While people around the world starve, other people who are arguably better off and live in developed countries campaign to stop the one scientific advancement that could potentially save the hungry: genetically modified organisms.
Genetically modified organisms contain manually altered genes that can create plants that sprout quicker, use less water, taste better, yield more product and last longer, so where is all the opposition to GMOs coming from?
The science of plant modification dates back to ancient times, but it wasn’t until the 1980s that science advanced to a point where someone could manually edit and improve a plant’s genetics in a specific and targeted way.
This achievement sparked a transgenic plant revolution, which led to a large percentage of the food people eat daily containing some form of genetic modification.
Plant modification not only leads to better food but also to a greater abundance of food. The gains in crop yield due to plant breeding are significant, said Matin Qaim, a professor of international food economics and rural development at the University of Goettingen in Germany.
Genetic modification also helps plants survive: when plants are modified for a certain environment, they have a greater chance of making it to harvest season.
GMOs face more academic scrutiny than naturally produced foods because of their unnatural origin, and studies published about the negative consequences of GMO crops remain in circulation. Two such studies by Stanley Ewen and Arpad Pusztai in 1999 and Giles-Eric Seralini in 2012 are still controversial today.
The Ewen-Pusztai study looked at the health consequences of genetically modified potatoes. The potatoes used in the study were not meant for human consumption, but the researchers released information before the study’s conclusion. They said the genetically modified potatoes compromised, in some way, the immune systems of rats used in the experiment.
The comment caused a lot of controversy even though the published study did not mention the rats’ immune systems. The study attributed a difference in gut epithelium to the genetically modified potatoes. However, the scientific community as a whole lambasted the paper.
The Seralini study included a small sample of rats eating herbicide-resistant corn over a two-year period. The study also consisted of a control group to verify the results.
The rats who consumed the herbicide-resistant corn lived shorter lives and developed more tumors than the rats who ate naturally grown food. However, the strain type of rats chosen for the study were more susceptible to tumor growth in early development and were not meant to be used for long-term health studies.
The bulk of anti-GMO studies published remain structurally flawed. The average member of the scientific community remains much more knowledgeable on the topic of genetic modification than the average consumer. The proliferation of objectively illegitimate studies and sensationalism in the publishing community leads to erosion of faith in the safety of GM technology, which in turn encourages people to question scientific legitimacy.
The associated risks of genetically modified organisms are exactly that: associated.
Plainly, the argument against genetically modified organisms is tainted by flawed perception. GMOs could potentially end world hunger if the general public can abandon their tenuously-formed disdain in favor of scientifically verified evidence.
Columnist Cameron Barrett is an economics senior and can be reached at [email protected].