We currently live in a world where technology has progressed to where we can quite literally go in and change the genetic makeup of something as simple as a tomato. Beyond this being pretty impressive and vaguely reminiscent of having a superpower, there’s also something almost disturbing about genetic manipulation. This view is clearly shared by a large portion of the world, as genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been widely villainized by both the media and consumers.
Many people seem to be under the impression that there is something interesting, scary or harmful about genetically manipulating organisms, especially in reference to what we put in our bodies. The “GMO” label on produce that is often present in grocery stores has been known to strike fear into the hearts of the general consumer and often insights further questions and controversy. Are GMOs safe to put in our bodies? Is it bad for the environment?
Is making changes to that singular tomato even ethical in the first place? Yes, GMOs and their creation/consumption are slightly more complex than simply being “bad” or “good,” but it frustrates me that people seem to take personal issue with the concept of genetic modification (specifically involving crops) as “unnatural” or “harmful” when there really isn’t any research to back that up.
The main argument that I’ve seen against GMOs is that it’s unnatural. As abrupt as this may come off, I would generally just respond with a “so?” According to Spoon University, all organisms are genetically modified in the same way, involving traits being inserted into the double strand of DNA, and then the cell is repaired using either non-homologous end joining or homologous repair. This might sound like some form of dystopian mambo jumbo, but the point I’m trying to make here is that “genome editing” is just science, a development and use of technology that human beings have been utilizing and taking pride in for so many years.
Changing the world around us through the use of technology we’ve developed through years of research and effort isn’t exactly a natural thing; medical procedures and even certain elements have been created that are in no way naturally forming or occurring. Sure, genetically modifying crops to grow without the need for quite as much water may be “unnatural,” but just like the HIV vaccine, it’s just science and has the potential to be used in a way purely to advance human society and wellbeing.
One of the most frustrating things about GMO crops being demonized by the media is that they can actually be advantageous for both the consumer and farmer. GMOs aren’t just created for no reason; the majority of them are changed to have benefits that either make them more cost-effective to grow or easier to grow. For example, in areas of the world that don’t have water in high supply, GM crops that require less watering than their non-GM counterparts are likely to be more feasible and desirable options for the farmers of the area.
If anti-GMO marketing manages to scare the general consumer away from buying their goods due to lack of education on the subject, small business farmers would have increased difficulty producing and selling their goods. There are also benefits associated with consuming GM crops beyond it just being more cost-effective for the producer.
GM crops have been changed to require less herbicide and pesticides, meaning a consumer would be ingesting less than if they were to buy the original version. Medlife Plus claims that possible benefits of GMOs include more nutritious and tastier food, less use of pesticides, faster growing and increased food supply/shelf life.
According to the Non-GMO Project, “Non-GMO Project Verified” is the fastest-growing label in the natural products industry. Although there is nothing technically wrong with wanting to know if your food has been GM or not, a little-known fact is those producers have to pay and go through a process in order to attain the right to put this label on their goods. This isn’t necessarily a problem for larger companies, but for smaller local businesses, it can be very difficult to find the time to go about achieving this label.
In addition to this, farmers who use GM crop seed for very functional reasons (because it works best in the environment or for financial reasons—it could be cheaper) are put at a disadvantage as customers might be less willing to buy their product in comparison to the non-GM version. This is largely due to companies like the Non-GMO Project demonizing GMOs rather than educating or providing the acreage consumer with information about the product.
All this being said, I do understand why some people may be opposed to the idea of genetically modifying our food. And I’m not saying that there are no issues associated with it. The creation of superweeds and possible environmental issues are relevant and potentially linked to GMOs. However, the genetic modification itself and the use of science to change and adapt the process of getting our food is not the issue.
Beyond that, so much of our day-to-day intake has been genetically modified in some way. If you’ve eaten corn within the U.S., it’s most likely been a GMO. Potatoes and bananas are also examples of very commonly affected vegetables. Oftentimes, we are consuming GMOs without even being fully aware, and it’s only when the media and industries start to demonize products that people even begin to get upset. Overall, if my choice is to either cut out all corn for no substantial reason or simply eat it, regardless of its genome having been edited, I choose the side of corn.