The Controversy and Myth of Genetically Modified Organisms

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Genetically Modified Organism is a word that can be inspiring to some but frightening to others. In a world where genetic mutation is a part of the norm, GMOs are a necessity to modern day society whether people realize it or not. I believe that GMOs are not harmful to our bodies and/or the environment. In this essay, I will debunk myths about GMOs, explain why they are beneficial, and elaborate on the positive impact of GMOs. GMOs have notoriously had a sigma surrounding it but through the facts presented, the veracity of GMOs will be shown. When we think of engineers, we think of how smart and adept they must be. They are looked at with high praise and as advocates of the future and change. The same should apply for genetic engineers.

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There are many myths about genetically modified foods due to the stigma that surrounds it. The most common myth is that GMOs can cause cancer, autism, allergies, or even a gluten intolerance. This, along with a myriad of other myths, have not only spread misinformation but caused consumers to be apprehensive without solid factual information to support those claimsThe biggest fear with GMOs is consumers believing that they cause illnesses such as cancer autism, gluten intolerances, etc. This claim has long been debunked. In my research, I found a quote that stated that The National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NAS) had looked into the issue of GMO safety and had conducted research. They had found that there was ultimately no significant evidence of a difference from our current GMOs that are commercially available and conventionally bred crops (GMO Answers). Although many try to associate “increasing trends” with the increased rates of autism, it only is a correlation not causation.

In one article I read, it compared the rise of autism with many “rises” such as the increase in cell phone usage, increase of organic food sales, and even the rise of the notoriety of an actress named Jenny McCarthy whom was a huge influence on “scare theories” about vaccines. An interesting aspect about the article was that in the early 1990’s, the definition for autism had drastically widened so that in 1995, their tracking of data nationally resulted in them including diagnoses made from both health care facilities and outpatient patient visits instead of only taking data from those who were admitted into a healthcare facility (Suresh, 2016). In short, the increase in autism may very well be due to the fact that the definition of autism was greatly widened and included more potential symptoms than it did before. It was explained how the drastic rise diagnoses of autism had a significant relationship with how the criteria for autism changed. Because the symptoms and signs of autism greatly increased and became much broader than before, the normal response is a drastic increase in the cases of autism. Suresh gave a great example on prostate cancer; from 1986 to 1992, there was a surge of over 100% in cases of prostate cancer that corresponded with a similar approach: There was a huge change in how prostate cancer was screened that was later approved by the FDA in 1986 (Suresh, 2016). This is a prime example of how changes in screening for a disease, a. k. a. improving it, will cause a rise in diagnosis. With the rise in apprehension of GMO’s, it is crucial to note the importance of them and why they are necessary. GMOs are not only a super interesting aspect of engineering, but it also is an important part of our produce.

GMOs are a large part of the agricultural system and are vital to crops that are in mass production; some of these crops are important sources of food and may be the main sources of food for some. When looking at the benefits of GMOs, there are numerous reasons but the main one is that it increases the longevity of the crop while simultaneously not taking away from the quality of the crop. There are currently 10 crops on the market that are genetically modified that include: squash (1995), soybean (1995), cotton (1996), corn (1996), papaya (1997), canola (1999), alfalfa (2006), sugar beets (2006), potatoes (2016), and apples (2017) (GMO Answers). The dates in the parenthesis are when they were approved and brought out into the market. These all have certain genetic traits that were genetically modified into the crops to help sustain them. For instance, corn has been genetically modified so that it has insect resistance, herbicide tolerance, and drought tolerance. This means that plant breeders can essentially take desirable traits that are normally found in nature and take it from one organism or plant and place it into the plant they want to enhance (GMO Answers). This also will allow change to an existing trait to the plant they are growing. For example, genetic engineers would desire resistance to insects/diseases and want to place that in a common plant like soy to help reduce the chances of the plant falling ill or dying. For GMOs, they are the underdogs of society and are often overlooked. They have changed the way agriculture has worked for forever and the results speak for themselves. Without the use of GMOs, there would not have been this many advancements in genetic modification technology. Many of our “cash crops” could face disasters due to the weather, diseases, or insecticides/herbicides infecting the crop. When looking at the effects of GMOs, one can only conclude the positive outcome of their use.

Agricultural economist Graham Brookes had an interesting input about how GMO’s can have a domino affect on the environment in a positive way. He had talked about how GMOs have potentially helped lessen the impact on the environment and reduce our environmental footprint. By using the GMOs, it inadvertently caused a reduce in tillage. He equated a reduction in tillage to also a reduction in time using a tractor, which also would decrease fuel and its emissions. This small change reduced enough CO2 emissions that was equal to removing 12. 4 million cars from the streets for a solid year; that number is substantial! The use of GMOs helped reduce CO2 emissions that resulted in the equivalence of removing 12. 4 million cars from the road for a year. This small change impacts communities as a whole. Going back to the topic of tillage, it is an important reason why GMOs are now the preferred method when it comes to agriculture. What is tillage exactly? It helps with controlling weeds. When farmers plow the soil, they can go as deep as a foot and overturn that soil to help reduce the amount of weeds. But by doing so, it can lead to a 90% loss of the crop residue from the top soil; crop residue is essentially a plant that is decomposing and is from the previous year. The reason farmers do this is because it can disrupt the lifecycle of weeds or pests that were already there, however, it is not accomplished once and usually requires tilling several times (Staropoli, 2016). This can be time consuming and is very labor-intensive.

For those who farm in the Midwest, this practice is all too known to cause issues such as the Dust Bowl. By over-tilling, it can eventually damage the soil (causing it to be exposed) and lead to erosion. Wind and water are a farmer’s enemy in this case, because when the soil is damaged and exposed, they are the main contributors to its erosion. Water is also a huge factor to consider. When using a no-till farming method, this will increase water penetrating the soil which allows better retention. This reduces the amount of run-off with water that usually is contaminated with things such as pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers. This can also allow for farmers to not need to water as often. This is another example of a positive domino affect of GMOs. We can also look at the biodiversity of the soil. Over-tilling truly harms the good bacteria and microbes in soil and can actually harm the crops instead of helping them. Year after year, the good parts of the soil are also disrupted. By having no-till farming, we can help preserve organisms such as mycorrhizal fungi. They have a commensal relationship with earthworms and crop roots, meaning they can benefit them while simultaneously benefiting themselves as well. This will lead to an increase in the retention of water (in the soil) and they can thrive and continue to positively benefit the crops and organisms.

In the end, less tilling will cause an increase in soil moisture, an increase in the the biodiversity of the soil, a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions and a decrease in soil erosion (Staropoli, 2016). The statistics don’t lie. From research done by Wilhelm Klümper and Matin Qaim, they came to the conclusion that GMOs had only positive impacts on the environment and farmers. Of the 147 original studies that they had, they noted a few things: a reduction in chemical pesticide use by 37%, an increase in crop yields by 22%, and large increase of the profits farmers made by 68% (Klümper and Qaim, 2014). They did note that when looking at the yield gains and pesticides reductions, they were much larger for those whom had insect-resistant crops versus those with herbicide-tolerant crops. They also noted that the yield and profit gains showed a lower percentage in developed countries versus developing countries. Their reason for doing the experiment was to conclude on the facts of the use of GMOs to help the public gain trust of GMOs. This is one of many studies that have been done in response to the growing use of GMOs and the counterpart of the growing apprehension of GMO use. To conclude this essay, GMOs are not only beneficial to our environment and important in our food, but it also is safe for use and does not harm humans. They are an essential part of our lives and without them, produce would be more expensive, they would be more susceptible to diseases, and we would not have the positive changes in our environment that we have now.

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