A fairly (un)educated look into PROs and CONs of GMOs
But firstly, what are GMO Seeds?
GMO Seeds are created in a lab using high-tech techniques such as gene-splicing. It's often done not through crossing of related plants but goes far beyond what's usually happening in nature. For example to create GMO Seeds a plant might be crossed with a bacteria. Sometimes, in case of Monsanto, in order to make a plant pest-resistant, the pesticide has been added to every cell of the plant. This can mean that if the cattle eats the plant, they are also eating the pesticide inside of its every cell.
Compared to Hybrid Seeds which gardeners have been cultivating for thousands of years through selective breeding it's really high-tech. As Hybrid Seeds have been created by cross-pollinating two related plants through anywhere between 6 to 10 plant generations. Even though, in 19th century Darwin and Mendel managed to create a new method of controlled crossing which allows to create the desired seeds within just one generation (these seeds are called F1 hybrid seeds).
The name of the father of GMO could be given to Norman Borlaug who has also been called "the father of the Green Revolution". He was a researcher trying to create disease-resistant wheat varieties in order to feed more people. Thanks to his work, wheat yields doubled in India and Pakistan, and increased also in Mexico. He strongly believed that genetic manipulations of organisms was pretty much the only way to go to feed to world's increasing population and shrinking agricultural areas.
"GM crops are as natural and safe as today's bread wheat, opined Dr. Borlaug, who also reminded agricultural scientists of their moral obligation to stand up to the antiscience crowd and warn policy makers that global food insecurity will not disappear without this new technology and ignoring this reality global food insecurity would make future solutions all the more difficult to achieve. - Rozwadowski and Kagale
Let's get to the PROs of GM foods
- According to theory, GMOs can potentially offer higher crop yields and help feed more people.
- GMO seeds are also suggested as being more economic, even though the initial cost of the seeds can be higher. The theory behind it is that the usage of GMO seeds reduces the need for pesticides and herbicides and also reduced the manpower needed to successfully grow the crops.
- The food quality can be better as the crops can be manufactured to stay fresh longer, think of tomatoes for example. Some of you might be saying that organic tomato is definitely better, but there have been blind tests where all those fans of organic vegetables fail miserably.
- Seeds created with the GM technology can offer good yields even in poor weather conditions, they can be engineered to withstand extreme weather.
- GM foods can be engineered to have more nutrients in them. So higher levels of specific nutrients can be added to help with the lack in diet in local population.
- According to Oklahoma State University using GMO crops may help reduce environmental polluton, greenhouse gases as well as soil erosion.
- GM foods can also result in animals that are resistant to diseases.
- Swedish researchers discovered an enzyme-producing gene in a meadow grass that managed to naturally cross with sheep's fescue hundreds of thousands of years ago. Which means that cross-species gene transfer isn't anything as new as we might actually think. Even though, yes, it's very rare in nature.
What are the CONs of GMO seeds?
- I already brought out that the pesticides added to seeds to make them pest-resistant might mean that the cattle, or even we ourselves, eating it, east pesticides while eating the plants.
- Another worrisome theory about GM foods is that eating GM foods can trigger more allergies in some people. For example if you weren't allergic to tomato before, if some proteins from an organism you are allergic to are added to the GM tomato, you'll become allergic to tomato.
- As soon GM foods are created by crossing plants with bacterias and viruses, there's a fear (not sure if backed up by facts) that this might cause the emergence of new diseases.
- Antibiotics - some GM foods have antibiotic features built into them in order to make the crops resistant to diseases and viruses. However, when you now eat those crops, the antibiotic markers persist in your body and can mean that the effect of an actual antibiotic medication won't be as good as it should be. The decrease in effectiveness of antibiotics has been seen in hospitals around the world. BUT this might not be as straightforwarly linked to GM foods as some might think. The actual reason for antibiotics becoming less effective can also be that ompared to decades ago antibiotics are prescribed pretty much for every illness, every condition, and people are using them way too much. It's not news anymore that these days people are overmedicating themselves with antibiotics.
- There hasn't been any long term testing of GMOs. While they can be safe, there's no actual proof either way.
- There are studies that say there hasn't even been enough long term studies to verify the production of higher yields from GMO. Some actually say that most yield gains in past years are the result of improvements in agricultural practices and due to traditional breeding.
- Some studies show harm from GM foods to kidneys, liver, heart, and other organs. But then again, there haven't been enough long term studies about anything.
- World Health Organization has classified the main chemical used in Roundup (Monsanto's Herbicide tolerance (Roundup Ready crops)) as a "probable carcinogen" which means they think it probably increases the risk of cancer.
- Biotechnology companies creating the GM seeds have managed to patent them and restrict their use. And as they want farmers to buy from them every year they try to restrict from replanting the offspring from their GMOs. Farmers who plant Monsanto soybeans also have to sign an agreement saying that they will not save the "second-generation" seeds and use them for the next harvest. Monsanto also has a patent on the "Terminator gene" that can make a plant produce sterile seeds. Even though they have promised not to use it, well...it's Monsanto.
"We remain committed not to commercialize sterile seed technology in food crops. After consulting with international experts and sharing many of the concerns of small landholder farmers, Monsanto made a commitment in 1999 not to commercialize sterile seed technology in food crops. We stand firmly by this commitment. We have no plans or research that would violate this commitment in any way. - monsanto.com
Please note that obviously I'm not an expert on the topic, but these ae the pro's and con's everyone can find out themselves, and make their own conclusions. My personal view is that in most general terms, GMOs are good in the sense that it allows to feed more people from less field area. Then again, if we talk about companies like Monsanto, who, even if they are not using terminator genes in their plants, don't allow replanting the offspring from their GMOs, and that's, to put it in the most sensible way, crap. And what should also be thought about it what the seeds are crossed with, to make sure you're not eating pesticides that might be bad for your health in short or long run.