GMO’s: The pros and cons

By Megan Gronau

Recently, Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) have been a source of controversy among companies, farms and the general public. The conversation often involves comparing the benefits and risks that stem from the production of GMOs. Current crops being sold in the food market were tested and approved for consumption by the FDA. The FDA issued a statement in regards to genetically modified (GM) safety, saying:

“We recognize and appreciate the strong interest that many consumers have in knowing whether a food was produced using bioengineering. FDA supports voluntary labeling that provides consumers with this information and has issued draft guidance to industry regarding such labeling. One of FDA’s top priorities is food safety, which means ensuring that foods, whether genetically engineered or not, meet applicable requirements for safety and labeling” (“Genetically Modified Organisms”).

One may argue that if we are using GMOs then we need to know how they work. Well, the process starts small with a gene being created and then being inserted into the DNA of a single cell. Dr. Rick Meilan, Molecular Tree Physiologist at Purdue University explains that although there is a change, a majority of the organism’s genetic code remains the same. The organism is then treated with naturally-occurring plant hormones to help it grow. When the cell begins to divide, the resulting cells begin to take on specialized functions, until they are a whole plant.

GMOs are generally used to help farmers with weed and insect problems with their crops. Dr. Peter Goldsbrough, Professor of Botany and Plant Pathology at Purdue University, noted in an interview that genetically modified plants tend to repel only the particular type of insect that feeds on it, thus lowering the need to apply pesticides. Goldsbrough also mentioned that farmers and agricultural companies are the ones who tend to see the most benefits from using GMOs. Lower costs, less soil erosion and a reduction in pesticide application are some of the benefits of GMOs for farmers.

However, plants are not the only GMO; many GMOs are used to produce medicines and vaccines that help treat and prevent diseases. Using genetic modification allows for these medicines to be made consistently and reduces contamination risk—many medicinal elements were previously taken from blood donors, animal parts or even cadavers, according to Goldsbrough.

Some still may not believe that GMOs are all good, and they have every right to say that; GMOs can cause short and long term effects on the environment. Some of these effects include unintended selection, unwanted change in gene expression, or survival and persistence beyond the intended zone (“Genetically Modified Organisms”). There is also a heightened risk of hybridization among genetically modified crops which can lead to the evolution of weed species carrying modifications like pesticide resistance (“Genetically Modified Organisms”). The last thing people want are weeds that are resistant to pesticides like Roundup.

Conversely, there are still many benefits to GMOs that make them almost better for our community. Some of the modified genes produce health advantages and have higher nutrient content. Proteins, fatty acids, minerals, and vitamins are all things that are modified to increase nutrients. Vitamin A is added to rice and this addition is made specifically to help those that consume rice as a daily staple, as in developing countries (“Genetically Modified Organisms”).

Sources:

“Genetically Modified Organisms.” Genetically Modified Organisms, Boston University Medical Campus, sphweb.bumc.bu.edu/otlt/MPH-Modules/PH/GMOs/GMOs_print.html.

“What Are GMOs?” What Are GMOs?, 2020, ag.purdue.edu/GMOs/Pages/WhatareGMOs.aspx.

“Why Do We Use GMOs.” Why Do We Use GMOs?, 2020, ag.purdue.edu/GMOs/Pages/WhyGMOs.aspx.

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