The term GMO is seen in our society every single day. It shows up on stickers in grocery stores, advertisements on the television, and is seen in buzz articles on the Internet. However, what do people actually know about Genetically Modified Organisms? There exist many debates as to if GMO’s impact your health or the environment negatively. Some have been proven to been true but other issues still need to be researched. This article provides insights into various topics on GMO’s, but mostly aims to aid consumers in knowing more details about the production and impacts of GMO’s.
What is a GMO?
GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism. A GMO has had its genetic material altered so that its DNA contains more or less genes than what is found naturally. This process of alteration is also referred as Genetic Engineering (GE), or Genetic Modification (GM). Techniques used in genetic engineering allow for selected individual genes from either related or non-related species to be transferred from one organism into another.
So, why genetically modify food?
At first, the production of GM crops was solely to benefit farmers by creating disease resistant and drought tolerant varieties. But recently, scientists are now aiming to create the perfect species that not only has growth benefits but also benefits the consumers. They do so by seemingly enhancing nutritional benefits and taking out genes that have been found to be potentially harmful to humans. Although there seems as if there are no negative reasons as to genetically modified food, there have been proven environmental risks as well as potential health risks.
Are all GMO’s the same?
No, all GMO’s are not the same. GMO is a blanket term for any way an organism is modified and does not really provide any information about it at all. Every single GMO is distinctive and quite different than another. A GMO containing species could be referring to a crop that has been modified to be resistant to an herbicide, or to separate crop that has been modified to express different levels of vitamin precursors. Overall, the main point is to show that all GMO’s are referred to the same GMO but they are all extremely different depending on the modification.
What are the dangers/risks of GMO’s?
So far, it might seem as if GMO’s have sole positive impacts. They can produce higher crop yields, eliminate the need of external pesticides, and remove potential harmful gene sequences. However, there are potential health risks and environmental risks that go along with the production and consumption of genetically modified foods. In regards to health risks, there has been speculation as to if GMO’s have increased food allergies rates or increased the likelihood of bacterial contamination. There have not been enough studies to say definitely if these correlations are 100% true or not, but that is exactly the point. Little to no long term research has been done on the effects of the consumption of GMOs and health risks. As for environmental impact, there have been definite negative effects that have been seen in regards to the production of genetically modified crops.
Lack of Diversity
Genetically modified food production causes potential risks to the biodiversity by promoting large-scale monocultures. The contribution to the decline in biodiversity actually increases vulnerability of crops to climate change, pests, and disease. Diversity is extremely important in agriculture for multiple reasons. One of those being that it allows for the maintenance of other ecosystem services such as soil and water conservation, which supports soil fertility and pollination that are all essential to human survival.
Another potential consequence of GM production is out-crossing. Outcrossing refers to the passing of traits on to wild relatives, through insect pollination or wind, and the changing of the genetics of those relatives. These changed species, again, can take on a new ecological role that would harm the environment that it was originally established in. Those interactions can promote extinction of certain populations of other plants as well affect insects, birds, and all species that consume GMO seeds.
Increased Pesticide Use
One other way that biodiversity can be damaged is the increased use of pesticides associated with genetically modified crop production. The promotion of greater pesticide use can be toxic to many species, and further disrupt plant communities. Another concern is the production of what people refer to as “superweeds’. These “superweeds” are weeds that have adapted to the herbicides being used and have developed resistance to them. The difficulty to control these “superweeds” increases costs and quantities of herbicides necessary to maintain the crop.
As discussed, there is a lot of debate around the risks of the production and consumption of genetically modified products. In regards to health concerns, there are no observed short-term risks. However, little to no research has been done on the long-term effects of consuming genetically modified food. As for environmental risk factors, there have been proven detrimental effects to the environment from the promotion of lack of biodiversity to the increased use of pesticides. To air on the side of caution, buy organic. But if you are still not sure as to which produce to get, use Organic Diet Buddy. Organic Diet Buddy can help you pick and choose which foods to buy organic to protect yourself from pesticide residue as well as unknown GMO’s.