By Samaa Lutfi
The first time I heard of genetically modified organisms or GMO’s was back in 2008, in an English class in college. We read an article in the New Yorker by Michael Pollan, “Playing God in the Garden.” I remember thinking, what the heck, potatoes that are genetically modified to be naturally resistant to pesticides? Well, that’s disconcerting. But, the truth is that using biotechnology is not a novel part of agriculture. The first farmer to breed his best bulls with his best cows was employing nothing short of traditional biotechnology. Today, genetic engineering or modification (GM) uses the science of recombinant DNA technology to directly alter the genetic makeup of an organism. Genes that code for specific traits such as disease resistance from almost any plant, animal, or microorganism can be transferred into another. The resulting organisms are often called genetically modified food (GM food), genetically engineered food (GE food) or transgenic plants or animals. The term genetically modified organism, GMO, is no longer recommended.
What are the implications of “using test tube technology (recombinant DNA technology) that rearranges DNA sequences in an organism by cutting the DNA, adding or deleting a DNA sequence, and rejoining DNA molecules using a series of enzymes” (Bryd-Bredbenner, Moe, Beshgetoor, & Berning, 2013, p.79)? The United States mainly uses GM technology as a way to control pests, weeds, and plant diseases. Farmers using GM methods can add herbicides without harming the actual plant, thus increasing crop yield and lowering use of highly toxic herbicides. However, they use higher amounts of lower toxicity herbicides. Furthermore, the soil needs less tilling because of the decrease in weeds, which in turn reduces soil erosion and saves fuel. For example, almost all of the U.S. soybean and corn crops are genetically modified to contain Bt protein, a naturally occurring pesticide that kills caterpillars. Before, this method was employed, farmers often resorted to using toxic pesticides to protect corn.
Such practices have revolutionized agriculture and are used throughout the world to feed ever-growing populations. However, many consumers have raised concerns about the safety of GM foods. These concerns include the introduction of allergens (eggs, peanuts, milk, etc.) into GM foods that did not contain them before, gene flow from GM crops to plants not meant to be modified (super weeds), Bt resistant insects, loss of genetic diversity, and insufficient regulation of GM plants and animals. With these concerns in mind, many consumers wonder if it is really necessary to use GM foods in countries where food is already abundant. They argue that only large-scale farmers and corporations really benefit from this type of technology.
So, now that you have learned a little more about GM foods, what is your stance: yay or nay?
Bryd-Bredbenner, C., Moe, G, Beshgetoor, D., & Berning, J. (2013). Wardlaw’s Perspectives in Nutrition. Boston (9th ed.). McGraw Hioll Learning Solutions.
Pollan, M. (1998, October 25). Playing God in the Garden. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com.