelists To Greenpeace: Drop Your Anti-Science Anti-GMO Campaign.” Forbes, 4 July 2016. https://www.forbes.com/sites/stevensalzberg/2016/07/04/nobelists-to-greenpeace-drop-your-anti-science-anti-gmo-campaign/#1144fb2a203a