Genetically modified organisms are one of the most controversial topics to crop up in recent years in the health world. There are valid arguments on all sides. Humanity has been genetically modifying plants and animals for a very long time through selective breeding and pollination. This has created the modern breeds of dogs, our cruciferous vegetables, interesting forms of tomatoes, and many more delightful and highly beneficial additions to our world.
The main difference is that this was once a slow process that allowed for adjustment and the easy discarding of seeds that did not work. The old way also dealt with genes that already existed in nature or came about due to natural variation. The new way is fast, prolific, and takes whole genes from species that never interact and interchanges them. GMOs do not allow for the slow and steady hand of time to verify the benefits before we begin widely using the organism in question. There are more problems with genetically modified organisms than a change in the timeline.
Contamination – Pollen and seeds are carried on the wind, by insects, and by animals. GMOs are also aggressive in the transfer of their novel genes, literally wiping out the natural seed varieties we have been using for thousands of years.
Superweeds – GMOs don’t just contaminate natural crops. They can transfer genes to related plants that aren’t used for food, creating superweeds that share the GMO’s resistance to herbicides.
Allergies – Novel genes introduced into plants also introduces potential allergens. New genes create new proteins, many of which have never been a part of human food. The chances of allergies and autoimmune disorders rise.
Toxins – Most plants, even those we rely on for food, create toxins that are harmful to pests, animals, and even humans. The plants we choose as food have these toxins in low doses that the human body is prepared to deal with. New genes can alter this balance or create new compounds that we may not even know are toxic yet.
Pesticides – Having herbicide resistant genes in plants means we can use more herbicides on them to keep weeds from growing. This increases the concentration of certain pesticides and herbicides in our food. Our body may be prepared to deal with small doses of toxins, but long-term exposure may result in unforeseen side-effects. We are also giving many plants their own pesticides that form in the fruits and vegetables we later eat. Pesticides and herbicides have been linked to infertility, cancer, birth defects, hormonal imbalances, and many other health conditions.
Nutrition – GMOs have the potential to feed starving nations, lower food costs, and bring about an age of enlightenment when humanity is freed from cares about the basics of life to explore education, art, and invention. Unfortunately, genetically modified foods are used to make money, drive costs up, upsell additional products, and muscle out competition. GMOs are not designed to be more nutritious, flavorful, or even beautiful. They are designed to sell herbicide. Novel genes can have unknown effects on the nutritional value and the pesticides kill off beneficial microbes in the soil that aid in nutrient absorption.
Resistance – Apart from superweeds, we have to worry about superbugs, both the insect and bacterial kind. Pesticides used both inside and outside plants speeds up the evolutionary process to create pests that resist these pesticides and herbicides. There is also the chance of antibiotic resistant genes or toxin producing genes being transferred to bacteria in the human digestive tract. Chances are low, but it is theoretically possible to turn even the beneficial bacteria in our guts into little monsters.
Corruption – The big money involved in the GMO business breeds corruption. Money flows in from food consumers, pharmaceuticals, government, and farmers that must buy seeds and pesticides year after year. Biotech companies throw massive amounts of this money toward their interests, pushing patents and bills through as they please. Jobs seems to flow back and forth between big biotech companies and government agencies that are meant to watch and control the safety of our food supply. These companies are also highly litigious, suing anyone who opposes them from individual farmers to state governments.
Science Takes Time – Smoking was once considered healthy, good for the throat and lungs. Agent Orange and DDT were once thought not to cause problems for animals or humans. People used to sit on the hillsides and watch nuclear bomb tests, having been told that they were in no danger at that distance by reputable scientists. GMOs have been in use for a relatively short time. No scientist can tell you for certain that they are safe. We just don’t have time on our side to know how this invention of the modern world will affect us or if we will find similar repercussions to those above years from now.
No Increase – GMOs are supposed to increase yields and feed the world, right? Wrong. GMOs produce the same amount or less of the food that comes from natural plants. There is an inherent problem with introducing new genes to create new compounds, it takes energy to create these chemicals. If the plant is diverting energy to making a pesticide, it has less energy to go into the foods we eat.
Squashing Evidence – Biotech companies own patents and intellectual properties they would like to protect, but this has lead them to squash opposition in ways that don’t seem entirely ethical. They use their right to protect patents and trade secrets as a way to shield themselves against unflattering research and scientific studies. They can and do refuse independent scientists access to seeds for testing. They can even stop studies from being published if they dislike the results by invoking these rights and sending fleets of lawyers to help silence any resistance.
Untested – GMOs are not held to a very high testing standard. They are not a drug that must go through many rounds of testing. They are not a single chemical with doses to take. They are food and so they skate past the rigorous testing that they probably deserve. They don’t even get tested on humans before they make their way into fields and the testing they undergo is tied to a vague standard of "substantially equivalent" that compares the similarity of a genetically modified organism to the original. Minor differences are overlooked. We really have no idea how these minor differences will affect us in the future.
Less Diversity – Big seed companies wiped out much of the diversity of our food long ago, though heirloom seeds can still be found if you look for them. GMOs are creating a second wave that is killing off diversity even further. GMO seeds cannot be saved, as they are patented. This ensures farmers buy the identical seeds over and over again forever, no longer saving seeds from plants that do better or exhibit interesting flavors, colors, or shapes. They also tend to overtake others of their own kind, and once the gene is introduced into a plant it becomes like all the others and the seeds are the property of the biotech firm. The diversity of every plant that has been genetically modified has dropped drastically in recent years.
Secondary Pests – Many pesticides focus on one type of pest, but the natural world doesn’t like a vacuum. Once one insect has been decimated, another steps forward to take its place. The more genetic modifications we make to take out one pest, the more genetic modifications we will have to do in the future to eliminate the secondary pests that rise up.
Ruthless Tactics – I wanted to be a biochemist once upon a time and I still love biology and the idea behind much biotech advances. I think it would be amazing to create food that would eliminate hunger, feed the world, save thousands of children in countries destroyed by war, drought, famine, and disease. It saddens me that the companies I might have found myself employed under if I’d chosen a different path are so ruthless and heartless in their use of the amazing advances we have made in genetics. I hate that farmers are sued for saving seeds. I am floored that people whose fields were contaminated by wind and pollinating insects have found themselves in court for patent infringement and theft. I am sickened by the greed. These tactics are not an indication of the best humanity has to offer, so I will continue to avoid the products of such companies.
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