Genetically modified organisms are a recent innovation in biotechnology that have greatly increased agricultural output by bolstering a plant’s resistance to insects and herbicides. Some genetically modified foods, like Golden Rice, have even been developed to contain superior nutritional qualities.
Surprisingly, there is a substantial amount of fear and public mistrust surrounding the use of GMO crops. This has resulted in regulatory actions that restrict or prohibit their use in agriculture.
Though there are some environmental concerns about developing GMO crops, their potential benefits greatly outweigh the risks.
GMO crops are produced by borrowing a piece of DNA from an organism that produces a specific protein or gene and splicing that into another organism. By doing this, that desirable trait is passed onto the other organism, enhancing its existing qualities or giving it new ones.
Bt corn is a product of this process. Bt is a naturally-occurring soil bacterium that produces a protein that is indigestible by insect larvae but is harmless to humans. These proteins are used in organic farming as a pesticide because they kill insects.
Genetic scientists created Bt corn by taking the DNA from Bt bacteria and splicing it into corn DNA. The result of this combination is pest-resistant corn that produces Bt proteins insect larvae can’t digest.
Bt corn does not contain any other chemicals or proteins that are not used in organic farming, so one shouldn’t assume that it is any more unsafe than organic corn.
The Rockefeller Foundation funded a similar project to create a Vitamin A enhanced form of rice known as Golden Rice. This rice borrows genes from other vitamin-rich vegetables such as corn to make a form of rice that contains more Vitamin A.
It has the potential to decrease Vitamin A deficiencies in many developing nations in Southeast Asia that receive the majority of their calories from rice. Thus, the potential benefits of GMO crops are profound — they have the ability to alleviate problems of food insecurity and malnutrition in developing nations.
There are some legitimate concerns about GMO crops, but the fear surrounding them is largely irrational and based on the ill-conceived notion that all GMO crops are somehow inherently more dangerous than natural crops.
This is because GMO crops are often portrayed as unnatural, and anything that is unnatural must be dangerous. This notion, however, is not generally supported by the scientific community.
There are, a few legitimate concerns surrounding GMO crops that do have scientific merit.
They have the potential to contaminate non-GMO crops, and they can produce allergic reactions that non-GMO crops don’t produce.
But there are ways to accommodate for these problems. Fields containing GMO crops can be separated from fields with non-GMO crops, and testing can be done to determine what allergens a GMO crop may cause.
These crops have the ability to increase yield capacity for a variety of crops and provide a higher degree of food security to developed and developing nations.
No biotechnological advance is without its risks, but the potential benefits of GMO crops are profound. They may lead to the creation of new crop varieties that are resistant to pests, herbicides and droughts, in addition to nutritionally enhancing crops.
This means that not only do GMO crops have the potential to increase agricultural output capacity and food security in developing nations — they also limit the amount of chemical pesticides used in agriculture.
GMO crops have not been rendered unsafe by the USDA, and they have not been shown to be harmful to human health. It is unreasonable to not embrace the use of these crops.James Johnson is a psychology senior and may be reached at [email protected]