Recently, The Triangle featured an article in the Enviroweekly column that discussed the so-called dangers of genetically modified organisms. While the movement against GMOs has gained momentum in recent years with large lawsuits being filed against companies such as Monsanto across a multitude of countries, it is important to address the benefits of GMOs and conceptualize just how safe these modified organisms really are. The recent USDA investigation of Monsanto’s GM wheat production and its relative safety and low impact on human health provide excellent evidence as to why GMOs are perhaps the single biggest innovation to facilitate the expansion and survival of the human species.
Before analyzing the current state of GMOs, including any modern genetic or agricultural advancement in the past century, it is important to note that artificial selection on many plant species now used in agriculture developed alongside the beginnings of true agriculture. Many of today’s staple foods were actively selected for specific traits by early humans, providing larger, more palatable and more filling diets. It could be argued that this process of selection was not dictated by the natural growth of the plant itself but rather by a cognizant force. Effectively, these selections led to a genetic shift and rapid speciation of plants with the selected traits. Many of these innovations paved the way for the stabilization of human communities that could now rely on a consistent and reliable crop rather than migration through a hunting-and-gathering lifestyle.
The original roots of genetic modification are not as contemporary as many would think. The process of selection has been occurring for many centuries, but what makes modern genetic modification different and perceived as harmful? Modern advancements in genetic engineering have provided direct methods to change the DNA of target organisms through recombinant DNA technologies. Opponents of GMO practices often cite grounded ecological concerns as to why the practice of genetically modifying organisms needs to be reduced drastically, but their worries only represent a very radical case of genetic change. Additionally, many GMO detractors promote the idea that even livestock fed with GMO crops are dangerous for human consumption. This is completely irrational on both accounts.
The ecological impact of GMOs would be miniscule when compared to the impact of current agricultural practices. Agricultural crops today are not growing rampant, so why should GMO crops do the same?
By feeding livestock with GMOs we do no more harm to ourselves than if we were to eat from the same animal fed without GMOs. This is because everything that we consume contains large amounts of DNA from microscopic organisms, which our bodies break down and use later.
When weighing the costs and benefits of producing GMOs for both human and livestock consumption, the positive spectrum is overwhelmingly outstanding. Here are several amazing things that GMOs have allowed for in the past several years:
GMOs have led to an increase in food production and yield. This is a critical need for an ever-increasing population. Natural pesticides produced by GMOs have reduced agricultural chemical runoff into potentially sensitive environments such as streams or marshes. Growing and habitat modification have allowed for a longer growing season and for crops to be grown in previously uninhabitable conditions. Agriculturally desolate areas can now hope to grow food and reduce hunger.
Finally, the recent USDA investigation of Monsanto shows that even in the presence of overwhelming information proving the safety of GMOs, steps are being taken to ensure the utmost safety and regulation of any commercial GMO or those produced for research purposes. Given the long history of continuous research projects and experiments being run on GMOs, the risk of catastrophe is significantly mitigated. The benefit of GMO production, in relation to its environmental impact and reliability as a solution to agricultural problems facing humans today, makes these organisms and the entire industry a valuable asset to a successful society.
Vaughn Shirey is a freshman environmental science major at Drexel University. He can be contacted at [email protected]