A genetically modified organism (GMO), is any organism whose genetic material has been artificially fabricated using genetic engineering. This can be interpreted as engineering technology which modifies the DNA structure of organisms such as bacterium, viruses, plants, and animals. In today’s society, GMOs are predominately identified and linked with genetically modified foods – foods that have been altered in some way by technology. Nowadays, GMOs are everywhere, becoming more and more prominent in today’s marketplace. As society strives for a more sustainable era, due to population growth, climate change, and rising food prices. This conventional hybridization and breeding increase the yield and quality of crops while further enhancing crops with desirable traits.
According to “Hearing to consider the Societal benefits of Biotechnology”, around 85% of corn, 91% of soybeans, and 88% of cotton produced in the US are genetically modified in some way. Initially utilized to help increase the output of cash crops – harvest that can be exported for money in numerous parts of the developing world – The GMO process has been constructed so that they are to repel crop killing diseases, and influence traits such as herbicide tolerant, pest resistant, abiotic stress resistant, and or altered so that they have a higher macronutrient content. In various parts of the world, where malnutrition and hunger prevail, GMOs have filled the gap in nutrients like Vitamin A and Beta Carotene, deficiencies which is crucial to the maternal and estimated to kill 670,000 kids under the age of five each year (“Hearing to consider the Societal benefits of Biotechnology” 1).
However, with the emerging drought crisis, potential use of GMOs seems to lead to a new challenge amongst genetic engineers, as the production of drought resistant crops becomes top priority. According to “GMOs of the Future: Two Recent Studies Reveal Potential of Genetic Technologies” Agriculture Scientists are now looking to engineer crops for drier climates. Other potential uses of GMOs may also include: Higher vitamin content; more healthful fatty acid profiles, Biofuels: Plants with altered cell wall composition for more efficient conversion to ethanol, and Phytoremediation: Plants that extract and concentrate contaminants like heavy metals from polluted sites (Wilcox 2).
One benefit of GMOs is the production gain, meaning for farmers more crops to sell and higher profits. From the late 90s up to 2008, the United States seen more than $50 billion in economic gain, due to an increase in yield of product and reduced cost in production. The gain in production for 2008 across the world was almost 30 million metric tons for three major GM crops: soybean, maize, and canola. The total yield gain over a 12-year period was more than 167 million tons of products (Finamore). Which means that GMO crops can be sold at much more economical price.
On the other hand, a growing number of reports are appearing concerning harmful impacts of pesticides. Only a limited amount of studies has been performed and provided concerning the effects these products have on humans. However, studies have been done on animals using a wide-ranging variety of genetically modified organisms. One study evaluated the gut and immune response to GMO corn in mice. The study found “major changes to the immune system, spleen and circulatory system.” While raising concerns of wide-ranging health issues the study concluded that “the significance of these data remains to be clarified” (Fedoroff).
With ever evolving health scares and concerns around the world. Regulation of GMO crops in the United States is divided among three regulatory agencies: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Each of these agencies regulates crops from a different perspective. EPA regulates biopesticides, making sure GMO is safe for the environment. Consultation with the FDA can result in EPA implementing a Pesticidal substance known as Plant- incorporated protection (PIP). The EPA requires developers to verify that toxins are safe for the environment by conducting food-safety analysis to ensure that all foreign protein is not allergenic (U.S. Regulation of Genetically Modified Crops 6).
The FDA is responsible for ensuring that GMO crops are safe to be eaten by humans and animals. FDA perspective consist of the following: Extensive safety testing prior to commercialization, no reported ill effects over 15 years, and little evidence of toxicity. GMO crops are designated as “Generally Recognized as Safe” under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) and do not require pre-market approval. Therefore, the FDA and the USDA work closely together overseeing the nation’s food supply. The USDA oversees the safety of most meat, poultry, catfish and certain egg products while the FDA has authority over all other foods such as dairy, seafood, produce and packaged foods (U.S. Regulation of Genetically Modified Crops 6).
But, even with the help of agriculture safety agencies, contamination incidents make up a major part of the costs of GMO crops. As of January 2011, there were more than 300 reported cases of contamination incidents worldwide.8 Some of these cases resulted in major worldwide trade disruptions and have cost many in the agricultural industry such as: Farmers, food processors and supermarkets billions of dollars, and law suits. Another crucial point of GMO contamination in the supply chain is in crop production where conventional and GMO crops may coexist side by side.
