This study analyzes the controversy regarding genetically-modified foods in their safety, health benefits, and their effects on the environment. For years, the debate over whether GMOs are harmful has been fought. Many organizations promote and modify foods in an effort to solve the hunger crisis. One such example is Golden Rice. Though this seems like a valid effort, many organizations have fought against producing miracle crops such as Golden Rice. This paper highlights the hot debate and concludes answering if the debate over GMOs is an argument based on reality.
Keywords: GMO, Golden Rice, Greenpeace, biotechnology.
The Controversy over Genetically Modified Organisms
15 June 2020
When someone enters a grocery store, they are likely to purchase fruits, vegetables, and other produce that will give them a nutritious and balanced diet. When choosing the best product to buy, they may feel the fruit or eye the vegetable for any bruises. Then, they choose the biggest, healthiest one they can find. It is likely in this scenario that the fruit they chose was genetically modified. Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs for short, are a revolutionary form of enhancing the everyday foods one eats into stronger, healthier, and more vibrant products. GMOs have been enhancing crops for years. This has especially been on the rise in countries that experience malnutrition. One famous crop is called Golden Rice, a rice that boosts the immune system. Through all of these benefits, though, public outcry has spread against the use of GMOs. Organizations such as Greenpeace and Kids Right to Know have come together in the attempt to destroy the use of GMOs, claiming that GMOs do not carry out the benefits their creators claim to have. Many advocate that organizations label all products that list GMOs. One the other hand, scientists are creating genetically modified products that are supposed to benefit the health of consumers, especially those in impoverished countries. It is clear that in the debate of GMOs, the scientific evidence outweighs outcry against GMOs.
GMOs Bring Revolutionary Health Benefits. In a world centered around scientific breakthroughs and revolutionary discoveries, it is no surprise that several companies have been researching how to genetically breed crops that enrich them in vitamins and other qualities. One of the most well-known plants created solely from genetic engineering is Golden Rice. Golden Rice is a crop created to battle against the vitamin-A deficiency crisis in low-income countries. In these countries, nearly a million people die or go blind from having a vitamin-A deficiency (Kwanza, 2018). In 2000, two scientists from Germany named Ingo Potrykus and Peter Beyer teamed to create a solution for public health crises in low-income countries. They altered the genome of white rice and from there produced beta-carotene, which helps the human body create Vitamin-A. Once their research was successful, they donated it to help produce the revolutionary Golden Rice. Golden Rice has presented evidence that a serving of forty grams, if eaten on a daily basis, will provide enough nutrients to save the life and eyesight of someone who would normally not receive enough daily nutrients to survive (Dubock, 2017). With the help of other scientists, Golden Rice has been perfected to help the human body produce vitamin-A.
Genetically-Modified Organisms Benefit Farmers. Not only do GMOs hold the capability of saving the lives in impoverished countries, they are also believed to be beneficial to farmers. The use of biotechnology has helped farmers produce more food for the growing population. The population of the world is predicted to reach ten billion people by the time 2050 comes around, and using genetic engineering helps plants to be grown more efficiently (Taylor, 2016). The use of genetically modified crops on farmland requires serious regulation from governments and organizations. Twenty-four crops are being regulated world-wide and recognized as genetically modified, as of 2010. There have been several new technologies that have aided scientists in detecting genetically modified crops. Many countries have databases that use specific methods to detect GMOs, including the use of fluorescent dyes. (Querci et al., 2010). These techniques have ensured the safety of each product.
GMOs are Safe and Beneficial. Throughout the journey of biosynthetic engineering, scientists have learned many ways to make genetically modified organisms safely. Twenty-five years of biosynthetic research has indicated no novel risk of GMOs harming organisms. According to the Oxford’s Trends in Biotechnology, farmers have farmed over 150 million hectares of GMO crops and found no harm that has been done to them in sixteen years (Potrykus, 2013). GMOs are safe to engineer because scientists have been allowed use of technology by their country’s government.
