Quit being afraid of GMOs

Photo by Sara Schmitt

Many people believe that Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are bad. It has been driven into society that GMOs are not natural, and are therefore a bad thing. And until I did my research on them, GMOs held a negative connotation for me as well. I mean, without GMOs, Dennis Nedry would still be alive, right?

The first impression from many of the people I surveyed was that GMOs are “not natural.” Often, GMOs are associated with toxic pesticides. This assumption only sustains the falsity that GMOs are comprised of nasty chemicals that will cause birth defects and cancer. So before jumping to conclusions on how you only eat organic food because you don’t want any “genetically modified … what’s the last letter stand for?” in your diet, learn a bit about how they work and their effects on your body and the environment.

There are different types of GMOs. Some GMOs are crops that are bred by taking one trait from one plant or organism, and put it into another plant or organism. Others involve slightly changing a specific protein. Phrases like “GMO-infected” and cartoons of a tomato crossed with a fish are inaccurate. Cabbage, turnips, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, and broccoli, as we know today have all been modified by humans.

In reality, GMOs are in no way harmful to human health — in fact, there are proven benefits. For example, the Golden Rice project is based entirely on GMOs. It involves fortifying grains of rice with beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A, which is important in enhancing vision and overall health, especially in societies dependent on rice as a food staple.

Other benefits of GMOs include the decrease in various defects such as spina bifida, prevented by fortifying flour with folic acid, which also leads to a decreased risk of stroke. Adding iron to flour decreases anemia — according to the World Health Organization, iron deficiency is the most common nutritional disorder in the world, and especially prevalent in developing countries.

If you’re still concerned, you don’t have to eat foods containing them. The word “organic” by definition excludes all GMOs.

The biggest concern about GMOs is their long-term effect. While there is little evidence to show that GMOs are not harmful long term, there is similarly little evidence to show that it will be harmful long term. While there are theories that cross-pollination may be a potential hazard, there is not enough evidence to make that theory a fact. Still, that does not mean that we should put an end to GMOs or that we should stop doing research on GMOs — it just means that the use of GMOs in the environment must be monitored, and that it’s important to decide who gets to grow GMOs.

Our world is changing fast, and to keep up with rapidly growing populations in different areas of the globe, efficiency is key. It allows us to fortify our produce with essential nutrients that could save third-world populations and generate a healthier crop with each growing season.

While there may be concerns for GMOs in the long-run, these issues can easily be overcome by continuing to test GMOs in a controlled environment, and weighing the pros and cons of the effect that the introduction of GMOs will have in different societies.