This is a research paper I wrote for a Social Issues class in college. GMOs are a highly controversial subject this is just one side of the argument.
Hawaiian papayas, American Chestnuts, and Florida oranges. What do each of these have in common?They were all saved from extinction by genetic modification. Genetically modified organisms, also referred to as GMOs, are an interesting topic of discussion because there is so much they can do, but also so much we don’t yet know about their potential affects. However, the potential benefits of genetically modified organisms far outweigh the uncertainty about them. I strongly believe that GMOs are necessary for the wellbeing of our population.
What exactly are GMOs? According to Perdue Agriculture, Genetically Modified Organisms are “living beings that have had their genetic code tweaked in some way” (Perdue). These organisms can be plants, animals, bacteria, fungi, or viruses.Twelve percent of all crops grown in the United States are genetically modified (Meise). Eighty eight percent of corn, ninety three percent of soy, and ninety four percent of cotton grown in the US has been modified genetically for one reason or another (Kelly). Scientists create these genetically altered life forms in order to solve problems regarding pest and disease problems, nutritional value, or crop yields.
One of the greatest achievements made using GMO crops is the resistance to certain diseases. Papayas in Hawaii were saved from extinction by genetic modification.The Papaya Ringspot Viruscaused production to drop by fifty percent in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The disease causes distortion and lesions on fruits and on the trunk of the tree, and drastically reduces fruit quality.Now, GMO papayas account for 90% of United States papaya production (Smyth).
In a similar situation, Florida’s orange trees were once threatened with disease as well. The $9 billion Floridian orange industry is being threatened by a sort of citrus blight called greening, which prevents fruit from ripening evenly (Voosen). The disease is one hundred percent fatal to infected trees. It is transmitted by the Asian Citrus Psyllid.Scientists are developing a coating for the trees that will control the insect. Alternatively, genetic engineering could be used to render the Asian Citrus Psyllids incapable of transmitting the disease (Voosen).
The American Chestnut tree is yet another example. Nearly all of the American Chestnut trees in the eastern US were wiped out by a blight accidentally brought from Asia on ships. Although crossing the American variety with a blight-resistant Asian variety is helping, research is still being done to investigate other ways of bringing back the valuable lumber and nut producing tree.
“Researchers will plant four types of chestnut
trees: the transgenic, blight-resistant variety;
trees bred through conventional backcross
methods; hybrids that cross the American chestnut
with an Asian variety; and the wild chestnut,
which has been devastated by a pathogen inadvertently
introduced from Asia more than a century ago” (Conrow).
The transgenic variety uses a gene found in wheat to increase its blight resistance (ESF).
Genetic modification can assist in pest resistance for humans as well as plants. Mosquitoes are being genetically engineered to reduce the transmission of malaria. The mosquitoes’ genes are being spliced with mouse genes which “blind” the disease and prevent it from reaching the insects’ salivary glands.The trait is passed on to more than ninety nine percent of the altered parent’s offspring.
“Bt” crops are another method of reducing pest pressure in certain crops. Genes from the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis, when spliced with those from food crops such as corn and soy, produce a protein toxic to many pests (University of California San Diego). This sounds like a great thing.The bacterial genes should allow farmers to raise these crops with fewer pesticides.Unfortunately, many pests are developing tolerances to the protein. It’s taking more and more of the protein to keep the pests at bay. This can be combated by planting “refuge” plantings. A refuge planting is a field of one crop which is a mixture of Bt and non-Bt crops. This increases the chances of Bt resistant pests mating with non resistant pests, creating offspring which are likely to be vulnerable to the toxin (University of California San Diego). Another argument against Bt crops is that the pesticide can’t be washed off the crops, since it’s systemic. However, Bt crops, especially corn, are almost entirely used as animal feed or to make ethanol. Rarely, do humans eat Bt treated crops.
Along the same lines as Bt crops is “Roundup Ready” crops. Most often when thinking about “Roundup Ready” crops, we think of corn and soy which have been genetically modified to be resistant to the herbicide glyphosate. Glyphosate is a chemical herbicide which acts systemically. The fear is that making these crops resistant to the herbicide will allow farmers to spray heavier amounts. Glyphosate has been tested on rodents in laboratories for toxicity and fear of its possible carcinogenic effects, but it was found that it only poses risks if ingested in high amounts or if applying large doses often (National Pesticide Information Center).