Backlash Against Bioengineering. Though companies that produce GMOs claim to be yielding crops that can save lives, many non-governmental organizations have fought against allowing bioengineered plants. Rachel Parent is an example of a powerful figure in the fight against GMOs. The founder of Kids Right to Know, Parent is known for her advocacy against scientists. Parent explains her point of view in an interview by the Green Interview. She explains how GMOs “aren’t engineered to have higher yields or to grow faster or to be drought-resistant” (Cameron, 2016). She also explains how genetically modified plants require more water, more pesticides, and more fertilizers, harming the environment and depleting resources. In summary, Parent reports that genetically-engineered crops are harmful to the environment and useless to bother with. In a study of the effectiveness of GMOs, scientists have reported the presence of superweeds and superpests, organisms that are nearly impossible to kill. This contributes to the loss of biodiversity in the earth’s ecosystem (Virda et al., 2019). Parent also knows that companies which desire to solve world-hunger using GMOs would have already done it because they make billions of dollars a year (Cameron, 2016). In the end, poverty is still an issue in dozens of countries. Based on Parent’s argument that GMOs are ineffective in solving world hunger, other sources have analyzed other issues with the crops.
GMO Effectiveness and Greenpeace. Scientists have gone through much research on genetically modified foods, but some argue that the foods produced by bioengineering are not effective in their performance. In a study by Virda et al., scientists conducted a research experiment to discover just how much bioengineered foods benefitted health and the environment. They compared genetically modified crops to non-genetically modified crops in terms of productivity, virus resistance, drought tolerance, and more. In the end, the results showed that non-GMO foods were more sustainable than bioengineered foods. They found this data using the profits and losses of pesticides, cost of production, machinery, cost of transport, and more (Virda et al., 2019). Along with scientific research comes backlash from another source: non-governmental organizations fighting back the use of GMOs. These organizations have held heavy influence over public opinion, so much so that the majority of consumers believe that GMOs are harmful technology (Valentinov et al., 2019). The most popular of these organization is Greenpeace, an environmental group known across the world. Greenpeace was established in Canada in 1971 and has been known for fighting back against environmental crises for years (Greenpeace, 2018). The controversy over biotechnology is no exception. Greenpeace has created contamination registers to report evidence of genetically modified organisms causing harm to the environment. They list several cases in their register, revealing that rice was the primary perpetrator of contamination (Price & Cotter, 2014). There have been major incidents that Greenpeace has advocated against. Overall, it is to protect the environment in an effort to conserve its healthy state. All of their efforts are not backed by the governments of the nations they represent; however, they still continue to fight against the actions of governmental organizations.
It is known among the public that genetically modified foods are everywhere. They have been approved by the government in several countries to enhance nutrition of staple foods, produce more for the growing population, and they are safe for consumption. On the other hand, they have been said to not be as effective as advertised, are capable of harming the environment, and are not popularly recognized by the public because of organizations advocating against them. Because the anti-GMO advocacy is not supported widely by scientific research, it is concluded that the GMO controversy is not based on reality. The world is constantly advancing and the population is growing. Scientists must engineer foods to keep up with the changing times. It is important that scientists learn to enhance crops in order to save lives, provide more nutrition, and help humans live longer. The reason why world hunger has not been solved is because research takes time to show vast results. Bioengineering crops is still being perfected, especially the technology that comes with it. With more research, organizations will be able to create even better crops that will enhance the vitality, quality, and nutrition of natural foods. In a world whose technology is changing so rapidly, it is only a matter of time before sources of energy will be influenced by the change. Many more people will come to embrace the change.
Cameron, S. (2016, February 10). GMO Benefits [Television]. In GMO Crusader Fights for Kids’ Right to Know: Rachel Parent. Films on Demand.
Dubock, A. (2017). An overview of agriculture, nutrition and fortification, supplementation and biofortification: Golden rice as an example for enhancing micronutrient intake. Agriculture & Food Security, 6 doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s40066-017-0135-3
Greenpeace. (2018). In Helicon (Ed.), The Hutchinson unabridged encyclopedia with atlas and weather guide. Helicon. Credo Reference: http://ezproxy.johnstoncc.edu/login?url=https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/heliconhe/greenpeace/0?institutionId=5199
Kwanza (Ed.). (2018, April 14). Current GMO Controversies (Segment Seventeen) [Television]. In GMO, Lies, and Truth. Films on Demand.
Price, B., & Cotter, J. (2014). The GM contamination register: A review of recorded contamination incidents associated with genetically modified organisms (GMOs), 1997–2013. International Journal of Food Contamination, 1(1), 1-13. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s40550-014-0005-8