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In 1986, the first tests for genetically modified tobacco crops were conducted in Belgium (History). Since then, the process has become much more widespread, and today, genetically modified foods are commonplace across the globe. For example, in 2016, Brazil had almost 50 million hectares of genetically modified crops; Argentina had 23 million, and India had 10 million (Acreage). As of 2017, a massive 89% of corn in the United States was grown with genetically modified seeds (Recent Trends). The term, ‘genetically modified organism’, or ‘GMO’, refers to the DNA modification of the organism to show specific characteristics (What is a GMO).As a relatively new concept that has quickly made its way into our diets, GMOs are largely controversial. Particularly in the developed world, we are seeing an increasing amount of public protest and animosity regarding this new technology; but while some view GMOs as unethical and potentially unsafe, others view them as innovative and resourceful. Specific elements of the pro-GMO perspective include the ability of GMOs to meet the demands of our growing population, and the enhanced nutritional quality of GMO products. Those who argue in favor of GMOs also point to their success in aiding developing countries, through programs like the Golden Rice Project (Five).
Looking from the other perspective, those against GMOs point to the possibility of herbicide resistance, and the lack of clarity surrounding health risks to humans. This side also presses risk of domination by biotechnological companies over smaller farms. While some choose to focus on debates over labelling GMOs or the effects of the industry, a more pressing question arises: Should we eat and grow GMOs at all? The side opposed to the production and consumption of GMOs points to possible health risks as one of their most significant arguments. The Institute for Responsible Technology utilizes statistics to suggest that GMO implementation has led to increased health problems. For instance, they report that in the nine years after the introduction of GMOs to the US in 1966, the number of Americans with three or more chronic illnesses jumped from 7% to 13% (10 Reasons). A specific health risk discussed by this article is the risk of gene transfer, in which the modified genes in our food transfer to the DNA of bacteria in our body. A main concern that comes with this is antibiotic resistance, a risk that was specifically acknowledged by the World Health Organization. In the article ‘FAQs on GMOs,’ they state that the risk of gene transfer would be particularly relevant if antibiotic-resistant genes were transferred, and that it’s encouraged to use technology without antibiotic-resistant genes. It is particularly concerning that this is a real risk, and that the food industry is merely encouraged to avoid it. The final health risk pointed to involves RoundUp, which is a widely used pesticide for GM crops. An article from the Non-GMO Project Organization points to a statement by the World Health Organization that the main ingredient in this pesticide is probably carcinogenic (GMO Facts) – which is also extremely concerning.
How it works
These sources are generally credible, as they cite their information. They are both biased against GMOs, but the key information sourced from the World Health Organization, a prestigious source, validates their arguments. One conceivable fallacy with the arguments presented comes with the information on the rise of chronic illnesses on the US – there were most likely multiple other factors after 1996 which contributed to this increase. Finally, those opposed to GMOs are concerned with ethics of GMO production. The Non-GMO Project brings to light the damage that GMO can do to smaller farms. This source explains that because GMOs are rendered novel life forms, biotechnological corporations are able to patent their seeds and limit their distribution. This may sound reasonable, but the reality is that these large GMO companies now have the ability to sue those who own fields contaminated with their GMOs, even if this is due to pollen drift between fields (GMO Facts). By spreading innovative food technology, larger corporations are given legal advantage over smaller farms. A final argument posed in this perspective conflicts directly with an argument in favor of GMOs – while those who support GMOs maintain that a decrease in pesticide use will be brought about, those opposed to genetic modification technology insist that it will bring on a sharp increase. The Non-GMO Project Organization covers this topic as well, pointing out that much like how antibiotic use can produce antibiotic-resistant organisms, the more targeted use of pesticides in genetically modified foods will bring on the emergence of ‘superweeds’ and ‘superbugs’, which will only require more toxic poisons, such as 2-4 D, to kill them (GMO Facts). So, GMOs will lead to larger amounts of harsh chemicals, exacerbating effects on our health, and on the environment. Overall, those against GMOs point out potential health risks, legal advantage of corporations, and increase in pesticide use as primary arguments in their opposition to the production and consumption of genetically modified food. In turning to the other perspective, those in favor of GMOs assert that they are the perfect solution to the rapidly increasing demand for food. Sources from the UN predict we will need to grow 70% more food by 2050 (Why). In the article, GMOs and Global Food Security, the author explains the way that crops can be genetically modified to be more resistant to diseases and pests, and therefore increase the yield.
