GMO Foods: What Are They And Why Should You Care?

What does GMO mean?

GMO Foods

The acronym GMO stands for genetically modified organisms. GMO foods then, are foods whose DNA has been genetically altered by scientists to resist disease, and better tolerate pesticides. This alteration is performed by adding DNA from other plants, bacteria, or viruses to the original food source to change the natural qualities of the plant. When foods are referred to as GMOs it means that its qualities have been altered in a lab, but these alterations and changes have been happening for hundreds of years on a smaller scale, in nature, too.

 

When the change occurs in nature it is due to one of two scenarios. The first is that natural cross pollination or infection has occurred and the plant has adapted and overcome the contamination or cross pollination, to become a new, more resilient strand. The second scenario is that the plant has been cross pollinated or infected by hand by the farmer to create a stronger and more resilient crop strand. In both of these scenarios though, time is not on the farmers side, and many crops can be lost in the process costing precious time and money.

GMO foods are modified within the lab, where conditions are perfect and can be altered to resemble different seasonal conditions. In nature several generational experiments would take years to complete, but in the lab they can be better confined and controlled a thus it is possible to conduct several generational experiments in a single year. Another benefit of the lab is that rather than waiting for the seasons to change naturally, scientists of GMO foods can alter the conditions in the lab at will to mimic the season(s) of their choosing.

Benefits Of GMOs

Most of the processed foods, and even many of the whole foods, that you can find on the shelves at your local grocery store contain GMO foods. Unless all of the food that you are buying is certified organic, the chances that something you’re eating contains GMOs, is high. The reasoning here is that there are quite a few benefits to growing GMO foods, which has made the process explode in popularity.  

Agricultural Benefits

GMO Foods

Increased Resistance

Crops that have been genetically modified are more resistant to pests and diseases, meaning that the risk of crop damage or death is reduced. This is beneficial to farmers because the more crops that they can harvest the more financial benefits that they can yield. When farmers start losing profits and bleeding money, the food supply suffers which affects the diets and lifestyles of all Americans.

Higher Yields

GMO foods offer the advantage of higher crop yields in a smaller land space. This is possible because these crops are genetically optimized for each specific growth environments. Since they are also resistant to disease, crops that may have previously become infected, and harmful to those around them, are not well and healthy, producing higher crop yields. This phenomenon also means that less of a ‘health buffer’ needs to be applied to each planting process.

More Nutrients

Not all crops are naturally packed with the vitamins and minerals that we require as humans to function. GMO foods like rice and wheat on the other hand, often have nutritional genes inserted into them, to add to and fortify the value of the food. For example vitamin A deficiency is a major problem in developing countries, but GMO foods offer the ability to insert vitamin A genes into more affordable grains like rice to help reduce this deficiency without increasing the price.

Environmental Benefits

GMO Foods

Rehabilitation of Land

Safe and manageable irrigation systems are a huge concern of any cropland, as poor irrigation is one of the easiest ways to destroy the land for future growth. Unfortunately many areas in developed countries have already destroyed their cropland with high saline levels, due to lack of concern for proper irrigation systems. Seeds that have been genetically modified to be more tolerant of the salty crop beds allow for these areas to once again be used for growing GMO foods.

Longer Shelf Lives

From farm to table is often a much longer transit than people realize. Unless all of the food that you are buying is grown or produced locally, chances are your food took quite a lengthy journey to get to you. GMO foods provide these foods, that must travel great distances, a longer shelf life, so that they do not spoil en route. The more food that remains fresh and healthy along the ride, the more food that can be sold; and the more that’s sold, the lower the prices can be, because you don’t have to account for making up lost profits from the spoils.

Biofuels

Biofuels like corn, and the waste from sugarcane, have massive energy potential, but due to the demand on time, resources, and finances these options are not pursued. By genetically modifying these plants into hyper production though, it would be possible to produce more in a smaller space, in a shorter time, to allow them to become truly viable biofuel resource options.

Health Benefits

GMO Foods

Allergenic Genes Identified

Through the process of molecular biology it is possible to identify and isolate allergenic genes and genetically remove them in food sources. By doing so, GMO foods could reduce the current threat of mild, moderate, and severe food allergies.

Pharming

Pharming uses biotechnologies to develop medications and vaccines for farm animals by engineering plants to produce certain proteins to create vaccines and other pharmaceutical products. These vaccines and medicines are able to successfully help the farm animals that they are given to, which shows immense promise for the future of pharming.

Dangers Of GMOs

Despite all of the benefits that GMO foods provide, there are a few dangers that are important to mention and consider when purchasing your foods. If it turns out that you aren’t interested in eating GMO foods, it can be difficult to figure out what you can and cannot eat, since it is not mandatory to label GMO foods. Some companies and food products, like ISOPasta, are dedicated to consumer awareness and choose to announce their products as GMO free, which is the easiest and most reliable way to tell if your foods are truly free of GMOs.

