BOSTON — Genetically Modified Organisms, or GMOs, are crops that had their DNA altered by scientists for a number of purposes. Many support this advancement, claiming that it can be used as a force for good, while others are wary of interfering with nature since not enough is known about genetic alterations to deem them safe or not.
GMOs are extremely common and have been in use for the past 20 years. Currently in the United States, 90 percent of soybean crops are genetically altered, as well as 80 percent of corn, cotton and processed foods. No other country in the world plants as many GMOs as the U.S. does.
Some other countries that plant GMOs include Brazil, Argentina, India and Canada. The United Kingdom recently stated that GMOs may be planted there in 2015.
Scientists genetically modify crops by isolating a specific enzyme in another organism that is responsible for something beneficial, such as resisting disease. The enzyme is then extracted and transferred into the crops, creating a ‘super crop’ that can resist disease.
In addition to resisting disease, crops can be altered to resist pesticides, cold weather and drought. If more genetically mutated food would be grown in developing countries, those nations could potentially grow crops that normally do not flourish in their environment, as well as yield a higher percentage of harvests to feed more people.
Rice, the most common crop grown in developing countries, could be genetically modified to be more nutritious while preventing malnutrition.
When faced with arguments from people who claim that the scientific alterations of food is dangerous, GMO supporters often site the fact that farmers have ‘trained’ their crops to grow a certain way for the past 12,000 years, and genetic mutations themselves are a part of nature and evolution.
While groups like the World Health Organization conducted research to determine the safety of GMOs and concluded that they are not dangerous for human consumption, many people remain wary of scientists’ attempts to control nature. They also claim that the research was conducted only by groups with conflicts of interest.
There is concern that GMOs could create new allergies and diminish the nutritional value of the food. Questions also remain about the impact of GMOs on the environment, with some arguing that GMOs will lead to an increased use of toxic pesticides as crops become immune to the chemicals. A small amount of the pesticide could eventually end up inside a consumer, and while consuming a small intake of the poison is not harmful, the buildup over time certainly could be.
Vermont residents argued that consumers have a right to know what they are buying, and a law recently passed in the state that makes the labeling of GMO products in stores mandatory. This legislation is the first of its kind passed in the U.S., and it will also be on the Oregon ballot in November. Awareness of GMO products could be a huge game changer for the industry and result in even more backlash.
While the majority of studies lead to the conclusion that GMOs are generally safe and can be used to bring about positive changes in the world, the debate remains ongoing and intense.
– Taylor Lovett