Introduction to GMO Food

GMOs, abbreviated for Genetically Modified Organisms, are, well, as the name would suggest, biological entities whose DNA and genetic structure has been modified for a myriad of uses, including human consumption or yield increase. However good and non-threatening their original conception might have been, they have been embroiled in controversy after controversy for a good part of their existence as a commercial practice. Today, we debunk most of what is there on GMOs.

According to a report issued by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), over 90 per cent of all consumable crops including maize (corn), soy and cotton grown in the States use seeds produced as a result of GMOs. Needless to say, a good majority of what Americans eat, wear and consume comes from GMOs, which, to state again, do not have a good track record when it comes to acceptability among the people.

While mostly harmless, there are people and entire groups against GMOs; despite the fact that a good number of researchers and notable organisations have proved that GMOs are no worse than pesticides and insecticides used on regular crops. The groups against GMOs claim that such products are harmful for human consumption and the environmental ramifications are huge too.

This piece will explain the ins and outs of GMOs and will provide a non-partisan view of GMO foods, their pros and cons and how you can identify products made off of GMOs.

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What is a GMO?

As explained beforehand, GMOs are genetically modified organisms that have had their DNA and genetic makeup modified using the latest genetic engineering technologies. The whole process is primarily done to increase the positive traits of a certain crop; from increasing the yield of a certain cash crop to increasing its resistance to insecticides or pesticides, crops have experienced a dramatic shift in their usability with the introduction of GMOs and the associated practices.

Why are GMOs so popular among Agri-Communities?

Because of the myriad of functionalities and the positive traits it boosts. Simply because it has been proved that GMOs inclusion to agriculture has been beneficial so far; it can boost yield, make plants invulnerable to disease and can even make farming methods easier to harvest certain crops. Genetic engineering can also be used to phase out negative traits of a crop or even genes that prevent a good yield or whatnot.

In short, GMOs, so far, have only yielded positive results with respect to crop-breeding. However, there are several impediments when it comes to GMOs being biologically engineered to provide a specific result of a sort. While selective breeding and genetic engineering have made it possible for certain crops to be given desirable traits, this process in itself is very time-consuming and takes generations upon generations of a crop to show some positive results.

However, this is also a cause of massive confusion. Because of the changes that are implemented in the genetic structure of the organism, there is a good chance that farmers and breeders alike will be thrown off when it comes to the genetic pattern and determining which particular change has led to which new trait.

However, with GMOs, especially with the genetically engineered ones, the process that would usually take a couple of generations is reduced to a single cropping season. This is because these modern techniques have allowed for gene addition and deletion in a laboratory, which gives a plant the desired trait almost immediately.

Ultimate Spotlight Examples

A good example of this explanation can be the infamous Bt corn, which is a form of genetically modified maize. As the name suggests, this type of corn is genetically engineered to produce the insecticide/ pesticide Bt toxin, making it both invulnerable to insects or pest attacks and eliminating the need of using insecticides which may be harmful on the crop altogether. 

You can then imagine the popularity of GMO crops; USA and elsewhere. In fact, their commonality can be seen through the facts and figures of GMO: as mentioned priorly, at least 90 per cent of crops like cotton, maize and soy are being grown using techniques like advanced genetic engineering. According to many estimates by independent researchers, atleast 80 per cent of all foods containing crops in supermarkets across the country use ingredients derived from these genetically modified organisms. They are engrained deep in the food chain of the whole world because of their usage and benefits that they have.

However, with great popularity comes great misleading. GMOs are known for their ease of use and their great relative benefits; this has caused outrage among many as there is concern over their safety for human consumption and whether they have any negative repercussions towards the environment. Health concerns are rampant; people and anti-GMO groups alike chant slogans against such foods, which are thought to be a major contributor to the increasing allergies and illnesses from foods derived from these crops.

How GMO works on Official Level?

At an official level however, GMOs come out to be the winner as a number of federal agencies and watchdogs have deemed GMOs safe and fit for human consumption; these include the USDA, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). All of these groups have given a green-light to the farmers around the country to use GMOs.

4 Pros of GMO foods

GMO foods offer a myriad of benefits to both the growers (farmers) and the consumers alike. While some of them have been listed beforehand, the majority are enumerated below, 

·         GMOs can be genetically modified to resist harmful pests and pesticides.

·         GMOs can also be modified to make sure the yield isn’t affected by extreme weather or any other conditions which have historically affected agri-practices.

·         GMOs can also be used to enhance the flavour and appearance of the foodstuff grown. Can help with the aesthetics of the plants too.

·         GMO foods have been deemed safe for consumption by a majority of federal watchdogs.

Cons of GMO foods

·         One of the major concerns is of the health impacts GMO foods could have. This includes adverse reactions, allergies to certain genetic makeover elements or even worse effects like diseases in humans etc.

·         There have also been concerns over the probability of a linkage between cancers and GMOs, which were fuelled by early studies in mice showing a correlation between the consumption of GMOs and tumours leading to early deaths. However, this study was retracted as it was poorly designed and executed.