In the midwest, specifically Illinois, we produce and consume a wide variety of agricultural products. This means that most of the meals we sit down and eat at the dinner table on a daily basis contain genetically modified organisms (GMO). While many of us eat without thinking, today’s consumer wants to know what they are putting in their bodies. GMOs can be a good thing because they provide more nutrients and better quality produce, however, they can also pose a threat to people’s health and the environment.
With that being said, what exactly is a genetically modified organism? A GMO consists of “organisms in which the genetic material (DNA) has been modified, in a way that does not occur through the natural mechanisms” (Popescu and Nicolescul 51). While they seem to be a pretty new topic of conversation, GMOs have actually been used for at least two decades and plant modification for hundreds of years, which means that we have been consuming GMOs for quite some time now.
The real question is, why are GMOs being produced? The initial objective for developing GMOs was to improve crop protection from insects and disease thereby increasing yield. The propaganda put out there states that GMOs were created to increase crop yield and decrease the use of pesticides and herbicides while also offering protection against disease. GMOs can also be used by farmers to protect their crops from disease and pests and make them more resilient to herbicides that are often used in agriculture. With this, GMOs can create bigger plants and crops that generate more income for the farmers.
There are many reasons that GMOs are considered to be a good thing. One of the most important reasons is because they do produce more yield at a quicker rate. There is a vast variety of types of GM crops including herbicide resistant, pest resistant, virus resistant, and changed metabolism. According to Daniel Norero, a consultant in scientific communication at agricultural biotechnology and food-tech institutions at Cornell Alliance for Science, those herbicide resistant crops can help to get a better control of problematic weeds and facilitate the adoption of more environmentally friendly phytosanitary products, as well as sustainable no-till farming practices. He also stated that The reduction of losses by pests, viruses and weeds that compete for soil nutrients, together with savings in phytosanitary products and fuel, indirectly increase the final yield when compared with conventional crops. One study has shown that there has been an increase in agricultural crops by 22 percent which has directly increased the farmers’ profit by 68 percent. Another study that was most recently published in 2017 shows “that between 1996 and 2015, GM crops increased global production by 357.7 million tons of corn, 180.3 million tons of soybean, 25.2 million tons of cotton fiber, 10.6 million tons of canola and about a ton of sugar beet” (Norero, GMO Crops Have Been Increasing Yield for 20 Years). If GM crops were not producing as they are, farmers would just use standard seeds.
While this seems to be a plus to the farmers that grow GMOs, there is also a plus to the consumer that buys the GMOs. One big positive is that GM foods can help eliminate food waste. There are a lot of foods that you didn’t know contained GMOs. Some of those foods include corn, both sweet corn and field corn, soybeans, cotton, canola, alfalfa, sugar beets, hawaiian papaya, squash, arctic apples, innate potatoes, and salmon. When using GMOs in these food they can help preserve the life of food. We all know that when we cut into an apple, it does not last very long before the apple starts to turn brown and mushy. In the arctic apple, the oxidation process that makes the apple brown and mushy can simply be turned off through genetic modification. With this, less apples will be thrown out, the apples will last longer, and will also save the consumer money. This process can also be seen in the innate potato as the gene modification can make them more resistant to black spots that can be caused by bruising. This can greatly reduce food waste because less potatoes will be thrown out after transportation.
While these things might sound great, there are also some downfalls to having GM products. One important factor is that GMOs are hurting our environment. Because there are so many chemicals being used on the plants, it can be toxic to the insects that are not being targeted, most importantly the bees and butterflies. Bees are important because they are the insects that play a huge part in pollinating the crops. In addition to bees and butterflies, birds are also at great risk too. There are also long term effects that we do not think about. When these pesticides and herbicides are being used, the environment and nature around those plants do what nature knows how to do best, adapt. The weeds that surround these GM crops learn to adapt to the chemicals that are used on them. They grow with their surroundings. They become resistant to those chemicals which can make them harder and harder to kill. This also happens with insects. They become resistant to the harsh chemicals which can also make it harder to keep them away from crops. Another risk that can be involved with the environment is cross contamination. When bees pollinate the plants, they can carry the genetic modifications and expose other fields to those changes. This can be bad as there is no telling what the outcome of those other contaminated fields will be.
While GMOs are bad for the environment, they can also be bad for our health. One reason is because of the instability of the genetic modifications. Since the United States Food and Drug Administration does not require testing there is a health risk as there could be dangerous toxins in the GM foods are undocumented. According to the Center for Food Safety, issue of genetically modified foods could result in increased levels of known naturally occurring toxicants, appearance of new, not previously identified toxicants, and an increased capability of concentrating toxic substances from the environment (e.g., pesticides or heavy metals). Because of this, it is recommended that there be toxicology tests before putting genetically modified foods on the market.
Another reason that genetically modified foods can be a risk to our health is that they can increase the risk of allergic reactions. While being genetically modified, those crops can be creating hundreds of thousands new allergic reactions. They can be foreign to the human body and in return make the body respond different to those genetically modified foods. This can be a risk because of the fact that GM foods are not required to be labeled for marketing. These allergic reactions can be very dangerous as they can cause death to the consumer that does not know about them.
Overall, genetically modified organism can many positive effects on us and the environment, but they can also have many negative on us and the environment. GMOs can provide a greater income for the farmers that produce them and also provide greater crops for us consumers. In the future GMOs can be very helpful as our population will continue to expand.
- “GE Food & Your Health.” Center for Food Safety, www.centerforfoodsafety.org/issues/311/ge-foods/ge-food-and-your-health.
- Norero, Daniel. “GMO Crops Have Been Increasing Yield for 20 Years, with More Progress Ahead.” Alliance for Science, 23 Feb. 2018, allianceforscience.cornell.edu/blog/2018/02/gmo-crops-increasing-yield-20-years-progress-ahead/.
- Popescu, Alexandru, and Victor Felix Nicolescu. “The Impact of Genetically Modified Organisms Spreading to Agricultural Economy.” Scientific Papers: Series D, Animal Science – The International Session of Scientific Communications of the Faculty of Animal Science, vol. 59, Jan. 2016, pp. 51–56. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=120566624&site=ehost-live.