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GMO Pros and Cons: (14 Crucial Facts to Know)

Recently, we have seen an influx of healthy and organic products in grocery stores. Consumers are beginning to see the negative impacts that genetically modified crops have on their bodies. As a result, there are now products that claim they are GMO-free and completely natural. There is a good and a bad side to GMO products, so we have put together a full list of GMO pros and cons.

What Is a GMO?

The acronym stands for "genetically modified organism". You can find GMOs mostly in foods. The foods are usually generated from soy, corn, or other crops that have been grown from a modified seed. About 90 percent of the corn, soybeans, and cotton farmers grow in the United States are from modified seeds.

The GMO process includes altering the DNA structure of the seed to make it stronger. They extract the genes from one species and artificially force them into another plant or animal. The implanted genes are often from viruses, bacteria, insects, plants, animals, and even humans. The GMO seeds become disease resistant, bug proof, herbicide resistant, tolerant to unnatural heat, cold, or drought. They even increase the amount of yield. Studies have found that GMO crops have brighter colors and last longer on the food shelves. We covered GMOs briefly in another article, but this article with go much more in-depth into the GMOs pros and cons.

How Are GMO Seeds Made?

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The Gene

There are a few steps to making a genetically modified seed. To begin, a scientist must find a trait. The scientist must decide which trait they want the GM (genetically modified) seed to have and find an organism that already possesses that gene. Next, they must extract the gene from the other organism. In the past, scientists would need to plant, grow, and sample a clipping to see if the gene they are looking for is in a certain plant. Due to this taking a lot of time and resources, scientists are finding that they can test the seed. There are machines that chip off little bits of the seeds and grind it into a powder. The powder is examined with genome-mapping technology, and then the scientist will determine if the plant they are examining contains the specific gene they require.

Insertion

Once scientists find the gene, they must insert it into the other seed as the next step. They use many different ways of inserting DNA into an organism, such as a “gene gun” and a bug. A .22 caliber charge with a metal particle coated with the desired gene is fired into the plant tissue. Then, they heat the seeds and place them under stress; this makes the seed more vulnerable to a bug called Agrobacterium Tumefaciens. This organism invades the DNA of the host plant and tricks it into producing sugars that it will live off of. Scientists are using the bacteria as a new way of inserting DNA into plant’s chromosomes. The plant recognizes the foreign protein as one of its own and continues to replicate it.

Growth Chamber

After the scientists insert the new gene into the DNA of the seed, they place them in a growth chamber. Growth chambers house thousands of seedlings that they are currently testing. They put the seedlings through numerous tests, such as drought, wind, heat, cold, and so on. Then, scientists photograph, make notes, check the roots, and constantly monitor the seedlings throughout the process. The tests will help to establish which seedlings are the stronger ones, which will further aid in finding the most extreme GM seed. When the scientists pick the strongest seedling, it is time to plant more.

Harvest and Research

It is important to maintain soil pH, keep the soil moist, and plant the seeds with correct spacing. This will ensure that the GM plant will grow well and produce. Once the plants have started to grow, it is on to the next step. This is the step where genes will express themselves. When the plants are growing well, it is time to harvest and research. Through the growing process, scientists will watch to see how the plants do on their own. They will watch to see how they withstand elements, bugs, and chemicals. The harvest will also determine if the seed was a winner. The whole purpose of creating GM seeds is to be stronger and produce more yields. Harvesting will determine just that.

GMO Pros and Cons

The GMO process can be pretty complicated. It can be very helpful in some circumstances and many believe it can be harmful. GMO pros and cons both exist, so let’s get started with the list.

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Pros of GMOs

Genetically modified organisms have some positive potential. To view the first side of the GMO scale, let us examine the GMO pros.

Allergies

To begin our list of GMO pros and cons, GMO foods have the ability to help consumers who have allergies. Food allergies have increased from 3.4 percent to 5.1 percent between 2009 and 2011. Since allergies are increasing among consumers, it is getting difficult to find food that they can eat. Some believe that the increase in allergies is due to the food being modified, but there is no scientific evidence that can show a correlation between allergic reactions and GMO foods. In fact, it has been noted that there is less reaction to foods with GMO ingredients than to those without. The companies that manufacture GMO foods must test their products before they can sell them, and they only pass the test if they do not cause allergic reactions. So, all of the foods on the market with GMO ingredients are not going to cause allergic reactions.

Quality

Studies prove that modified foods are better in many ways. To begin, the food tastes better. Their DNA has been modified and they are stronger. The modification enhances the taste and color of the food. GM foods are lasting longer on the shelves and in our homes, making them desirable to consumers and companies alike. These enhancements save the company and the consumer money.

Because food is lasting longer, this means fewer trips to the grocery store for vegetables and fruits. Third world hunger could be reduced thanks to GMOs. The food is lasting longer, so the long-distance trips to countries in need are no concern. Shipping companies have found that even when the foods were being picked before their prime, by the time they reached their destination it was rotten. With modified foods, this will not be a concern. The seeds are made to resist diseases and bugs, making the plant grow better and stronger. Because the plants are stronger, the use of herbicides and pesticides is reduced. In turn, studies find that the chemicals they found in runoff water is lowered.

Strong Growth

Scientists design GMO seeds to be super seeds, strong and hardy, and make it so they are able to grow in harsh environments. World hunger is an issue partially due to infertile areas. When the soil is toxic or unnourished, plants are unable to grow. Seeds that are genetically modified will be able to grow in soils that would normally be impossible. Genetically modified seeds are making it possible to not only grow in harsh locations but also grow more on less land. Scientists modify each seed to be stronger and withstand more herbicides and pesticides, which guarantees a higher yield. If the amount of land that farmers use now is used to grow GM seeds, the harvest is going to be even larger.

