Are GMOs Good or Bad - Genetic Engineering & Our Food

GMOs are one of the most controversial things in the world of science Genetic modification is used in many situations but even if medical applications like GM insulin are globally accepted, the debate intensifies when it concerns food and agriculture. But why? Why is the same thing treated so differently? Let's try to see the bottom of things by exploring: the facts, the fears and the future of GMOs.

What is really natural? 

Humans have genetically modified plants and animals for thousands of years. Maybe some of your crops had a very good yield, maybe some of your wolves were particularly loyal. So you made a brilliant choice, keeping plants and animals that had an advantage for you. Traits are just an expression of genes. So with each generation, these genes have been more pronounced.

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

After hundreds of years, almost all the animals and plants around us are different from their original state .If humans have changed genes for millennia, what makes GMOs or "Genetically Modified Organisms" something different? Selective breeding, to put it simply, is hoping to get chances Genetic modifications eliminate this chance factor. You can choose the traits you want. Make bigger fruits, immunize them to insects etc.

Why are people worried about this? Are GMOs bad?

Let's start with one of the most common oppositions to GMOs. Genetic Flow, which means, that GM crops can mix with traditional crops. And introduce new unwanted characteristics into the cultures. There is a method that could guarantee safe prevention, but is a big Anti-GMO argument to itself. Terminator seeds. The idea is that they can produce sterile plants, which would force farmers to buy new seeds every year. But this concept in particular, caused protests. Putting an end to the use of technology. This brings us back to the unintentional spread of modified DNA.

 There have been cases where GMOs have been grown where they were not planted. And traces of modified genes found in cultures abroad. But GM plants cannot be completely unleashed. Many plants can fertilize themselves. And all the plants must be related to mix. There are also cultivation methods, like the buffer zones, to avoid unintentional crossings to a minimum. But if in principle, it is possible that a GMO can cross with a NON-GMO. There is then a more important question! Does the food that comes from GM crops, is different from food from non-GMO cultures. This issue has been an important concern, from the very beginning. GMO plants intended for consumption are analyzed for possible dangers. And the results are being reviewed by several authorities.After more than thirty years and more than thousands of scientific studies, science has concluded that ... Eating GMO plants is no more risky than their non-GMO equivalent.

But what happens to plants that have been modified to become toxic? 

For example BT cultures. A discomfort borrowed from the bacteria "Bacillus thuringiensis" allows modified plants to produce a protein, which destroys the digestive system of specific pests. The plant produces its own pesticide. The insects that eat it die. It sounds worrying Pesticide spray can be cleaned While the "poison" of BT crops is found in the plant But in reality, it is not very serious. Poison is only a question of point of view: What is harmless for one species can be fatal for another. Coffee, for example, is a poison that kills insects. But is harmless to us. Or even chocolate: it's dangerous for dogs, But a pleasure for humans.

 BT cultures produce a protein specially adapted to the digestive systems of certain insects. It is completely harmless to us. There is also the opposite approach: Plants that are designed and modified to be resistant to certain herbicides. In this way, farmers can spread them in large quantities only killing the other plant (the weed), competing for resources, without harming the crop. Here we come to the dark part of GMOs.

For the pesticide industry, GMOs are a big business. Over 90% of the crops in the United States are herbicide resistant; Mainly with Glyphosate Consequently, the use of Glyphosate has greatly increased. It is not that bad. Glyphosate is much less harmful to humans than many other herbicides, That said, it means that farmers are strongly encouraged to rely only on this method, thus rejecting more balanced methods of treating weeds. This is one of the most fundamental problems in the debate around GMOs.

Most of the criticism of this technology is in fact criticism of modern agriculture and the business practices of the large groups responsible for our food supply. These criticisms are not only justified, they are also important. We must change agriculture for a more sustainable model. GMOs, like technology, are actually allies and not enemies in this fight, Helping to safeguard and protect nature and minimize our impact on the environment.

What benefits can GMOs bring?

 Let's look at some positive examples. eggplant cultivation is important in Bangladesh, but very often the plantations are destroyed by insects. Farmers had to rely heavily on pesticides. But it was not only very expensive: Farmers also often fell ill. The introduction of the new GM eggplant in 2013 put an end to this. The same BT protein we talked about earlier, an effective insect killer but harmless to humans, has been implanted there. This has reduced the use of insecticide on eggplants by more than 80%. Farmers' health has improved, and their incomes have increased dramatically. And sometimes the GM approach is the only option.

 In the 1990s, the Hawaiian papaya industry was attacked by the "ring spot virus", which threatened to completely destroy the Hawaiian papaya. The solution consisted of a genetically modified papaya to be vaccinated against this "ring spot virus". Without this, the papaya industry in the state of Hawaii would have collapsed. The future All of these stories only show very restricted applications. 99% of all GMOs we are using right now produce or are resistant to pesticides. We can do so much more. Scientists are working on GMOs that can improve our diet. Plants that produce more or other nutrients Like fruits with a higher level of antioxidants that help fight diseases ... ... or rice with extra vitamins. On a larger scale, we are trying to design plants that are more resilient to climate change. Plants that adapt better to unpredictable weather and conflicting conditions, making them resistant to drought or floods.

GMOs could not only help reduce the impact of agriculture on the environment, but also actively help protect it. scientists are working on crops that can capture nitrogen from the air, like microbes ... Nitrogen is a common fertilizer, but its accumulation pollutes the groundwater and accelerates climate change. Plants collecting their own nitrogen could solve two problems at once: The overuse of fertilizers in developed countries, and the lack of these same fertilizers in developing countries. We can even modify plants so that they become super carbon collectors, like the American chestnut, to reduce and in fact reverse climate change. With the tools we have today, the only limit is our imagination.

The world eats 5 million tonnes of food every day. 

The UN estimates that we will need 70% more in 2050 We could grow more food by cutting down more and more forest, creating fields and pastures, and using more pesticides. Or we find a way to do it all on the land we already have, with more efficient methods like GMOs. Intensifying agriculture instead of expanding it means that GMOs could become the new organic agriculture. In short, GMOs not only have the potential to dramatically change agriculture, but also to stifle the effects of our own irresponsible behavior. GMOs could be our most powerful weapon to save our biosphere.

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