In the 1990s there was a significant threat in Hawaii known as the Papaya Ringspot virus which has been shown to cause tissue necrosis. Fortunately, researchers were able to save the fruit by developing a virus-resistant version, or genetically modified food, that looks and tastes the same as the original. However, that is just one of many cases where GMOs have come into play. Humans have been altering the genetics of organisms for over thirty thousand years. Early versions of this began with our ancestors in a process called “selective breeding.” The creation of the first genetically engineered organism was in 1973. Herb Boyer and Stanley Cohen managed to alter the bacterium known as E. coli. Their work laid the foundation for future research and engineering. Immediately controversy rose amongst media, government officials, and scientists. Though the debate of GMO safety environmental or health concerns is on going the scientific community has deemed genetically engineered foods safe. By looking at the purposes and possibilities, environmental and safety concerns, and the regulations and labeling of genetically modified foods, we can see that they benefit our society and are essential to our future.
Let’s start with the purposes and possibilities of GMOs. GM crops are engineered for a tolerance to pesticides and herbicides and for resistance to other threats such as fungus, insects, weeds, and disease. They are developed for faster growth rates and the ability to handle environmental disaster. GM foods are also designed to prevent bruising and eliminate browning as in the foods such as potatoes and apples. Scientists argue that biotechnology can produce fast-growing, disease and infestation immune crops that will successfully grow in difficult environments while providing much needed nutritional value able to correct widespread public health issues such as global hunger and malnutrition from lack of vitamins and minerals. An example of this is Golden Rice. It has been enriched with beta-carotene for the purpose of eliminating illness and death caused by a lack of Vitamin A in Asia, where rice is overwhelmingly the main ingredient in the average daily diet. While critics do argue that changing the genetics of an organism and introducing it into the ecosystem will compromise it permanently, and while yes, it will change the biodiversity, it’s not without good cause.
Next are the environmental and safety concerns of GMOs. GM seeds that are tolerant to pesticides and herbicides have significantly reduced use of such sprays, offering a more practical answer to farmers against devastating crop damage while having a positive impact on the environment. Scientists and regulatory bodies generally agree that human consumption of GM foods is as safe as consuming non-GM foods. A 2018 study published by Scientific Reports analyzed over six thousand peer-reviewed studies on GM corn and determined that the product provided additional health benefits due to a reduction of contaminants. A 2016 open letter signed by more than one hundred Nobel Laureates encouraged governments worldwide to embrace GM foods, notably Golden Rice, declaring them an important solution for reducing world hunger while helping conserve agricultural systems. Since widespread consumption of GM foods has occurred for less than twenty years, there is concern that unintended health hazards have yet to be determined and rigorously researched.
Finally we will talk about the regulation and labeling of GMOs. Advances in genetic engineering led the US federal government to develop the 1986 Coordinated Framework for Regulation of Biotechnology, a system for evaluating the effect of biotech research and products on public health and the environment. Different GM food products are regulated through different agencies. The FDA is responsible for reviewing the legality, nutrition, and safety of GM foods derived from plants, which are required to meet the same safety standards as non-GM foods to be approved for the consumer market in the United States, as well as food additives, drugs, biologics and GM animals, which are considered “”animal drugs,”” which must withstand the scrutiny of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulates GM plants, seeds, and products derived from plants, their transport and importation with the goal of protecting agriculture. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates GM crops engineered for insect and disease resistance. In May 2018 the USDA proposed a system of rules in which manufacturers may choose one of three different options for labeling GM products: a standardized symbol containing the letters BE, a written disclosure that a product contains BE ingredients, or a digital Quick Response (QR) code.
ModernAg. “The Science Inside a GMO Seed.” ModernAg, ModernAg, 25 Oct. 2018, modernag.org/innovation/the-science-inside-gmo-seeds/?gclid=CjwKCAiA5qTfBRAoEiwAwQy-6S_Luw0O5YlEv8E7QIRO0lmYVU_Eu_qOjxoiO0BXbV10JhxzXoohjBoCjYkQAvD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds.
Rangel, Gabriel. “From Corgis to Corn: A Brief Look at the Long History of GMO Technology.” Science in the News, 23 Oct. 2016, sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2015/from-corgis-to-corn-a-brief-look-at-the-long-history-of-gmo-technology/.
“”Genetically Modified Food.”” Opposing Viewpoints Online Collection, Gale, 2018. Opposing Viewpoints in Context, https://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/PC3010999249/OVIC?u=tel_a_pstcc&sid=OVIC&xid=fc0e4dda. Accessed 13 Nov. 2018.
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