GMOs are Genetically Modified Organisms. This means genes are taken from one organism and inserted into another in order for it to have a desired trait. People think this involves using chemicals of some sort, but that actually is not true. People also think that this is unsafe, which I also think is untrue because as humans we have been genetically modifying organisms for a long time, for example by selectively breeding dogs to get puppies with desired genes or traits. Plenty of dog breeders use two purebred dogs to make purebred puppies, and this is controlling the genes of the puppies by selecting dogs that will give them the desired genes. Another myth about GMOs is that when we genetically modify crops, it makes farmers use more pesticides. This is also not true; it depends on how the crop is genetically modified. Sometimes a crop is specifically modified to have genes that will make it more resistant to pests so it could actually reduce pesticides being used.
Genetically modifying crops is the same thing as selectively breeding, but is faster and more effective. According to Anna-Karin Kolseth, “Biotechnology can be used to modify traits in crops and animals much faster and more accurately than conventional breeding” (Kolseth 2015). This is a major advantage of GMOs, because the world’s population is growing fast, so we need to make sure we have enough food to feed everyone, and by modifying the traits of crops faster it could help grow healthy crops easier and more efficiently. Kolseth also explains that GMOs “have often led to more flexible and efficient management strategies” (Kolseth 2015). So, they can also make it easier for the people growing the crops, which is another benefit.
Kolseth also explains that “genetically modified (GM) traits relevant for agro-ecosystems include traits such as pest resistance” (Kolseth 2015). GMOs can be used for a variety of other reasons as well, like making the food have more of a certain nutrient, taste better, or become better resistant to drought for example. One has to admit that “manipulated traits may introduce unforeseen effects on ecological processes” (Kolseth 2015). So, if someone genetically modifies a crop for one trait, for example to make it more resistant to pests, this could also possibly make it so the crop maybe tastes bad. Also, if the genes in a crop are altered it could also introduce an unforeseen allergen which would be harmful if someone with an allergy to whatever was introduced ate the crop. Any variation of an unexpected effect could happen, but I think if it is tested before being sold to the public it should be perfectly safe.
Charles Benbrook and Philip J. Landrigan have another idea to solve this problem when they say GMOs should be labeled because “labeling will deliver multiple benefits. It is essential for tracking emergence of novel food allergies” (Benbrook and Landrigan 2015). They also explain that it would solve the problem of making sure that the wishes are respected of the “growing number of consumers who insist they have a right to know what foods they are buying and how they were produced” (Benbrook and Landrigan 2015). I agree that people have a right to know how their food was made, and labeling food as genetically modified could help prevent people from buying them for safety reasons like if they have an allergy that might be in the food. However, I also think if we labeled foods as genetically modified it would also stop people from buying the food for no reason, because a lot of the general public think GMOs are bad or think they are harmful just because that’s what they have heard but don’t actually know why. This would unnecessarily harm companies that sell genetically modified food.
All in all, in my opinion GMOs are a good thing and have lots of benefits, and if they are handled and tested properly there shouldn’t be anything to be afraid of.
Kolseth, Anna-Karin. "Influence of genetically modified organisms on agro-ecosystem processes." Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, vol. 214, 27 Dec. 2015, pp.96-106. ScienceDirect. www.sciencedirect.com.ezproxy.proxy.library.oregonstate.edu/science/arti....
Landrigan, Philip J. and Benbrook, Charles. "GMOs, Herbicides, and Public Health." The New England Journal of Medicine. 2015. doi: 10.1056/NEJMp1505660
Breaking Down the Fear of Genetic Modification
By: Maddie Hill
The concept of Genetically Modified Organisms, or GMOs, can be really frightening, especially when it is coupled with harsh terms like “frankenfood”, “contamination”, or “unhealthy”. And in the media, the only prevalent information on GMOs seems to be that there is no agreement on whether or not they are good or bad. This, however, is not true - there is overwhelming agreement in the scientific community that GM technology has provided us as a society with a stronger, more reliable source of food. Just jumping into the never ending argument will not be helpful in understanding GMOs though, so let’s take a few steps back.
The best description of genetic modification I have come across has been one presented in the article “If you don’t want your food genetically modified, tell nature to stop it”, by Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar. He described GMOs as science’s effort to accelerate genetic drift, a naturally occurring process of evolution. Essentially, genetic drift is just the variation of genes in a population, and genetic modification is the technology behind causing this variation manually, instead of allowing it to occur naturally. To make it even more relatable to a topic that is well understood in society today, creating GMOs is a similar process to organ transplant. The unhealthy organ is representative of the weaker genes in crops (and sometimes animals), which may still function, but are the first to become diseased in certain climates or places, halting production of at least that one plant, but likely many others whose genes have the same reactions to the same surroundings. Scientists are able to isolate many of these genes, and replace them, like surgeons with vital organs, giving the organism a much better chance of survival. The biggest difference between the two is that genetic modification must be completed before seeds have developed, but for organ transplant it is important for an organ to first develop before the body can accept a different one. The purpose, though, is the same: to benefit the patient (human, plant, or animal), and make him or her stronger.
Now that we have a better picture of what genetic modification really is, it is important to understand where the controversy surrounding it comes from. There is a distinctly negative connotation with the criticism that GMOs are “unnatural”, where it is assumed that this is synonymous with unhealthy. There are two ways of breaking down this argument: One, it is very possible that nature would change the same organisms in similar ways over time, because of their beneficial evolutionary traits. Two, natural things are not always healthy, and unnatural things are not always unhealthy; many naturally occurring elements, gases, and plants are poisonous to humans, while copious synthesized products - from vitamin sources, to life saving drugs - are purely manmade. It is impossible to use the word “natural” in place of the word “healthy”, a distinction that is not present in many anti-GMO arguments.
The most reasonable worry about the expansion of genetic modification, especially in the food market, is that it allows farmers to use harsher pesticides with more unhealthy chemicals. Critics argue that GMOs would lead to more toxicity in our food from these pesticides, because the plants would be able to survive more treatments, and those chemicals would end up in our food. While this is a potential concern, it is a problem that can be dealt with without preventing us from making important scientific and technological advancements as a society. This is where laws and environmental regulations can be created to protect the health of consumers, while still promoting the use of GM technology to actually aid in that health.
Misunderstanding breeds fear, as has been shown throughout history, and GMOs are a classic example of this unfounded fear. Science does not have to be completely hidden or encrypted from the general public, as it has been in the case of genetic modification, where the explanation process has been too convoluted from the beginning. GMOs are not only beneficial to us as a society, they are also not going anywhere anytime soon - and it is important that the discussion surrounding genetic modification shifts to how to improve the science and technology, instead of whether or not it should even be allowed.
"Genetically Modified Organisms." Biotechnology: Changing Life Through Science. Vol. 2: Agriculture. Detroit: UXL, 2007. 439-443. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 21 Oct. 2016.
Tagliabue, Giovanni. "Nature as a totem, 'Genetically Modified Organisms' as a contemporary taboo." North American Journal of Psychology 18.2 (2016): 283. Academic OneFile. Web. 21 Oct. 2016.
Anklesaria Aiyar, Swaminathan S. "If You Don't Want Your Food Genetically Modified, Tell Nature to Stop It." Reuters. Thomson Reuters, 22 May 2015. Web. 12 Nov. 2016.