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Beyond the Hype: Are GMOs Really Bad for Us?
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Beyond the Hype: Are GMOs Really Bad for Us?

Few technological innovations in recent years have been as controversial as genetic modification. The mere mention ...

Beyond the Hype: Are GMOs Really Bad for Us?

Few technological innovations in recent years have been as controversial as genetic modification. The mere mention of “GM food” elicits passionate opinions across the political spectrum from those both for and against the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

 

A GMO is any organism — plant or animal — that has had its genes altered, whether for scientific research or commercial purposes. Food sources are commonly genetically modified to increase pest resistance, make foods larger and more attractive, and extend shelf-life. Sometimes genes from completely different species are spliced together to create new hybrid foods with desired traits.

 

When a fruit or vegetable has been modified using genetic material from an animal source, religious and ethical considerations become tricky, especially for those with dietary restrictions. In addition to these philosophical concerns, there are a host of practical considerations that accompany GMOs. While some of these concerns may be based on a lack of information or understanding — as is the case with any new technology — others are rooted in legitimate science.

 

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Possible Benefits Of GMOs

An increase in food production — GMO use may result in more food to feed growing or under- nourished populations, decreasing reliance on imports and boosting economic growth.

 

Disease resistant, healthier crops — It is possible to modify food so that it is resistant to disease, weeds, and pests, as scientists have done with GM corn or maize. A crop that is resistant to pests requires fewer chemical pesticides to grow, benefitting both human and environmental health.

 

Better tasting, more nutritious food — In theory, a food can be altered to taste better and provide more vitamins and minerals, a boon to both gourmands and malnourished populations.

 

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More adaptable, resilient crops — Think of genetic modification as evolution sped up. Scientists can develop organisms that adapt to a changing world. With challenges like increased water salinity and fresh water stresses, crops can be modified to thrive in locations where they would otherwise fail.

 

Edible medicine — Plants can be genetically engineered to be vaccines. Potato and corn plants have already been engineered to deliver immunity to some diseases that cause diarrhoea, a major cause of child death in the developing world.

 

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GMO Drawbacks

Known unknowns — A major concern is what we don’t know about GMOs. When the world is your lab, there are a multitude of factors to consider when genetically modified plants and animals enter the environment. There is also a lack of information about the long-term health effects of consuming GM foods.

 

Benefit trade-off — Some genetic modifications that provide benefits may result in other problems. Flavr Savr tomatoes, while longer lasting, are (according to some sources) more vulnerable to pests and disease.

 

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Pharmaceuticals in the food supply — Pharmaceutical plants can cross-pollinate with those in the wild and those grown for human and/or livestock consumption. This means that humans could be unintentionally eating medicine, which could have unintended consequences.

 

Allergies, toxicity, and immune deficiency — According to a Brown University study, the addition of proteins to a plant species can change them so that they produce allergic reactions that the original plant did not. Crops with genetically engineered antibiotic features may compromise the effects of antibiotic medicines in humans, according to a study conducted at Iowa State University.

 

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Biodiversity loss — GM crops that are designed to harm pests may not remove a single pest from an ecosystem; they may kill other necessary or beneficial species, causing ecological harm. Declines in pollinator populations such as butterfly and bee species are of particular concern.

 

It is important to note that introducing GMOs to the natural environment is not only an experiment in itself but a host of experiments. Each time a new modified organism comes into contact with an ecosystem, there is a degree of uncertainty about what impact it may have.

 

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