The benefits of GMOs have been lauded by their proponents while the risks posed by them have probably been blown out of proportion by their critics. There are two sides to every story, particularly a controversial one. The problem with GMOs is their overly passionate advocates and detractors. In the heat of an argument, it is difficult to keep a cool head.
In this post, we will try to review and succinctly discuss the myths surrounding GMOs, and we will round it off with the proven GMO benefits, from an official source.
Top Myths about GMOs
- The Unsafe Technology – it’s probably too early to provide a definitive response to this often heard the statement, however, the process by which vaccines were first obtained was deemed hazardous, and even criminal, at the time.
- The possibility of a Gene mix-up – nobody actually knows what can happen through accidental hybridization, as that is only a matter of chance. That being said, there have been instances where natural hybridization has led to catastrophic consequences, the most recent occurrence being with the sugar beet crops in several European countries.
- Food Safety – many critics of genetically modified foods decry a perceived lack of institutional intervention. Yet, in other parts of the world, with more draconian food policies, foods containing GMO have had little trouble in penetrating the market.
- Measures of Success – advocates of GMOs like to present all across the board success. Critics decry the process of tinkering with the natural environment. The truth is that some products have been a scientific and marketing success, while others utter failures, as is the case with any product or technology.
- GMOs Ruin the Food System – there have been countries where GMOs have been adopted and the traditional make-up has not suffered. Changes in technology take time, and changes in overall taste take even more time.
- GMO Crops are Inherently Problematic – some genetic manipulations have strengthened certain crops that had been in danger of disappearance such as the case of the Hawaiian papaya.
- The Need for Clearer Labeling – bio food enthusiasts claim a potential confusion in labeling, yet things are quite clear on this subject: everything that’s not labeled as organic is most likely (more than 90 % chance) genetically engineered.
- GMOs Are Banned in Europe – while producing genetically modified food has been opposed by European farmer’s association, its import is on a large scale.
- It’s Unnatural – in all living organisms genetic mutations are a frequent occurrence, and some of its causes have not even been identified yet.
- It’s a Technological Controversy – the know-how is limited to a few companies that control the whole process, and it probably should be deferred to anti-trust legislation.
Benefits of GMOs, as Laid Out by FAO
It goes without saying that this technology would have never been implemented if the potential benefits of GMOs wouldn’t have outweighed the potential risks to both the environment and to public health. Therefore, here are the main benefits of genetically modified organisms, as stated by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization.
- Increased Plant Resistance – the main danger to the welfare of humans worldwide is the possibility of crop failures. Therefore, plants that are better equipped at handling the risks posed by pests and the meteorological whims of nature. Though a subject of critique by some purists, GMOs are still the best bet to avoiding world hunger.
- Nutritious Enhancement – there have already been some successful experiments in creating species of cereal with a better vitamin input (such as Golden Rice), which has helped in alleviating society-wide deficiencies. When subjected to proper control, this technology can yield impressive results, and reasonable claims of the benefits of GMOs.
- Better Results from Smaller Areas – as the population is increasing, in the absence of critical agricultural developments, more land would have to be exploited, thus potentially creating more ecological imbalances.
- Fewer Pesticides and Herbicides – developing more resistant species would render highly toxic herbicides and pesticides obsolete, thus improving the overall health of the farmers themselves.
- Bioremediation – many areas, especially in the developing world, have been exploited beyond saturation, thus destroying the soil. By modifying some of the functions of plants and animals these fields may be made fertile again.
- Biofuels – one could state that even the staunchest opponents of GMOs would not argue with this one, nevertheless, it is an option that has remained unexplored for reasons that are still hard to fathom.
- Investigation of Allergens – through careful experimentation, the causes of allergies may be pointed out and removed from future crops.
- Medicines and Vaccines – as is the case with the already beaten path of creating vaccines for humans, the process can be transferred into the realm of animals and plants, to remove the need of costly and critical campaigns of euthanasia during outbreaks.
Whether you like the idea or not, GMOs are here to stay. One interesting way of approaching the problem towards a better understanding of this technology would be if GMO detractors would talk about the benefits of GMOs, and GMO advocates would highlight the risks posed by over-manipulation. The problem should come down from the ivory tower of the specialists and into the public forum.