Imagine cutting into an onion and realizing that it doesn’t make you cry?! Or biting into a tomato and finding that it has the texture of an apple? Genetic Modification has been a hot topic of conversation for years, and while it comes with it’s own set of pros and cons, it is rather clear that it is here to stay.
With that thought in mind, let us delve into the depths of the science behind GMO food.
WHAT IS GMO FOOD?
The acronym GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organisms. They are crops or animals whose genetical features have been modified using genetic engineering techniques. They’re the result of scientists taking the best traits from different organisms and combining them to create a new and improved version of species. This is done through deleting existing genes from the organism or introducing a new gene, which creates a ‘better’ version of the organism than to what it naturally was.
HISTORY OF GMO FOOD AND IT’S DEVELOPMENT
Before we explore GMO food further, let us have a look into how all this started. It was around the early 1970s that scientists started experimenting with genetic modification. They conducted experiments and research around the idea that organisms could be improved through scientifically changing the genes present naturally in the organism. They were successful in 1973 when Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen, two American scientists, created the first ever GMO. They extracted a gene from a bacterium and inserted it into a plasmid, which is a small circular piece of DNA. This eventually led to the development of Genetically Modified Organisms through the years.
Around 1980, scientists discovered how to transfer genes between different plant species. One of the experiments that were carried out during this phase was the genetic transfer from a bacterium to a tobacco plant that created a genetically modified plant that is resistant to a herbicide called glyphosate. They also created a variety of tomatoes which had a longer shelf life than natural tomatoes.
LET’S LOOK THROUGH SOME COMMON EXAMPLES FOR GMOS…
Here are some examples for genetically modified organisms.
Potatoes- They are modified to be pest- resistant as well as be immune to certain diseases that affect potato crops.
Soybeans- These plants are modified to resist herbicides, allowing them for easier weed control.
Salmon- Salmon fish can be genetically modified to grow quicker than average. Apples- Genetically modified apples have the ability to resist browning.
GMO FOOD AND FOOD SECURITY
Food security is the state that allows people to have reliable access to enough healthy food that they can afford. GMOs have the potential to massively impact the world’s current food security state. By making crops resistant to pests, crop quality and quantity can be improved, thus resulting in farmers being able to produce more food than before. Furthermore, by increasing shelf life of crops, more food can be made available for consumption for a longer period. However, the impact of GMOs on human health and the possible harmful effects they can have on natural ecosystems should definitely be taken into account when considering the impact GMOs have on food security. Are there any adverse health impacts created by GMOs?
One potential concern is that, if a gene from an allergenic food is transferred to a non-allergenic food, it may cause allergic reactions in some individuals. Another is the possibility of toxic proteins to be created during the GMO process, which could be harmful for humans. However, GMOs can also positively affect human health. For example, they can be used to improve the nutritional value of food through insertion of essential minerals and vitamins.
How does GMOs affect the environment?
On one hand, by making crops resistant to diseases and pests, the use of pesticides can be minimized. This would help protect the environment from the harm caused by these harmful chemicals. On the other hand, this could potentially create an imbalance in natural ecosystems. There is a risk that genetically modified crops could crossbreed with other natural species and create invasive crops. it could also lead to a reduction of biodiversity as crops become more uniform and lose their traditional qualities and characteristics.
HOW CAN GMOS’ BE REGULATED AND SAFE FOR USE?
There are different agencies such as U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) are responsible for the regulation for GMOs before they are allowed for public consumption. In Europe, this is done through a ‘consultation process’ review done by the producer of the GMO. During this process, different concerns such as allergic reactions and toxicity are discussed. If the agency deems the GMO safe, it may be approved as a commercially available product. The regulation of genetically modified organisms require careful monitoring so that potential risks are minimized and the safety is constantly evaluated.
Does the Government aid this process?
Yes! The Government is responsible for providing the regulatory framework that should be abided during the consultation process.
