If you’ve been even remotely paying attention over the last couple years, you’ve at least heard the term GMO thrown around. GMOs – genetically modified organisms – are largely an extension of Gregor Mendel’s experiments with hybridization and genetics (in which he bred variations within a species to produce specific results), albeit taken to a much further extreme. GMOs were introduced to the market in the early 1990s, and their use exploded in ’97-’99, at which point they found their way into about 2/3 of all US foods.
The debate over organic vs. GMO continues today, and it’s not an easy one for either side. Anyone willing to look hard enough can find plenty of arguments for or against the use of genetically modified organisms in the food supply. Including:
Top 5 Reasons FOR GMOs
5) A lot of people don’t actually care
Say what you will about this one – oh, Americans are dumb, we’re stupid, we’re lazy, whatever, but the fact is that most people just don’t care either way about the use of GMOs in their food. Rather, we do our grocery shopping at the grocery store and pick out the reddest, roundest tomatoes, the unbroken eggs and the best looking meat – nearly all of which contain GMOs. This isn’t a knock on anyone – it’s just that our culture has neither the time nor the means to seek out farm fresh food (and there are whole other problems with getting farm fresh foods that we’ll get to in another post).
4) Sometimes GMOs really, really help people
If you think GMOs should be banned outright, you’ve obviously never heard of Golden Rice. Golden Rice is rice that has been fortified with beta-carotene (aka Vitamin A). Remember how your mom always told you to eat carrots for good eyesight? That’s because the absence of beta-carotene in the diet can cause blindness – a serious problem in countries where rice is the staple crop. More than blindness, the beta-carotene in Golden Rice can help prevent against disease susceptibility, infant diarrhea and premature death in small children. This is just one of many examples in which GMOs are helping solve serious problems that here in the US we don’t really ever think about.
3) We can grow more food using less land
Let’s face it – the era of sprawling family farms is coming to an end. With the world’s population swiftly approaching 7 billion people, we simply have to come up with ways to grow more food on less land – in the short term, GMOs are the only way we have to do this.
2) GMOs may soon reduce or eliminate the need for insecticides
We already have GM plants that can withstand insects, weeds and diseases on their own, without needing to be sprayed with insecticides or other chemicals. Scientists are currently developing trees containing a lower content on lingin, a substance found in woody plants that requires the application of various noxious chemicals before it can be turned into things like pulp and paper.
1) We haven’t seen anything negative happen to people so far
GMOs have been used in foods for over 20 years now, and in that time we’ve seen few, if any, negative reactions in humans. It would seem, at least for now, that GMOs are perfectly safe for consumption and, therefore, should not raise any alarm.
Top 5 Reasons AGAINST GMOs
5) Intellectual property rights could slow R+D
We’re seeing it all over the place in the tech world, with patent wars bringing innovation to a screeching halt. Who’s to say this same patent-trolling won’t affect the agriculture industry? As big players seek to gain market ground by snatching up patents for different gene modifications, smaller players who truly seek to innovate may be pushed out of the system.
4) It’s all too easy for modified genes to end up in places you don’t want
While the idea of herbicide resistant plants is compelling to many, the thought of herbicide resistant weeds is pretty frightening. Again, this is largely speculation at this point, but the threat of gene escape is out there and it’s not one to be taken lightly. If upgraded and enhanced genes find their way into wild plants, it could speed up natural selection in ways that nature may never have intended.
3) There’s a real threat of transferring allergenic genes
This hasn’t been a problem yet, but it wasn’t long ago that an allergenic gene from a Brazil nut found its way into a batch of soybean seeds. Fortunately the aberration was spotted before the seeds went out, but there’s no telling what would happen in the future if an allergenic gene escapes from one plant and ends up in others.
2) They give companies way too much control
Even people who firmly believe that GMOs are the way to go will agree that companies like Monsanto might be the evilest company on Earth. Think about it – they control 93% of soybean production and 80% of corn production. Their system forces farmers to pay for new seeds every year – seeds that grow more and more expensive each time. While there has been talk of filing an antitrust case against the chemical giant, the fact is that no politician is going to want to stand up to a company that has such a stranglehold over the nation’s food supply.
1) We don’t know what they can do
One of the most common reasons people give FOR GMOs is that they’re perfectly safe for human consumption. But the fact is, we have no way of knowing how true this is. In fact, we don’t know any of the long term implications, in terms of nutrition, the environment or farmer’s welfare. Indeed, for years there have been reports that GM pollen has been killing bees, and even though there seem to be no immediate threats to human life, the science just isn’t there yet to definitely prove their safety one way or the other.
No matter what side of the debate you find yourself on, there is plenty of evidence to support your views and plenty of evidence to oppose them. As for conclusions, I think the only thing we can really do at this point is move on with their use carefully while also broadening the search for alternative natural farming methods.