Genetically modified (GM) Food is food made from organisms whose genetic material (DNA) has been changed in a way that does not naturally occur, through the introduction of a gene from a different organism. (World Health Organization, n.d). While one of the biggest pros to using GM foods is allowing farmers to use less pesticide, some of the biggest controversy with GM foods is the unknown long-term risks of consuming them. (Colbert & Sullivan, 2016).
The history of GMO’s in agriculture began before history started being recorded. Prehistoric farmers have been picking the most productive plants and seeds from their crops for up to 10,000 years. Gene-splicing technology started in the food industry in 1990, when the FDA approved the safety of a new strain of GMO, Rennet. The pharmaceutical company Pfizer had isolated the gene for making rennet from the stomach of a calf, the previous source of the enzyme, and inserted it into bacteria. By 1995, a total of 67 percent of the cheese produced in the United States (U.S.) was being made with rennet from GMO’s, and it has only grown from there. (Ganzel, 2009). And while there are several pros and cons to GM foods, globally, only a tenth of the world’s croplands include GM plants. Four countries – The U.S., Canada, Brazil, and Argentina grow 90 percent of the worlds GM foods. (Freeman, 2013).
A U.C. Berkeley agriculture and environmental economist named David Zilberman is one of the few researchers who is considered credible by agriculture chemical companies and their critics. Zilberman believes that using GM crops outweigh any theoretical health risks because they have raised the output of crops like corn and are allowing farmers to use less pesticide. (Freeman, 2013). A group of Italian researchers did a new meta-study that compared GM corn with conventional varieties. Over 6,000 peer-review studies expanding over 21 years of data, from when GM corn was planted for the first time to 2016 was analyzed. The study found that GM corn increased yields up to 25 percent and drastically dropped dangerous food contaminations. The study was published in Scientific Reports. (McDivitt, 2018).
Zilberman states that he believes the advantages of using GM crops will only become more significant, because The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization [UNFA] estimates that the world will have to grow up to 70 percent more food just to keep up with the growing population by 2050. (Freeman, 2013). While scientist genetically engineer for several reasons, like crop yields, Genetic engineering also gives crops longer shelf lives, stronger color, and allows us to eliminate seeds completely, which is why we can buy seedless grapes and watermelons. (Colbert & Sullivan, 2016). Scientists from the Agricultural Research Organization in Israel developed Bananas with longer self-lives by removing two transcription factors, the full results of the study have been published in Plant Physiology. (Johnson, 2016).
People who believe in the use of GM foods say that genetic engineering can help find ways to feed people in countries that are don’t have access to nutrient-rich food. Because GM crops can be modified, it is believed that they will be able to grow in harsher environments and the longer shelf – life allows them to be shipped to remote areas, such as Nigeria. (Colbert & Sullivan, 2016).
It is a requirement for GM foods to meet the same safety regulations as non-GM foods. Even with safety regulations that doesn’t stop people from fearing that GM foods may be linked to rising allergies, antibiotic resistance and even cancer. Because genetic engineering on foods is still a new development, there is very little research on long-term effects of consuming them. According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], food allergies in children under 18 years old has raised from 3.4 percent in 1997 to 1999 to 5.1 percent from 2009 to 2011. (Colbert & Sullivan, 2016).
Another concern of genetic engineering is antibiotic resistance. Because scientists often use antibiotic resistance genes during the engineering process, it makes them harder to kill. According to the CDC, Antibiotic resistant germs infect two million people each year and killing 23,000 people each year. (Colbert & Sullivan, 2016). While there is no current information linking GM foods to antibiotic resistance, several people still worry about there being a connection between the two.
In 2013, a journal called Food and Chemical Toxicology withdrew a paper connecting the herbicide Roundup and Roundup tolerant GM corn to cancer and premature death in rats. Several concerns were raised about the article, causing the editor to review the raw data collected by the researchers. The editor found that the researchers used too few rats, and that specific species was prone to cancer, causing them to retract the entire article. Even though the article was retracted and caused a lot of controversy, another journal called Environmental Science Europe. Along with the outcome of the research done by the Food and Chemical Toxicology Journal, the American Cancer Society stated that more research needs to be done to see if there the long term health effects of GM foods. (Colbert & Sullivan, 2016)
In conclusion, there are several arguments to be made for and against the use of GM foods. But until there is more solid research proving that GM foods cause long-term health effects, I believe we should keep using them. Agricultural Research Organizations have proven that genetically engineering provides longer shelf-lives (Johnson, 2016). It has also been proven that GM crops yield more, in a study done by a group of Italian researchers ( McDivitt, 2018).