According to “Hidden costs of food chains” Socio-economic issues began to arise in 2009, when only 15 EU countries had national co-existence laws in force. Although, from data gathered by the EU’s Co-Extra program collected from maize farms showed that contamination is inevitable. Underlining that the coexistence of GMO and non-GM agriculture in the EU might only be achievable under completely different circumstances than today: Co-existence can lead to devastating costs for both GMO and non-GM farmers. Border regions of France and Germany estimated that non-GM farmers can only make a profit if they are able to obtain higher prices because of GMO-free status. GMO maize farmers only reap benefits if adoption rates are higher than 90 %., but according to some researchers, in the end both parties still lose. (7)
The overall GMO processes is conducted in which genes are cut from plants or animals that have a desired trait, and then pasted into plants or animals at precise locations of their DNA strand to create a desired beneficial effect. According to “10 reasons to avoid GMO” The American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) urges doctors to prescribe non-GMO diets for all patients, believing that GMOs are unsafe. According to the article, animal studies have shown organ damage, gastrointestinal and immune system disorders, accelerated aging, and infertility. While, Human studies have shown how genetically modified (GM) food can leave material behind inside us, possibly causing long-term problems. For example, Genes inserted into GMO soy and GMO corn, have been shown to transfer into the DNA of bacteria living inside us, causing the toxic insecticide and has also been found in the blood of pregnant women and their unborn fetuses.
Since the 1990s numerous health problems has increased after the introduction of GMOs. According to “10 reasons to avoid GMOs” “The percentage of Americans with three or more chronic illnesses jumped from 7% to 13% in just 9 years; food allergies skyrocketed, and disorders such as autism, reproductive disorders, digestive problems, and others are on the rise” (10 reasons to avoid GMO 8). However, there is not enough research to confirm that GMOs are a contributing factor to this increase in illnesses amongst Americans. Although, doctor organizations such as the AAEM urge us not to wait before we start protecting ourselves, and especially children, who are most at risk (10 reasons to avoid GMO 8).
From a scientific stand point, the genetic engineering of crops rapidly publicly expands, using GMOs as a tool for reducing the effects of climate change will become a more and more compelling option. Offering high hopes for feeding a growing world population and serving as a stabilizing force in drought prone parts of the world. If, a global ban on genetically modified crops (GMOs) was to be introduced, food prices would rise and would impact environment by adding nearly a billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, according to researchers from Purdue University (Environmental Impact of a Global Ban on GMOs 9).
According to “Environmental Impact of a Global Ban on GMOs” Researchers from Purdue also points out that if countries who harvest GMO plants expanded their use of genetically modified crops to match the rate of GMO planting in the United States, then global greenhouse gas emissions would fall by the equivalent of 0.2 billion tons in carbon dioxide and would allow 2 million acres of cropland to return to forests and pastures. Using a model to assess the economic and environmental value of GMO crops, agricultural economists found that replacing GMO corn, soybeans and cotton with conventionally varieties worldwide would cause a 0.27 to 2.2 percent increase in food costs, depending on the region, with poorer countries being hit the hardest (Environmental Impact of a Global Ban on GMOs 9).
Culturally, the high suicide rates have been linked to GMO, farmer suicides in India has gained so much controversy over the past decade, that Indian anti-GMO activists have singled out as who they believe to be the villain: Monsanto and its Bt cotton seeds. According to article “Are GMOs to blame for the mass suicides of Indian farmers?” activists believe that the Monsanto company is responsible for a genocide, claiming the company has used its patent protections to prevent farmers from saving and reusing their seeds- intentionally ensnaring farmers (Are GMOs to blame for the mass suicides of Indian farmers).
Religiously, there are almost as many positions on GMOs as there is culturally, according to “Here’s What Religious Experts Have to Say About Faith and GMOs” most Christian denominations believe that GMOs are for a good cause when it comes to fighting world hunger. But believes that being cautious is wise, since long-term health effects on Humans have not been shown.
One future direction and use of GMO may be found in what is known as biopharmaceutical farming. which has already been implemented in which it is already in the traditional food supply. A biopharmaceutical crop is one that grows mimics certain drugs or vaccinations. Beyond crops, biotech scientists are already creating human hybrid experiments known as the 2045 program, whose mission is to create genetically modified ‘super’ bodies called avatars, basically replacing the natural human body (Gucciardi 10).
Very few news sources have discussed or even acknowledged projects like the 2045 program, which is one of the routes of the many GMO tech projects that sit under the label of transhumanism and Singularity. The project is being led by a Russian scientist, named Dmitry Itskov, and his team of biotech scientists, who project that ‘holographic avatar’ bodies will be available by 2020. Tying back to GMO future uses in the realm of singularity and transhumanism. Meaning that GMO engineers could modify, eventually replacing the human body (Gucciardi 10).
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