I’m writing this to shed some light on GMOs and why they’re pretty all right. However, always keep in mind Uncle Ben’s words, “with great power comes great responsibility.”
1. Saving hundreds of years of selective breeding.
Since the beginning of civilization and domestication, man has been trying to morph the planet and its organisms to his needs. We’ve bred different dog breeds for different uses; mobility, speed, endurance, or even the oddly specific shapes (looking at you Daschunds); plants for their flavors (or lack thereof); we even crop-rotate to utilize the soil and save it. It’s what we do: we want something, we create it.
A Genetically Modified plant encompasses this same concept. You know those fat, sweet kernels you like so much? This is what thousands of years of selective-breeding has done to corn. Thank your farmers and scientists.
The argument can be made that selective-breeding isn’t genetically modifying this organism like creating a text-book GMO. You’re right; it’s much less efficient.
With Genetic Engineering we can influence an organism’s genetic profile with material not seen within that species. It’s pretty impressive we can breed plants with genes expressed in Daschunds. I’m not saying we’re making weiner-dog-watermelons, but you get the idea.
The benefits include sweeter food, more bitter food, and foods that naturally fight off their “predators,” be they insects, fungi, or plant disease. That’s fantastic; we’re creating Super-Food that’s naturally hardier. This can be introduced in Third-World countries to save them money, resources, and lives. Oh right, about that:
2. GMO crops can lessen or eradicate hunger in developing countries.
It’s no surprise there’s rampant hunger in developing countries. The infrastructure is questionable, resources are limited, and population density is large. What can we do to provide a service that’s accessible to most, and affordable by all? Grow cheap crop. However, not all their nutritional needs can be met with one cheap crop. No, we can’t create an end-all-be-all superfood (you can bet your ass I’d eat it.) However, we can provide a greater nutritional value for these individuals with a common crop they can afford that is, yes, not its natural expression.
Rice and corn are examples of this cheap crop that can be grown in abundance. But just like any crop, it takes some kind of soil requirement to grow. Some places can’t offer that soil type, be it lacking in nitrogen, water, too high in salt, etc. We can engineer cheap crop that can grow in any environment. That’s something to aspire to.
3. We can eradicate preventable diseases (you know, like why we use vaccines).
You know how I said we could put Daschund genes in watermelons? That’s a little outlandish. It’s a joke; you know, to be funny. But we have created an approved food that has an abundance of B-12 not naturally found in said food, leading to, you guessed it! Eradication of preventable disorders and diseases without the pricey pharmaceutical company involvement.
Granted, not many of these pharmaceutically-purposed organisms have been approved for large-scale human consumption. However, the technology and innovation is still in its infancy. There is potential here. Study and testing is underway for other foods, like a Hepatitis-B vaccine in genetically-modified yeast.
To give you another idea of why this is important, I’ll point out that Iodine-treated salt (Iodized salt) is a simple, similar methodology for why we’re genetically altering food. It’s true we aren’t genetically changing salt to naturally produce more iodine (that’s impossible of course) but we are influencing a natural substance with something not naturally occurring with it, resulting in preventable outcomes for intellectual and developmental disabilities.
So anti-vaxxers, rejoice! A new treatment is on the way! Then again, you probably wouldn’t eat it.
The bottom line? GMOs are the next step in food evolution. Sure, it’s assisted evolution, but what evolutionary response isn’t triggered? We made dogs in the shape of tubes to hunt weasels in tunnels. Yeah.
Now all you Spider-Man fans chomping at the bits to tear me apart, take solace: I will agree this is an imperfect system.
There are many profound risks involved with genetically engineering organisms to display features not naturally found in them. We’ve created fungi/insect/disease resistant crops that, if cross-pollinating, can influence other crops to display negative responses. We create superfoods which, as it turns out, create natural antitheses (you know, like Superman and Kryptonite). We create more impressive plant fungi and diseases which we sometimes (let’s face it, most of the time) don’t expect to grow in our limited scope. We also create foods that, if consumed by humans, can promote consequences we have no preparation for. This is a risk we assume when we dabble in unnatural practices. The ethics become questionable the riskier the procedure; making corn grow larger may be a small change with little ramifications. But giving lettuce the genes to fight off certain insects? Who’s to say those insects don’t breed quickly enough to fight against that, and also begin craving a different crop? It’s not an impossible logic, and in fact has happened.
If we feed these foods to animals which we eat, what are the ramifications? It’s difficult for scientists to reach that conclusion. This is why they’ve drastically improved implementing accountability measures. GMO crops have to undergo evaluations and are stringently observed. Some, like the pharmaceutical grade purposes, aren’t approved to be mass-produced yet. This is wonderful. It’s nice to have the power to influence what we eat to improve quality of life for ourselves. It’s even better that we have the protocols to help us control this power. So thank you Uncle Ben for imparting those words