Genetically Modified Organisms–Yes or No?
A genetically modified (GM) food has had some portion of its genome altered, whether through insertion of a gene from another unrelated species (transgenic) or just from another strain of the same species (cisgenic). These genetic changes help confer benefits to the plant, such as the classic example of “golden rice”, a strain of rice developed in 2000 for areas with a shortage of Vitamin A. The rice can synthesize betacarotene, which is a precursor of Vitamin A, to help with this deficiency, and the rice grains are consequently a golden yellow color rather than white.
We have all eaten (GM) foods before, even if we don’t think we have. Almost all of the vegetable oil in the US comes from GM plants, as well as any products that this oil is used in, like margarine, cooking oil, and shortening. Additionally, a high percentage of sugar beets used to produce sugar are genetically modified, as well as the commodity crops: corn, wheat, and soy.
Some of the benefits of GM foods are:
- More nutrition per same amount of food
- Higher income for poor farmers (higher yields per area)
- Drought, disease, and pest resistance
- Less loss/waste
- Longer storage ability for transport
- Can be specific to indigenous crops
- Vaccines implanted in foods
- Food security for the country
- Reduce labor needs
- Able to grow crops on previously “useless” land
Some negative effects include:
- Unknown human health effects; not enough research
- “Playing God”
- creation of super viruses, stronger pests, or herbicide-resistant plants
- Claiming of modifications as intellectual property could create monopolies
- Ethical questions-are we changing the “purpose” of an organism?
- No precautionary principle in place right now
- Animal rights questions
- Environmental risks
- Some modifications don’t actually work well (i.e. golden rice-need to eat 27 bowls a day to have enough Vitamin A)
- Allergen issues
Prop 37, a Californian statute that would have required all GM foods to be labeled as such, was unfortunately defeated. People who were against the bill believed that it would add too many costs for the consumer, and . Many other countries have already banned the import of GM foods, including Peru, Ireland, China, Japan, Austria, Hungary, and most recently: Kenya.
Personally, I believe that GM foods can be a good thing, but that there should be a lot more research done of the long-term human health effects before they are used at such a huge scale. In addition, I believe that items that use these foods should be labeled (as Prop 37 would have done), so that anyone who makes the conscious choice to avoid GM foods could do so more easily.