LET’S DISCUSS THE IMPACT ON AGRICULTURE, SOCIETY AND GLOBAL TRADE…
Agriculture: GMO crops have brought forth a positive response in the agricultural sector as it can help reduce the use of pesticides and herbicides as crops will be genetically modified to resist disease and pests. This allows crops to be cultivated on fewer resources, taking down the cost of production. Both productivity and profitability of agricultural crops can be increased through cultivation of genetically modified crops.
Society: This is topic that is heavily debatable and is multifaceted. GMOs have been subjected public skepticism and opposition. It has raised moral and ethical concerns, particularly in regards to genetically modifying animals.
Global Trade: Some countries have very strict regulations regarding GMOs, while some others are more lenient within trade. This has caused tension in world trade, with some countries refusing to accept GMO products and some demanding that GMO products be specifically labelled as being genetically modified. So far, GMO products are still a topic that is heavily debated and discussed in terms of world trade.
WHAT ETHICAL CONSIDERATIONS ARISE IN GMO PRODUCTION?
There are many ethical and moral considerations linked to the development and production of genetically modified organisms. Many people believe that natural life forms used in genetic modification should not be owned by a company or group. There is also a concern surrounding the control of seed markets. Once a GMO has been produced by a company, that specific group hold patent rights to be product, including seeds derived from the newly produced GMOS. They are responsible for the seed market and hence, farmers must buy seeds directly from that specific company. Belief is that GMOs create a long-lasting negative impact on the natural balance of the environment as it meddles with change of biodiversity. While there is no conclusive evidence, the potential risk to human health is a major concern regarding GMO products. In addition to this, people believe that they have a right to know whether products they consume have been subjected to genetic modification, which leads to some countries demanding GMO products to be labelled as been genetically modified.
Hence, some of the major debates and controversies surrounding GMO food are related to safety. environmental impact, ownership and patent rights and labelling. It is important for policymakers, industry leads and consumers to carefully consider potential risks and benefits prior to consumption of GMO food.
ARE THERE ALTERNATIVE SOLUTIONS TO GMO FOOD?
Organic Farming: Organic farming is an agricultural system that uses natural methods to cultivate crops without chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides. While this method is a solution to not creating GMOs that are pest-resistant and immune to diseases, it is unconventional in many ways and may not be able to meet the global demand for food. Crop Diversity: Planting a variety of crops can help reduce the risk of crop failure, but is not practical to be applied for large-scale commercial agriculture. An example for crop diversity could be planting carrots, beans, lettuce and tomatoes on the same farm land.
Agroecology: This is a farming system that allows agricultural lands to mimic natural ecosystems. However, the cost of production as well as labor requirements increase through agroecology. It is also not suitable for commercial agricultural production.
WHAT COMES NEXT?
GMO is already a widely debated and discusses topic in the world, but what is the next step? The future of GMO food is likely to be shaped by various technological, scientific, and social factors. GMO crops are likely to be integrated into other forms of food and animal technologies such as precision agriculture (minute control of environmental factors such as humidity and heat in the agriculture process), artificial intelligence (development of machines and algorithms that can perform tasks that typically require human intelligence) and blockchain (A distributed digital technology that allows secure and transparent transactions between parties). This could affect the production of GMOs in a more socially, morally, and ethically accepted manner as well as pose solutions that will result in a lesser negative environmental impact. While the public reaction to GMO is unpredictable, advancement of biotechnology in the future such as gene editing and synthetic biology is likely to lead to new genetically modified crops and livestock foregoing the risks and limitations GMOs currently face.
To sum it up, GMO food is a fascinating blend of science, innovation, and creativity that has the potential to revolutionize our food system. While some may have concerns about the safety and ethics of GMOs, it’s important to remember that these crops are the product of careful research and development. So, the next time you bite into a juicy GMO tomato or enjoy a crisp GMO apple, take a moment to appreciate the incredible science behind your food!