As science progresses, we’re able to genetically modify crops to make them more resilient against certain conditions and potentially healthier. But does creating man-made DNA go against the laws of nature?
by Aashna Chudgar
GMO is a term you’ve most likely heard frequently and have come to associate with a negative reputation. Almost any shampoo or other cosmetic toiletry you walk by in the store has “No GMOs” plastered on it. GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, are created through genetic engineering. Their DNA is removed and their genes are altered to give the crops certain properties like weather resistance and a lower need for water and fertilizer.
GMOs pose an ethical dilemma in terms of what they provide to humanity and take away from nature. On one hand, more advanced crops means higher yields, the ability to produce crops in impoverished areas, and ecological tolerance. However, when one aspect of an ecosystem evolves, every other organism is forced to as well, including the pathogens that eat away at organic matter. Increased nutrition at the cost of disease.
This brings us to our trilemma: should we use GMOs as a way for humanity to develop both scientifically and civically, deter from them at the risk of creating environmental complications and breeding new diseases, or approach genetic engineering entirely differently? Let’s find out.
The Humanitarian Perspective
World hunger is one of the louder, more dire issues in the world. Thousands of children and families starve every day as harvesting crops is difficult in places with little water and weathered land. Therefore, GMOs can be planted in areas like these to increase the amount of food available for homeless populations, third world countries, and shelters. According to Britannica ProCon, David Zilberman, PhD, Professor of Agricultural and Resource Economics at UC Berkeley, stated that GMO crops have “raised the output of corn, cotton and soy by 20 to 30 percent, allowing some people to survive who would not have without it. If it were more widely adopted around the world, the price [of food] would go lower, and fewer people would die of hunger”. Additionally, GMOs can be modified to reduce transpiration, the diminishing of water through evaporation, to further conserve resources, offering economical benefits.
Nutrition is an equally important issue in regard to malnutrition. Many people with deficiencies and the inability to absorb fat soluble vitamins, particularly vitamin A, have a high susceptibility to malnutrition. Golden rice, a fairly well-known GMO developed by researchers to produce high levels of beta-carotene, is used “to combat Vitamin A deficiency, the main cause of childhood blindness in developing countries.” Safety with genetically modified foods is a large concern for those of the general public who believe GMOs’ presence as a “non-whole” food makes them unhealthy and harmful. However, a report by Australia and New Zealand’s food safety regulator found that Golden Rice “is considered to be as safe for human consumption as food derived from conventional rice” (Britannica ProCon). This development can lead to vitamins being preserved in soil and not diminishing mineral content, allowing for better, more nutritional crop yields.
The Environmental Perspective
According to the English health blog Yllas Levi, “GMOs are normally fattening to creatures. A close study concerning the critters provided on GMOs indicates body organ wreck, gastrointestinal and immunity process difficulties, quicker old age and infertility”. And this isn’t the only way GMOs are harmful to their ecosystems. Herbicides and pesticides are used on crops often to prevent weeds and pests from eating them, but these pesticides can, in turn, cause a lot of damage and poisoning within the crop itself. GMOs can be resistant against these pesticides, but because of ecological tolerance, if the crop becomes more tolerant, the pest will simultaneously evolve with the GMOs in order to be able to consume it. A very high and dangerous correlation has been found between the two. Therefore, more durable pests carrying dangerous diseases roaming around would result in detrimental impacts on the health of humans and other organisms.
GMOs are also closely linked with certain medical defects. According to the World Instructor Training Schools or W.I.T.S., “serious health risks have been associated with GMOs including infertility, accelerated aging, suppression of the immune system, poor insulin regulation, changes in the function of major organs, and damage to the gastrointestinal system”. Obesity has also been found to become highly prevalent among those who consume GM foods. Additionally, inflammation, the equivalent of someone slowly blowtorching your organs over the course of 30 years or so, is also a large concern that comes with the consumption of GMOs. It can wreck your ability to physiologically function and is associated with lowered amounts of antioxidants, presenting severe impacts on the overall health of many individuals.
The Neutral Perspective
Humanity and the environment are equally important and one cannot, and should not, outweigh the other. Preserving whole countries shouldn’t come at the risk of accelerated climate change and ecological evolution shouldn’t come at the cost of the destruction of the human body. It is possible for genetic engineering to take a completely different path. However, genetics aren’t the only thing that can lead to stronger, healthier, efficient crops. Looking into biological, chemical, and physical ways to enhance crop growth outside of its internal anatomy, such as chemical NPK fertilizer enhancer, microbes that fixate soil roots to enhance ammonium absorption, and physical ways to keep water in the soil. No matter what path humanity takes, we should make sure it equally benefits the environment as it does us.
So what do you think? Is this modification worth the mutilation?