Genetically Modified Foods and Their Effect on the Environment

American consumers hear increasingly more about the research and innovation surrounding genetically modified foods, especially in light of the recent vote regarding GMO labeling. GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, are organisms that are genetically engineered with DNA that comes from bacteria, other organisms, or viruses. The genes of different species are combined in experimental ways.

       They were developed in order to deal with various issues. For example, the loss in biodiversity and the growing population poses problems. To be able to continue feeding the population, changes in food production might be necessary. Global warming changes weather conditions, and those changing conditions require changes in agricultural production methods. And not only does the growing population signify more people to feed, it also contributes to the destruction of the environment, heightened pollution, and poor water quality, not to mention other effects. In order to preserve biodiversity and ecosystems, food production per acre would ideally increase to reduce the need to clear new farmland. GMOs also benefited the environment by reducing the need to use pesticides. Since the introduction of these foods in the 1990s, a study regarding the environmental impact of these crops from 1996-2010 resulted in a reduction of pesticide use by 443 million kg and a reduction of the environmental footprint related to pesticide use by 17.9%.

       This new type of biotechnology also has promise in treating other, non-environmentally oriented problems as well. There are ideas to grow crops that contain cancer-fighting properties and vitamin fortified produce to help the malnourished, sick, and poor. Medicine and vitamins that were previously not affordable could potentially be available, and certain foods could become recommended to people at risk for certain cancers or heart disease. The idea of engineering nuts and wheat products that are allergy-free is also an option that has come about from genetically engineered food.

       While GMOs in this respect sound ideal in that they are both environmentally beneficial and beneficial to health, there are also many reasons to be skeptical. The creation of foods not grown in nature can have negative effects on non-targeted organisms. For example, pollen from an insect resistant corn killed or stunted some monarch caterpillars that fed on leaves with that pollen. Further study proved that this pollen was rarely ever in large enough quantities to be fatal, but it still raises the possibility that these engineered crops can have adverse effects on non-targeted species. Another, possibly larger, problem of this pollen is the evolution of insects resistant to pesticides. The creation of these insects could be disastrous to farmers who would have no way of protecting their crops.

       The benefits GMOs could have to the poor are also up for debate. Many are of the opinion that current problems with poverty could be remedied by better distribution of food and better laws regarding multinational companies who own biotechnology information and medicines. If these issues could be remedied or at least alleviated, GMOs may not even be necessary. Basically, genetic engineering is not the only option for extreme poverty; it is just a potential new option in a whole basket of other options.

       The concept of GMOs is not all that recent-- dating back to the 1990s-- but new techniques have pushed it to the forefront. While there are many promising benefits to using GMOs, there ultimately is a lack of concrete information currently available. There are still too many unknowns and their impacts are not fully documented. While it could stand to be a revolutionary product in the future and should continue to be researched, its relevancy and safety for use today is to be questioned. by Jennifer Ackerman By Eliott C. McLaughlin



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