Since ages past man has imagined a world where he could control the production and development of all his resources, including food. As of very recently this may have escaped the realm of imagination, as advancements in science are reaching a point where genetically modified food can be commercialized, and in some cases is already. However not everyone is excited over this, having doubts about its safety and effects on the market.
Transgenic food, or genetically modified food, is food that is made from organisms whose DNA has been altered to either improve its growth or its nutritional value. This means that these organisms have generally better properties than other non modified ones. For example, papaya plantations in Hawaii have been modified to resist a devastating virus, the ringspot virus, which was “Its single-handed savior”, making up 80% of the papaya population. The most common GM crops are soybeans, corn, cotton and canola, as an example, around 86% of the corn harvested in the USA in 2010 and 93% of the cotton produced in there is also genetically modified, to be herbicide and insecticide resistant, and also likely to provide higher yields and more resistance to atmospheric factors.
However, despite the benefits, controversy in this subject is abundant, as modifying our food at the genetic level is not generally seen positively by the consumers. Food & Water Watchs “Five Things Monsanto Doesn’t Want You to Know About GMOs” states how transgenic crops are not any better than regular crops, not actually providing higher yields, how it increases chemical use and, most of all, how it augments “corporate control of our food”. Center For Food Safety, a non-profit organization dedicated to ”protect human health and the environment by curbing the use of harmful food production technologies and by promoting organic and other forms of sustainable agriculture” is also against GM food, stating that various studies found that these present a grave threat to”farmers, human health, domesticated animals, wildlife and the environment”. Public view on the subject is also very poor, as it is estimated that only 30% of the US population is in agreeance with these products.
On the flip side, various scientific resources state the contrary. For instance, the World Health organization (WHO) states that not only have there have not been any negative side effects to human health from the consumption of GM food, but that the nutritional value of these could be higher in some cases, therefore being a preferable option over their natural counterparts. Also, as it was referenced above, genetic modification can facilitate growth of crops in adverse environments. Some studies also reference how 90% of scientists are in favor of GM food, and most of the discordance comes from the consumers, likely to biases towards the term “genetic modification”, as it is often attached to a negative sentiment. Golden rice, a modified rice with genes from maize and a soil bacterium, is rich in vitamin A and, according to the reason journal, it is able to save millions as many suffer from vitamin a deficiency. It shows figures stating that in 2014, due to activists preventing golden rice from being distributed to the populace, 1.4 million “life-years” have been lost, refering to both deaths and cripiling deficiencies caused by vitamin a deficiency.
Genetically modified food is a subject of controversy, however this is not really based on facts as all the evidence point to major benefits to both our health as well as the environment. It cannot be overlooked that, with all the benefits there are risks, as the creation of these methods does increase corporate influence, but this can be mitigated if the laws adapt to these new technologies. Risk involving specific products has to be verified on a case-to-case basis, but as of now no commercialized product has failed safety checks, which are very rigorous,so that should not provide much concern. So if we evolve our ideologies with these technologies, we can make the most out of it without taking the risk of them backfiring.
World Health Organization. (2014). Q&A: genetically modified food. [online] Available at: https://www.who.int/foodsafety/areas_work/food-technology/faq-genetically-modified-food/en/ [Accessed 21 May 2019].
Bawa, A. S., & Anilakumar, K. R. (2013). Genetically modified foods: safety, risks and public concerns-a review. Journal of food science and technology, 50(6), 1035–1046. doi:10.1007/s13197-012-0899-1[Accessed 21 May 2019].
Center for Food Safety. (n.d.). Center for Food Safety | About GE Foods. [online] Available at: http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/issues/311/ge-foods/about-ge-foods [Accessed 21 May 2019].
Food & Water Watch. (2015). Five Things Monsanto Doesn’t Want You to Know About GMOs. [online] Available at: https://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/news/five-things-monsanto-doesnt-want-you-know-about-gmos [Accessed 21 May 2019].
Bailey, R. (2019). Life-Saving Golden Rice Finally Gets to Poor Farmers Despite Environmentalist Opposition. [online] Reason.com. Available at: https://reason.com/2019/03/07/life-saving-golden-rice-finally-gets-to/ [Accessed 21 May 2019].