Environmental Dangers

GMO Foods

Gene Mutation

Genes are capable of mutation in the natural world, however when these genes are genetically modified it opens the door for a wide variety of problems and an increased likelihood of dangerous and harmful gene mutations, that cannot be controlled. Since gene interactions between species is also a possibility, the genetically modified genes that make a food crop resistant to herbicides could ‘escape’ and merge with weeds, creating a problematic superweed.

Risk To Birds, Insects, And Microorganisms

There has been no conclusive testing to determine the potential risk to birds, insects, and microorganisms due to these GMO crops. Because the short and long term effects have not been established, it is feared that these crops could encourage a similar resistance in insects and other pollinators the would rewire and potentially harm the natural ecosystem.

Native Competition

Since GMO foods are more likely to survive the course from planting to harvesting than natural breeds and wild species, they threaten the native competition and crop biodiversity. Unfortunately they are also a threat to farmers crops that have been breed and given the chance to evolve to naturally survive the local weather patterns, soil conditions, and other potential stressors.

Health Dangers

GMO Foods

Allergenic Genes Transfers

GMO foods are constantly in danger of being accidentally blended with allergenic genes from other species, which makes them a serious concern of anyone with a food allergy. When these contaminations occur it is possible that the GMO foods will not be labeled as dangerous to those who would be negatively affected by these allergens because the scientists may not be aware of the contamination until an incident occurs.

Antibiotic Resistance

To indicate that the transfer process of genes has been successful in GMO crops, a ‘marker’ in the form of genes that benefit antibiotic resistance are also inserted into the crop. Once present in a GMO seed or crop, these markers have the ability to encourage antibiotic resistance in insects, animals, or humans that ingest the GMO foods, which could be fatally dangerous to the future of antibiotic, and other medical advancements.

Genetically Modified Product Mix-Ups

The potential for product mix-ups within the food chain increase when GMO foods are introduced to the equation. It is unknown what the implications of GMO foods that are created and grown specifically for animal consumption are on humans who may consume the products. This has occurred before, in the case of Starlink maize that was intended solely for animal feed but accidentally used in products that were intended for human consumption.

Socio-Economic Dangers

Seed Saving Prevention

As it currently stands, farmers are allowed to save seeds from their current harvested crops, to use for the next planting season, as a way to save themselves money, and thus save the consumer money. The commercialization of ‘terminator’ technologies inhibit this practice so that farmers would no longer be allowed to save GMO seeds, and would have to purchase a new batch every year, which would in turn pass those additional costs onto us, as the consumers.  

Loss of Intellectual Property Rights

Many farmers are concerned that private sector biotechnology research will produce an agricultural sector market dominance controlled by a few large and powerful companies, which could have a negative impact on their livelihood. If market dominance occurs is could mean that varieties of crops that farmers had once bred as their own, could be patented by GMO companies, so they would have to pay for seeds that were once available to them at no cost.

Current Intellectual Property Rights May Slow Research

Public-sector research could be slowed or completely halted by the intellectual property rights of privately sectored research. This slowing would increase the gap between the small-scale farmers and the powerful biotechnological research companies. Without the ability to share the resources and discoveries made through this research, only a few will benefit from the information.

Sources:

Katiraee, L. (2015, June 16). 9 misdirected arguments against GMOs that really reflect modern and organic ag issues | Genetic Literacy Project. Retrieved March 31, 2016, from https://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/2015/06/16/9-misdirected-arguments-against-gmos-that-really-reflect-modern-and-organic-ag-issues/

Lin, D. (2016, February 27). Arguments For and Against Genetically Modified Oranisms. Retrieved March 31, 2016, from http://animalrights.about.com/od/animalsusedforfood/a/Arguments-For-And-Against-Genetically-Modified-Organisms_2.htm

Miflin, B. (n.d.). Arguments in Favour of Genetically-Modified Crops. Retrieved March 31, 2016, from http://www.agbioworld.org/biotech-info/articles/biotech-art/in_favor.html

Paturel, A., & Yamakawa, R. (2015, June 10). The Truth About GMOs: Are They Safe? What Do We Know? (B. Nazario MD, Ed.). Retrieved March 31, 2016, from http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/truth-about-gmos?page=1

Smith, J. (2011, August 25). 10 Reasons to Avoid GMOs – Institute for Responsible Technology. Retrieved March 31, 2016, from http://responsibletechnology.org/10-reasons-to-avoid-gmos/

Weighing the GMO arguments: Against. (2003, March). Retrieved March 31, 2016, from http://www.fao.org/english/newsroom/focus/2003/gmo8.htm

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