The same goes for GM animals. People create these animals to have stronger genes, which will make them more tolerant to disease and will give them overall better health. As such, animals are going to be able to produce more meat, eggs, or milk. The GMO, whether in seeds or animals, have altered DNA, makes the production process more energy efficient because they will require less food, water, soil, and energy to survive.

GMOs are also more resistant to insects, so crops last longer and are more resilient.  More crops survive which results in a higher yield for farmers. GMOs can also feed more people. In more remote areas, normal crops can be harder to grow and have a shorter shelf life.

Medical Advances

This is the finishing item for the pros in our GMO pros and cons list. People are even using genetically modified organisms for non-food related purposes. Edible vaccinations are one area that scientists are testing. GMOs have the potential to provide vaccinations that simply need to be eaten. The idea is to create food that has the potential to immunize against numerous different diseases without the need for medications and needles. These diseases range from cholera to AIDs, and this idea has already begun to take flight. Recently, a transgenic potato has been a successful test. The potatoes had been altered to contain a medication that aided against diarrhea and it worked.

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Cons of GMOs

Now, let’s move on to the second half of the GMO pros and cons list. With scientists continuing to conduct research on GMOs, there are concerns that GMOs are having negative effects on people and animals. As we are discussing the GMO pros and cons, it is necessary for us to go over the GMO cons.

Health Problems

To begin, health is a major concern when discussing GMO pros and cons. The American Academy of Environmental Medicine is urging doctors to put their patients on GMO-free diets. Animal studies have shown that GMO foods are causing organ damage, immune system disorders, accelerated aging, and infertility. Since 1996, when GMOs first started appearing, health problems have increased. Americans with three or more chronic illnesses jumped from 7 percent to 13 percent in nine years, and allergies, digestive problems, infertility, and heart-related problems have also skyrocketed in number. Recent studies have linked GMO foods to gluten disorders. The Institute for Responsible Technology released data that relates GM foods to five conditions that can trigger or exacerbate gluten-related disorders. These disorders include intestinal permeability, imbalanced gut bacteria, immune and allergic response, impaired digestion, and damage to the walls of the intestines.

Contamination

Contamination is also becoming a problem. Like all seeds, GMO seeds will cross-pollinate. This self-propagating population will be impossible to eradicate since they are constantly crossing paths with other plants. GMO seeds will outlive global warming and nuclear waste since it continues to establish new growth and future generations of GMO seedlings. This is creating huge economic losses for the farmers that are growing organic and non-GMO crops. Since their crops are growing outdoors, it is nearly impossible to keep their crops “pure,” due to the cross-pollination of GMO seeds with their organic crops.

Increased Herbicide Use

This item is another must for our GMO pros and cons list. Genetically modified organisms are proving the herbicide reduction to be a myth. Although it is true that the GMO seedlings are strong enough to reduce certain chemicals, thus reducing the necessity for herbicides, their cross-pollination is creating super weeds that are also resisting the effects of chemicals. Farmers are using more and more chemicals to kill the weeds that are they find in their fields because of the super weeds. Between 1996, when farmers first introduced GMOs into the marketplace, and 2008, US farmers sprayed an extra 383 million pounds of herbicides on GMOs. Now, plants and weeds are becoming resistant to “Round Up” and other chemicals, so more farmers are using toxic chemicals on crops each year. This results in GM foods contain higher toxic residue, which studies link to sterility, hormone disruption, birth defects, and cancers.

Environmental Harm

Studies also link environmental issues to GMOs. Genetically modified organisms have reduced the biodiversity of ecosystems. GM seeds and their associated herbicides are harming birds, insects, marine life, and amphibians. The chemicals that are within the modified organisms are impacting the stability of our water. Genetically modified crops are eliminating habitat for the monarch butterfly. As a result, the number of monarch butterflies has dropped 50 percent in the US. Studies show that herbicides in GM crops cause birth defects, embryonic death, endocrine disruption, and organ damage in amphibians and animals, even at low doses. When the rain falls onto the GM crops, their herbicides are washed into the streams, lakes, and rivers that later into the oceans. As a result, death among marine life and unstable marine ecosystems are increasing, not to mention infecting the water that animals and humans drink.

Seed Sales

To finish off our list of GMO pros and cons, seed monopolies have started to pop up. Monsanto, the Agri-tech company that controls about 90 percent of the GMO seed market, has started taking over the seed market. Genetically modified seeds are a patented product, so purchasers of GM seeds must sign an agreement for the use of the seeds and agree not to save or sell seeds to other growers. GM seeds are cross-pollinating with local small farmer’s crops, and as a result, they must pay patent fees or risk being sued by Monsanto. Farmers that are growing locally cannot afford such risks, so they will buy GM seeds to avoid being charged further. This continues to put the local farmers out of more money since they are not able to save seeds to plant next year but must purchase a new batch of GM seeds for the next planting season.

Buying GM Foods

This is another bit of information you need to know in regards to GMO pros and cons. Currently, labels for GMOs are not mandated in the United States. Often times, you may not know whether a certain product you buy contains them. Congress recently passed a law, but it has yet to go into effect. The will not reinforce a recall if it is broken.

In the End

There are GMO pros and cons, and hopefully, we have covered them all for you here. The research will continue and the truth behind whether or not genetically modified foods and crops are really good or bad will be determined. Until then, it is up to us as consumers to decide which side of the line we sit on.

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Lindsey Andrews
 

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