The source refers to evidence that although only 25% of the corn grown in the world is genetically modified, corn crop yields have increased 10%. Similar crop yield increases have occurred with cotton and soybean plants – all three of these crops being in high demand worldwide. Not only do the crops themselves grow at a better rate, but their genetic modification allows farmers to plant multiple crops in the same field, which can not only double or triple the yield, but help to reduce the massive amounts of land needed for farming. This was particularly effective in Argentina and Brazil, where the adoption of GMOs made these crops more affordable to their low-income population, as the increase in supply lead to a decrease in price. The author of this article, David Zilberman, is a professor of Agriculture and Resource Economics at the University of California, Berkeley, which renders him a highly credible speaker on the subject of GMOs (Berkeley).The argument made by Zilberman in this source is relatively strong, although one conceivable flaw in the argument comes with the decreased crop prices brought on by GMOs; Zilberman points this out as a positive outcome for Brazil and Argentina, omitting the fact that this reduction in prices may cause economic damage to the farmers that produce them. The source, Genetic Literacy Project, appears well-researched, but its pledge to educate the public with science, not ideology implies it may lean pro-GMO and in its mission to persuade the public to follow science, may have an incentive to exaggerate figures or include only positive aspects of science-based issues.
Another argument put forward by this side is that contrary to arguments by the anti-GMO side, implementation of GMOs can actually lead to reduced pesticide use. The World Health Organization writes that one of the main goals of genetic modification of plants is a greater tolerance for herbicides and pesticides. While some see this to imply the possibility for a much heavier use of herbicides and pesticides, sources argue this aspect of GMOs will actually allow for a decrease in use of chemicals on our crops. An article from the Battelle Memorial Institute discusses this further, explaining that previously, whole fields would have to be sprayed with these chemicals, but now, farmers could apply smaller amounts closer to the actual crops – reducing overall use, and therefore reducing the effects of pesticides on the environment. On average, GMO technology adoption has reduced chemical pesticide use by 37% (Five). The information in this article is short, but a clear citation is made to a professional journal. The Battelle Memorial Institute claims to aspire to be a major force in technological discovery, and in the transition into knowledge of innovative applications. The source seems to be scientifically driven, and based on this, is more likely to report factually. The clear citations and lack of unsupported claims also lend credibility to the points put forward. A final argument offered by the pro-GMO perspective, and additionally addressed by the Battelle Memorial Institute article, concerns the benefits of genetically modified food to developing countries. With hundreds of millions of malnourished people in these countries, genetic modification technology can bring dramatic results that are not seen in the more developed countries in the West. Not only can crops be modified to yield a greater supply of food, but they can be altered to hold higher nutritional value or enhanced nutritional qualities. For example, 2 million deaths are caused by Vitamin-A deficiency in third world countries each year, as well as 500,000 annual cases of childhood blindness (Five). To combat this, the Golden Rice Project emerged, which used GMO technology to enhance rice with Vitamin-A in these affected countries.
While enhanced nutrition is not a main goal of GMO technology in more developed countries, there are new aid opportunities offered by these breakthroughs. With this new technology, international aid could be greatly improved, as countries. Overall, the argument in favor of GMOs points to increased food supply, reduced pesticide use, and increased aid for developing countries to support the production of genetically modified food for human consumption. Having considered both sides of the GMO debate, I believe that the most convincing argument is put forth by those in favor of growing and eating genetically modified food. The primary reason I side with this perspective is their use of more logical arguments backed by direct evidence. The perspective against GMOs tends to twist information to support its stance and speculate, especially when discussing health risks, with little evidence to rely on. The one aspect of the anti-GMO perspective that does resonate with me is the argument over protecting smaller farms, and preventing corporate domination, which I thought was logical and well-supported. However, this con of GMOs is not enough to convince me we should abandon them altogether – I believe we could work toward protecting these farms through specific legislation while still enjoying the many other benefits of GMOs.
All in all, those against GMOs seem primarily concerned with the possibility of health risks- but with little evidence in support, this argument appears to me as more of a paranoia, or a fear of new technology. This opposition to GMOs is much more prevalent in the developed world, where people have the privilege to choose non-GMO products. The pro-GMO perspective stresses that GMOs can alleviate hunger in poor countries, and meet the food demand, which I believe is extremely important, and this specific benefit definitely outweighs the negative aspects. While researching this topic has provided me with crucial information on a current issue, and equipped me to form my own opinions in the larger global debate, I did feel that some aspects of the research were limited. There definitely needs to be further definitive tests about gene transfer and the risk to humans – and if these studies are already occurring, there needs to be a better line of communication with the public. It was difficult to find specific answers concerning threats to human health – which only fuels more paranoia surrounding GMOs. Furthermore, there is a need for more research into legal advantage of major corporations in GMO production, and a solid establishment of exactly which laws give these corporations control over smaller farms who choose non-GMO crops. Although extension into these areas of research is needed, I believe the current information available is sufficient in supporting my conclusion that we should both grow and eat genetically modified food.
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