GMOs: The Debate

GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, may take the form of plants, crops for food, or even animals. Genes, or “blueprints” on DNA for making proteins (and thus life as we know it), exist in all living species and in varying amounts. These genes, perhaps once thought to be mostly static, are quite dynamic: they can be passed on through generations (i.e., inherited) and can even be modified through a process called recombination (i.e., where foreign “instructions” are mixed with existing DNA and the two combine and make novel products). Ultimately this enables us to choose desirable traits and transfer them between organisms! Examples may include bacteria-resistant or herbicide-tolerant plants or even extra nutritious crops (e.g., golden rice).

Why is this an issue? There are two sides to this debate: anti-GM activists on one side and giant agricultural companies on the other. Genetic engineering is a fairly new technology that affects our environments and may have direct effects on humans. Potential consequences are unclear at this point as no long-term data is available. In an example scenario, weeds near GM plants could also become herbicide-resistant. To kill them, stronger and stronger pesticides must be used: these may contaminate water supplies or the GM plants and seeds may spread through environments and reproduce with other plants. GM fish could spread through waters, invade ecosystems, and threaten natural populations of fish. Additionally, GM foods could result in detrimental and unanticipated effects on consumer health, including but not limited to antibiotic-resistance and the production of toxic proteins. Supporters, however, suggest that “golden rice or protein-enhanced potatoes…can improve nutrition,” and “drought…or salt-resistant varieties can flourish in poor conditions and stave off world hunger.” Though GMOs can grow faster and in theory feed more people, new allergens could come about, biodiversity could be detrimentally affected, and small farmers could be dependent on buying seeds from large companies (see: monopolies). Where do you stand?