GMO is a hot topic right now. These are genetically modified organisms – plants and crops that have been altered at a genetic level in order for farmers to enjoy improved control over certain traits. The DNA of crops can be altered so that selective and mutation breeding is easier, and traits that make it difficult to harvest efficiently can be bred out.
On the surface, genetic modification of food seems beneficial in that it allows farmers to produce more of a crop over a shorter period of time. Plus, GMOs can create better tasting food that lasts longer. GMO crops can become immune to certain insects, and severe weather can have less of an impact on their survival.
Scratch the surface, though, and there are some concerns about the practice. There are lots of things we know about GMOs, as well as lots of things we don’t know.
Let’s take a look at the facts!
A Few Companies Hold All the GMO Cards
Large companies like Monsanto, which owns and controls roughly 90% of all genetically modified foods worldwide, basically control the food that we buy on the shelves. Given that GMOs are pretty new in the farming industry, the practice has not been widely adopted by more companies, meaning that we are putting our health in the hands of a few large companies. Some people are comfortable with that, and some aren’t – the decision of whether you want to consume this food is ultimately up to you.
We Don’t Know What Genetically Modified Food Does to the Body Long Term
The effects of consuming GMO food on a long-term basis is yet to be discovered. Given how new the technology is, even when science tells us that there is no scientific reason to be concerned, we technically cannot be 100% certain what effects the food might have on the body.
It is important to understand, however, that we still don’t know the long term effects of other products we use on a daily basis which we understand to pose no real health concerns, including plastic wraps used on foods.
GMOs Are Incredibly Common
GMO is already widespread across the United States. At least 90% of all soy, sugar, cotton, corn and canola crops in the United States make use of genetic modification technology. This technology is used mostly in large-scale agricultural operations, though it has found use elsewhere.
GMOs Can Reduce the Need for Pesticides
One way that insect resistance is essentially built into crops is by amending the gene for toxin production that is found in Bacillus thuringiensis, a bacterium. The World Health Organization notes that GMO crops can be modified with the gene of this bacteria, which allows plants to become resistant to all kinds of pests that would typically damage them, reducing the need for farmers to spray their crops with pesticides.
Some celebrate the fact that this means pesticides are no longer necessary and won’t be ingested by humans, while others consider it a worse alternative.
The United States Department of Agriculture has shown that the adoption of corn, which is herbicide-resistant, has begun to speed up ever since 2014. Originally, the use of herbicide-resistant corn had been quite slow, whereas it now makes up 89% of US corn acreage as of 2015.
GMOs Can Create a Vicious Cycle Leading to More Pesticide Use
When seeds for our crops are genetically modified, they are made resistant to weeds – however, as weeds that grow in nearby areas are slowly exposed to genetically modified organisms, they themselves become resistant to the plants that have been modified. This works in a similar way as bacteria becoming resistant to man-made antibiotics.
As a result of weeds becoming resistant to the GMO plants, farmers will often have to use stronger and stronger chemicals over time that could have questionable results on the safety of consuming crops produced on these farms. As more chemicals are used on GMO crops, the entire purpose of genetic modification becomes questionable.
GMOs Are Found in More Than Just Vegetables
If you don’t want to eat GMO foods, you will have to do much more than just cut out vegetables and grain from farms that use GMO. The fact that most GMO crops are plants that are used as ingredients for other foods – like potatoes, sugar, beets and grain – means that you will be eating GMO without realizing it when you pick up pre-packaged food. If you’re serious about cutting GMO from your diet, you’ll have to learn what all the ingredients mean on the back of packaged food and begin checking whenever you buy something.
The Jury Is Out On Whether GMOs Are Safe
The only studies on the effect that GMOs have on living beings have been performed on animals. There is currently no evidence to suggest that GMOs definitely have a negative health effect on humans, and research performed on animals has been conflicting. Typically, these studies looked at animals that were fed genetically modified crops, and one study in 2012 by French researchers showed that one particular kind of GMO corn could possibly increase the risk of developing tumors. When the study was published in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology, the results were considered ‘inconclusive’.
The Center for Food Safety, an organization that campaigns against GMO, says that the genetic engineering of our crops, and animals, is one of the ‘greatest and most intractable environmental challenges of the 21st Century’.
GMOs Can Help End World Hunger
One of the best arguments in favor of using GMO crops is that it would become necessary to feed the world. Currently, over four and a half thousand calories per person, per day, of food is being produced. This is around double what we actually need with a population of 7 billion people.
Technically, we could feed the third world should we be able to share perishable food across such long distances. Given that we are unable to share that surplus food, we have more than 11 million lbs of food being thrown away in the United States every hour. It is thought that by using GMO crops, we can improve food production in the rest of the world and help feed those who have little or no access to food.
GMOs Are Contributing to a Reduction in the Number of Farmers
As GMO becomes more popular, traditional farming becomes more of a niche. Back in 1896, farmers were almost 60% of the entire national workforce. Today, only around 2% of the workforce is made up of farmers. This is not just a result of GMO, but it certainly plays its part. The mechanization of the farming industry, combined with the efficiency of food production courtesy of GMOs, means that people are seeking out other lines of work.
GMOs Are Banned – or at Least Labeled – in Europe
In the United States, GMO products are incredibly popular. Even fisheries use GMO crops to feed their fish, meaning that lake trout is in fact GMO. In the European Union, however, domestic cultivation of many different GMO products is not allowed – and, if a food does contain GMO products, the manufacturer must label the food, even if the traces are only small.
GMOs Are Heavily Regulated Everywhere
GMOs are in fact the most regulated product in the whole of agricultural history, as well as the most tested. This is according to the Council for Biotechnology Information, which has outlined the thousands of scientific studies that have been done on GM food crops, which have suggested that it does not pose any serious or long term threat to humans. So yeah, the information is pretty conflicting!
Some Places in the US Are Starting to Label GMOs
The people of California were asked back in 2012 whether food made from GMOs should have labels, but large companies (like Kraft, Kelloggs, Cargill, Hershey and others) worked with the campaigners and eventually won the vote against the measure. This means that the Californian people actively went out of their way to vote against new measures requiring further labels on their food, which seems to go against conventional wisdom – at least, if you ask anti-GMO campaigners. In 2014, Vermont passed a new law that required new labels on food containing GMOs as of July 2016.
The Non-GMO Project is working to help people who wish to avoid any GMO products by using a Non-GMO Project Verified Seal. Those who are concerned about consuming genetically modified foods can head over to their website and see a complete list of foods that have been verified to include no GM food. If you’re looking to cut GMOs from your diet, there are resources out there to help!