Online you can find a lot of articles about GMOs and their risks. You are being told to avoid GMOs as much as possible. This is a decision, every family has to take on their own. But whether you choose to avoid GMOs or to not change your eating habits, it should be an informed decision.
This article should help you understand what GMOs are and what risk are thought to be related to them. If you want to further your research, you will find some helpful links below.
The USDA (U.S: Department of agriculture) defines genetically modified organisms (GMO) as “an organism produced through genetic modification“. This means, a plant or animal has different genes that lead to improvements of greater survival chances. These genetic changes can be produced via genetic engineering or in the traditional ways, such as cross-breeding. Some plants and animals also change their genes due to natural evolution. Therefore, genetically modified organism don’t need to be something bad and can occur naturally.
Most people that speak about GMOs, talk about Genetically engineered organisms (GEO). This is an important difference, if for example new laws and bills are being discussed. According to the USDA, genetic engineering is the “manipulation of an organism’s genes by introducing, eliminating or rearranging specific genes using the methods of modern molecular biology, particularly those techniques referred to as recombinant DNA techniques“.
Reasons for modification:
The changes made to plants and animals normally benefit mostly the farmer. This can be in a lower price of producing a product, higher durability or a nutritional value. So, in general the genetically engineered foods can bring an advantage (for example lower cost product) to farmer and consumer.
Another important reason to modify plants is crop protection. This can be either way due to build-in resistance against diseases or due to increased tolerance for herbicides and pesticides.
However there are several health and environmental issues linked to genetically engineered animals and plants. As many people see the food safety affected, this became a widely discussed topic worldwide. The most recited arguments are allergenicity, gene transfer, outcrossing as well as introducing new genes into the wild population.
If genes from commonly allergenic plants (such as peanuts) would be transplanted in non-allergic plants, food safety for allergic people would not be guaranteed anymore. Even though genetically engineered foods are being tested for their allergenic effect, the concerns haven’t stopped.
There is also a lack of research about gene transfers that is troubling people. The idea is, that enhanced genes could be (once consumed by humans) get transferred to the human body. This would be in particularly bad if these genes were for example antibiotic resistance. Even though gene transfer is not common, there is not a lot of research to be found. A lot of people worry especially about not tested long-term health issues.
Outcrossing defines the migration of genes from genetically engineered plants to conventional plants. These could lead on one hand to mixing of crops and therefore influence food safety. On the other side there have been cases, in which genetically engineered plants that have been approved as animal feed were detected in products for human consumption. This cannot always be avoided, even if there are clear separations of the growing fields.
There have been also concerns that the biodiversity of our habitats are endangered when genetically engineered plants mix with conventional plants. These new breeds are not tested and could have unintended side-effects for humans and the environment.
Genetically engineered plants will be a topic that will keep politicians, economist, farmers, activist and everyone else discussing in the future. As long as there no clear studies and long-term effects tested, no laws written, everyone has to decide for themselves, if you and your family want to eat genetically engineered animals and plants. This post is hopefully helpful in understanding the different opinion in this public discussion. If you need more information on the topic, I can recommend the following links: