Everything You Need To Know About GMOs

You may, or may not, have noticed this term flagging up as you lie in bed scrolling down your news feed, in the hope of forgetting the work that you have to do. You may have no idea what this term means or, like I was, know what it means but not what it fully entails. If this is the case then have a read to increase you understanding about GMO products!

What does GMO stand for?

GMO stands for genetically modified organisms, meaning living organisms whose genetic material has been altered in a laboratory environment using the process of genetic engineering. The organisms that are modified include plants, animals, viruses and bacteria. Messing around with genes is not unfamiliar to the human race, as methods such as selective breeding have been used for centuries in plants and animals to create greater yield, or a ‘better’ specie of animal.

The ‘not-too sciencey’ explanation of how it happens

If you’re wondering what the difference is between selective breeding and genetic modification, then the answer is in the nature. Selective breeding controls which organisms reproduce to increase the likelihood of a certain trait becoming more prominent e.g. to increase the milk produced in cows by breeding a cow who produces a lot of milk with a bull whose mother produced a lot of milk. Genetic modification produces this desired trait at a faster rate by merging the DNA containing the desired gene (like the fatter tomato gene), which is removed from the DNA by enzymes, with the DNA of the organism that you want to possess this trait.

This allows, in genetic engineering, genes from unrelated organism to be transferred, which just can’t be done with selective breeding. So you can get the orange pigment of an orange put into a kiwi – hey presto! Kiwange, or Orwiwi. I prefer the latter.

That wasn’t too sciencey right?

 

The good stuff about GMO products

In plants, genetic engineering benefits include:

·        Increased crop yield- meaning more food, cheaper food prices and possibly less starvation

·        Increased nutrient content in foods

·        Resistance to disease and pests

·        Reduced need for pesticides

·        The ability for foods to grow in climates originally unsuited to growing. For example, being able to grow crops in colder climates could allow less pressure to be placed on warmer                countries to provide exotic crops as well as an overall increase in food production.

There’s a similar trend with genetically modifying animals, with benefits including better yield for meat production, increasing the animals’ resistance to disease etc

The not-so-good stuff

Obviously, this method is going to have a down-side, with disadvantages pretty obvious to most people. First of all, there’s the health issues:

Are GMO foods healthy for us? Do they pose any unknown risks?

Where genetically modified corn has no impact on a rabbit, it could expose humans to new allergens. For example, the genetically modified corn may have mutated in a way that allows it to carry, without being effected by, a virus. A rabbit may be immune to this virus, whereas humans may not be.

Then there’s the ethical debate: 

 

Do we know the consequences of modifying genes? Is it our place to play with the genetic makeup of other organisms, especially animals? Do we have a choice in consuming GMO products?

Well, to answer these questions: not really, probably not and it’s difficult to say. To find the consequences of genetic modification of a specific example, requires testing. Testing alone tends to be a disputed method when it comes to animals and how accurate these tests are in comparison to the effect of the consumer is difficult to tell.

In altering the genetic makeup of organisms, I personally would identify it as wrong. It’s dangerous for humans to do it with plants, and to do it with animals is cruel.

If you’re wondering if you have GMO products stacked in your fridge, the answer is probably yes. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t require to conduct a single safety study nor label GMO’s, and are able to put GM foods onto the market without notifying the agency.

This issue isn’t isolated to Uncle Sam as many other countries around the world experience similar legislations, soon to include Britain. According to an article by Sarah Knapton from the Telegraph, GM agriculture is being introduced in Spring of this year.

 

What to do to avoid GMO products

As it stands, GMO products enter the UK mainly as animal feed, however meat and dairy products resulting from this feed do not need to be labelled as GM. To avoid GMO products why not consider:

·        Cutting out/ down your consumption of meat and dairy- other products need to be labelled as GMO

·        Checking the label

·        Signing petitions to keep GM free, like Scotland and Wales

Considering the pro’s and con’s of GMO foods it is up to YOU to decide where you stand. The least you will have gained in reading this article is a basic understanding of both sides, plus, now if people ask ‘do you know what GMO means’, you can smugly reply: ‘yes, I do’!