Although there is a broad scientific consensus that genetically modified organisms (GMO) do not present a risk to human health, the subject generates lot of controversy and things don’t seem to clear.
Controversies around food derived from GM crops are related to: morality, safety, the necessity to label food, environmental effects of GM crops etc.
Photo source: organiclifestylemagazine
What are GMOs?
Genetically modified organisms are organisms whose genetic material has been modified through engineering techniques by the insertion of a modified gene or a gene from another organism. Organisms that have been genetically modified include DNA from bacteria, viruses, insects, plants, fish and animals. Agricultural plants are one of the most frequently cited examples of GMOs. Commercial sale of genetically modified food started in 1994 when delayed ripening tomato was first marketed.
1. Increased food supply
The world population has reached 7 billion people and is predicted to double in the next 50 years. GMOs are seen as a prolific alternative to conventional food. In USA more than 60% of processed foods have genetically modified ingredients. Actually, U.S. is the largest producer of GM crops.
2. Resistant to herbicides and pest
To protect the crops, farmers usually use tons of chemical pesticides to kill insects and powerful herbicide to kill weeds. It seems that crop plants are genetically- engineered to be resistant to herbicide and pest.
3. Cold and drought tolerance
Genetically modified plants can grow in conditions where non-modified, original planst couldn’t flourish. Through engineering techniques plants are modified to be resistant to unexpected frost, long periods of drought or high salt content in soil. Plants as potato and tobacco have been modified through the introduction of an antifreeze gene from cold water fish. This antifreeze gene gave the plants tolerance to cold temperatures.
4. Resistant to disease
Not only plants are modified to be resistant to disease, but animals too. For example, cattle have been engineered to be resistant to mad cow disease.
5. Prevent malnutrition
In third world countries peoples rely on a single crop such as rice, which does not contain adequate amounts of nutrients. In 1999, Swiss and German scientists started developing the Golden Rice, a variety of genetically modified rice that has a high content of beta-carotene (vitamin A). Although it has been in development over a decade, the benefits of this rice variety are still disputed.
6. Edible vaccines
Traditional vaccines are costly to produce and require special storage conditions. This is why there is an increase interest in developing edible vaccines in plants. With the help of genetic engineering selected desired genes are introduced into plants that will manufacture the encoded proteins. The vaccine will be administered through the consumption of the edible plant as food.
A group of biotech seed companies, including Monsanto, DuPont, DowAgroSciences and others, has recently launched the website, www.GMOAnswers.com to combat opposition to genetically modified organisms.
1. Risk to ruin natural balance
Independent scientific studies on the negative effects of genetically modified organisms are severely lacking. There are suspicions that GMOs can change the microbial flora of the soil and modify the natural balance.
2. The risk of monocropping
Genetic modification is focused on mono-cropping GMO varieties. Year after year the same crop is grown on the same land. This agricultural practice leads to disappearance of many native varieties of fruits, vegetables and cereals. Soybeans, wheat and corn are the most common crops often grown using monocropping techniques.
3. Health risk for people
GMOs food may increase the frequency of obesity, diabetes and other food-related diseases, because the novel genetic constructs are not recognized by the intestinal system as digestible food. By introducing a gene into a plant there is a possibility to create new allergens which can be harmful for consumers with food allergies. Last, but not least, the antibiotic resistant genes inserted with GM material could cause resistance of people to antibiotic medicines.
4. Accidental gene transfer
Genetically engineered crops do not respect property lines. GMOs may interbreed with non-modified crops plant in the neighborhood. This phenomenon can lead to the extinction of the original organism.
5. Reduce effectiveness of pesticides
Plant can prove to be resistant to some pests, but can become susceptible to others. There is also a concern that insects will become resistant to B.t. or other genetically modified crops just as mosquitoes developed resistance to the pesticide DDT (which is now-banned).
6. Not profitable for small farmers
Many GM plants have already been patented. There are some concern that if the new plant varieties are patented the price of seeds will grow, so small farmers will not be able to afford it.
According to a survey conducted by the USDA National Ag Statistics Service in 2008 the use of GMOs has lowered the net profit per acre for conventional producers. By comparison organic farmers can improve the profit of small farmers.
What is your opinion about genetically modified organisms?
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