Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are currently causing the greatest confusion among consumers. Some are sure that food containing GMOs is particularly dangerous, while others share the opinion that this can solve the world’s malnutrition problem. Genetically modified or transgenic foods are those organisms whose genetic or genomic information is artificially modified for human consumption. Like all technologies, there are benefits and risks that must be considered for the optimum benefit for humanity. Check out some expert opinions on this issue.
DevelopmentAid: What are the potential health benefits of GMO foods and the possible risks or concerns associated with consuming GMO foods?
“In my opinion, GMO foods have clear health benefits for individuals and from a public health perspective. GMO plants can be specifically engineered for nutritional enhancement, meaning that they can contain higher levels of certain vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients compared to non-GMO varieties. To illustrate, Golden Rice was genetically modified to contain beta-carotene which is an important source of vitamin A. Non-GMO rice grains contain no beta-carotene. So, what is the need for Golden Rice, besides looking arguably better in foodies’ Instagram profiles? Well, vitamin A deficiency has serious health consequences. In fact, statistics provided by the World Health Organization show that 250,000 to 500,000 children with vitamin A deficiency suffer from vision loss every year. And it gets worse – half of them die within 12 months of becoming blind. Many underdeveloped and developing countries that struggle with vitamin A deficiency have rice at the centerpiece of their diet. One can only wonder if boosting the rice they consume daily with a source of vitamin A would reduce their related health issues. See what I did there? Regarding the potential risks of GMO consumption, many research studies have shown that there are no negative effects on human health. Of course, GMO foods are inherently different and play with different gene combinations, thus specific research is needed in each case. Nonetheless, in the light of the overwhelming scientific evidence available today, I personally feel safe eating GMO foods approved by reputable regulatory bodies.”
“To meet the dietary needs of an increasing population it is necessary to obtain more production with rapidly squeezed cultivated lands. This is not possible by growing conventional crop varieties. GMOs are plants and animals that have been genetically modified by men in laboratories. GMO food has many health and environmental benefits like an apparent attraction for consumers with more yield, taste, high nutrient profile and longer shelf life. GMO plants are resistant to pests, diseases, chemicals, and harsh climatic conditions, making them easy to grow with less agrochemicals and fuel which is beneficial for the environment and cost-effective for growers. All these features make GMO food suitable for achieving a higher yield with better quality which ultimately leads towards food security. At the same time, GMO food may contain foreign genes; these may cause certain allergies and diseases. As GMOs are resistant to insects, it might cause a reduction in insect biodiversity or make wild plants and animals resistant to gene transmission from GMOs. GMO crops are relatively new and scientists are still investigating their long-term impact on the environment and health. However, the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S. and the European Food Safety Authority argue that currently available GMOs are safe.”
“Whether a particular food item has been modified through recombinant DNA (rDNA) methods or artificial synthesis holds little salience in explaining the public health or environmental impacts of such GM foods; instead, it is the purpose for such modification that plays the chief determining role in explaining these outcomes. GM corn engineered to withstand larger quantities of glyphosate-based herbicide than that which conventional plants could tolerate remains the most widely planted GM food in much of the world, yet the long-term carcinogenic and mutagenic impacts of glyphosate on human health remain contested by various regulatory and health bodies globally. Where there is a much stronger consensus among public health experts and geneticists is that simply recombining adenine and thymine, and cytosine and guanine pairs, in and of itself, does not pose any specific health risks to human or environmental health.”
DevelopmentAid: How do GMO foods affect the environment, both positively and negatively?
“GMO crops hold the potential to harm biodiversity. For instance, by sowing these crops it is possible that cross-pollination occurs with wild populations and/or non-GMO plantations, ultimately resulting in a loss of genetic diversity in the forthcoming generations. Besides, the introduced genetic modification can disrupt the interactions of GMO crops with other living beings, creating an unbalance in the ecosystem. Pests can also evolve resistance to the protection traits specifically engineered into GMOs, creating an increasing need for pesticide applications. Threats like this can have major irreversible environmental impacts. But let me put this into perspective. Loss of genetic diversity, disruption of biotic interactions, and increasing pest resistance are all threats that the planet already faces nowadays even if we disregard GMOs. On another note, I want to point out that crops can be genetically modified for sustainability enhancement. As an example, GMO plants can be engineered to require less water and to become more productive than their regular counterparts, consuming fewer natural resources to produce the same amount of food. So, let us crunch the numbers. Do GMO foods have a net positive or negative environmental impact? Again, every GMO crop is different, and I strongly believe that a case-by-case environmental risk assessment should always be performed.”
“At their best, GMO crops carry the potential to withstand greater climate extremes, such as heatwaves and droughts, thereby improving the prospect of increased food security and consequently improved health. At their worst, private actors and agents may develop products engineered to withstand higher levels of carcinogenic and mutagenic synthetic inputs, endangering both human health and ecosystems alike.”
DevelopmentAid: How do GMO foods contribute to global food security and the ability to feed a growing population?
“Our population is growing, but our planet is not. There is limited arable land available, which is often already in use, and deforestation for expanding that surface of arable land leads to climate change. Additionally, many parts of the globe face water scarcity issues and the increasing impacts of climate change are disrupting agriculture productivity. GMO crops can be more productive and require fewer natural resources than their regular counterparts, like land and water. As such, I am truly convinced that increasing the acceptance and production of GMO foods can be key to addressing the challenges posed by a growing human population.”
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