For thousands of years, farmers have been selectively breeding crops to yield favourable traits. It is taught in a basic Science 10 course that, per Mendel’s Law, it takes at least three generations to get a second plant with the desired phenotype, if working with a recessive gene (and even then, the results might not be what was wanted). Scientists have found a way to isolate these desired genes, and put them in the saplings so that it is practically guaranteed to get better crops, and are even able to add certain protein producers into the plant’s genome to help create antibiotics and vaccines.
Yet, there are still those who vigorously oppose this gene editing, who think humans have no business in creating genetically modified organisms (GMO’s), despite no evidence that genetically modified food is harmful to humans.
According to the CBC, genetic modification is mostly done to “commodity crops”, such as wheat, soybeans, and corn. These plants’ genomes are modified to be herbicide resistant (so that when farmers need to get rid of weeds and parasites, they can do so without hurting their crops), or able to withstand harsh conditions, such as droughts or sudden drops in temperature.
However, the term GMO does not apply to just plants. In 1999, Guelph University developed the Enviropig, a pig that produces more phytase, which reduces phosphorus in pig manure. By editing the pigs embryonic cells (and through this, the genome), it produces 30-70% less phosphorus than the average pig. Phosphorus contributes to methane emissions, commonly produced by livestock. Methane rises into the atmosphere and absorbs heat from the sun, thus heating up the atmosphere and contributing to global warming. With less phosphorus produced, less methane is getting the chance to heat up our earth.
Despite the capability of creating environmentally-friendly pigs, there are still incredible amounts of unfounded arguments against genetic modification. For example, the biosynthesised Golden Rice, which contains massive amounts of Vitamin A in the edible part of the grain, hasn’t been approved for production in any country because of vast public disapproval, despite the lack of any concrete evidence that the product is harmful. Vitamin A deficiency kills about one million people a year, and is a leading cause in irreversible blindness.
There is overwhelming evidence to support the fact that all genetically modified foods on the market today is safe for human consumption, but some say that these results are skewed. However, most GMO research is conducted by the European Commission. In many European countries, GMO’s are frowned upon, and the Commission takes all these concerns into account. If a genetically modified food is on the market, it has gone through a vigorous testing process – if it poses even the slightest risk to humans, it is not cleared. Although, a lot of the decisions on what goes to consumers falls under the “precautionary approach”, which states that even if there’s a possibility that it may not be entirely safe, it does not go on the market. This makes sense, until one realizes that there is no guaranteeing that anything is entirely safe. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one of the main concerns of genetically modified food is the presence of allergens. If anything that might cause allergic reactions in humans were taken off of grocery shelves, we would have to take down peanut butter, milk, yogurt, bread, crackers, etc. And that’s just illogical.
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Association, crop production must grow by 70% by 2050 to account for population growth. This isn’t possible with traditional farming methods, especially with the rising threat of global warming. With plants that can be grown in dry earth, animals that can produce proteins for vaccines, humanity may be able to feed all our 7.4 billion people. However, emotion-based arguments are stalling this progression. Throughout extensive testing on all GMO’s intended for human consumption, there has never been a case where it had negative effects. Never. The only main argument that might have had a basis in reality was the production of “terminator seeds” by Monsanto. These seeds are supposedly sterile, so they do not grow year after year, therefore farmers are reliant on buying the same seeds over and over again. However, “Terminator seeds” haven’t been produced since the 1990s.
David Zilberman, an agriculture and environmental economist at UC Berkeley, who is respected by GMO companies and those who oppose them alike, is outspoken about the benefits of GMO’s. “It has lowered the price of food. It has increased farmer safety by allowing them to use less pesticide. It has raised the output of corn, cotton and soy by 20 to 30 percent, allowing some people to survive who would not have without it. If it were more widely adopted around the world, the price [of food] would go lower, and fewer people would die of hunger,” said Zilberman.