GM(OK): it’s not the modification itself, it’s what they are modified to do.
Photo courtesy of: http://generationgreenwpg.com/2015/07/gmo-genetically-modified-organisms/
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are the subject of much controversy. Modern anti-GMO campaigns have sparked a worldwide movement aimed at ending the genetic modification of food products overall, stating that all GMO’s are unnatural, unhealthy and a detriment to the natural world. While genetic modification does have the potential to be a detrimental to the environment, the blanket demonization of GMO’s as a whole is misdirected and sheds a bad light on a practice that has the potential to be extremely beneficial.
People have been genetically modifying plants and animals for thousands of years. Thats right, thousands! Every apple, banana, chicken, sheep, or even dog you see in modern day is the result of genetic modification.
Photo courtesy of: https://sites.google.com/site/selectivebreedingofplants/
That modification is known as selective breeding. Selectively choosing plants or animals to reproduce in order to perpetuate a desired trait is by definition genetic modification. This image shows the results of selective breeding of a wild mustard plant to produce many of the vegetables we eat today. The only difference now is that we are learning to accelerate this modification process in a lab.
The common and very justified fear of GMOs is that modification of certain crops for various purposes are not easily contained to those certain crops. Airborne pollen can travel large distances and cross breed with other members of similar species and has the potential to negatively affect global biodiversity. Companies like Monsanto have modified wheat and soy crops to be resistant to pesticides and herbicides, causing the adaptation of herbicide and pesticide resistant weeds and insects. These are very real and very possible side effects of genetic modification of certain plants and anti-GMO campaigns are justified in being concerned.
This fear however, has led to the widespread demonization of GMOs as a whole, and causes people to believe that anything to do with GMOs is innately bad.
The negative frame associated with GMOs has sparked backlash against several extremely beneficial GMO projects. The “Golden Rice” project was an attempt to genetically modify rice to contain vitamin A in order to combat nutrient deficiencies that can cause blindness, limit growth, and weaken the body’s immune system”(GRP 2016).
Vitamin A is essential to human health and is readily available in many fruits and vegetables such as corn, carrots, squash and cantaloupe. Countries that consume rice as a staple food and have limited access to these vitamin A rich foods are at a high risk of developing a deficiency. Genetic researchers were successful in genetically modifying a strain of rice that contains beta-carotene A, a substance that readily converts to vitamin A when digested. This type of “Golden Rice” has the potential to save many lives, yet it was still strongly opposed by many anti-GMO organizations such as greenpeace strictly because it is a GMO.
Another benefit of GMOs impeded by the stigma associated with them is their potential to alleviate food deficits worldwide. The U.N estimates that at the current rate, the global population will grow from 7.2 billion in 2015 to 9.7. That’s a 33% increase in just 35 years!
With food scarcity already a huge global problem, food production must increase to match this. Genetically modified crops are the best solution we have to alleviate and remediate impending global hunger. Crops modified to resist natural disasters like droughts and floods could allow for food production in previously un-farmable regions. Crops modified to have larger yields per area can also help reduce the amount of land necessary to grow them, preventing the destruction of natural habitats in the wake of the expansion of big agriculture.
The balance between justified opposition and blind sensationalism is a very delicate one when it comes to the issue of GMOs. Like many environmental issues, GMOs tend to polarize opinions rather quickly, locking people into their stances and eliminating the opportunity for rational debate. GMOs should be looked at objectively on a case by case basis and should not be put into a category of innately good or bad. The goal of this article really is not to oppose or promote GMOs, but to encourage opinions based on critical thinking and discourage those that are emotionally biased.