Many people believe that all GMOs pose health risks to humans when ingested. However, a research study in San Diego published a paper in 2016 which states otherwise:
“Work on the 388-page report began two years ago
and was conducted by a committee of more than
50 scientists, researchers and agricultural and industry
experts convened by the National Academies of
Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. It reviewed more
than 900 studies and data covering the 20 years since
genetically modified crops were first introduced.” (Meise)
This study found that 57% of Americans are concerned that consuming genetically modified foods will lead to health problems. However, when this committee assessed health records from the US and Canada and compared them to those from western Europe where GMOs are banned, no correlations were found between eating GMOs and having more health issues. The diseases studied were cancer, Type II diabetes, obesity, Celiac disease, allergies, kidney disease, and autism (Meise).
Other health risk studies have focused on the risks of feeding livestock GMOs. A study by the University of California at Davis assessed the records of nearly one hundred billion animals. It was found there were no changes in the health of the animals when switched from non-GMO feed to feed containing GMOs. Today’s beef cattle are fed almost exclusively GMO corn, and there have been no studies concluding this has any ill effects on their health (Haspel).
Despite all of the great things GMOs have allowed us to achieve, several countries have banned them outright due to the lack of research. Russia has banned GMO production and importation, but allows scientific research. Other countries ban production but allow GMOs to be imported.
“Although many EU countries do not grow GMOs, Europe
is one of the world’s biggest consumers of them. Every
EU nation imports them. More than 30 million tons of
biotech corn and soy for livestock feed are imported
each year, making Europe the largest regional consumer
of GMOs in the world” (Genetic Literacy Project).
Banning GMOs outright only slows the progress that could be made by researching them. It’s clear from the numerous studies done on livestock that GMOs are not the problem. If there is any risk from GMOs, it is indirect and stems from the excessive use of herbicide sprays on “Roundup Ready” crops.
Rather than focusing on genetically modifying crops for herbicide tolerance, however, science should be focusing on modifying them to be more drought tolerant, and stronger than the weeds so that they can outcompete them naturally. Some plant species have already developed their own natural herbicide, such as Black Walnut which has evolved to create a chemical that inhibits growth of other plants near the tree. When a plant is able to do this, it is called allelopathy. If scientists can figure out how to harness that and insert that trait into other plants, it may help reduce the need for synthetic chemical herbicide sprays.
In conclusion, Genetically Modified Organisms are not as bad as many people make them out to be. There are many beneficial applications for GMOs and I strongly believe they are necessary in order to feed our growing populations. Unfortunately, there are still countless groups and individuals opposing the cultivation of GMO crops. It will likely take many more years of positive scientific research to disprove the theories that GMOs are dangerous.
Sources CitedCan Genetic Engineering Save the Florida Orange? (2014, September 14). Retrieved April 25, 2018Can GMOs rescue threatened plants and crops? #GMOFAQ. (n.d.). Retrieved April 20, 2018Conrow, J. (2017, March 15). Restoration forest project will showcase GMO chestnut trees. Retrieved April 25, 2018Glyphosate. (n.d.). Retrieved April 25, 2018, from http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/glyphogen.htmlGMO Facts. (n.d.). Retrieved April 20, 2018, from https://www.nongmoproject.org/gmo-facts/Gonsalves, D., Tripathi, S., Carr, J. B., & Suzuki, J. Y. (2010). Papaya Ringspot virus. Retrieved April 25, 2018Haspel, T. (2014, October 27). The GMO debate: 5 things to stop arguing. Retrieved April 20, 2018Kelly, M. (2012, December 30). Top 7 Genetically Modified Crops. Retrieved April 20, 2018Main, D. (2016, May 04). Researchers Genetically Modify Mosquitoes to Be Malaria-Resistant. Retrieved April 25, 2018Restoring a Species. (n.d.). Retrieved April 25, 2018Smyth, S. (2017, July 21). GM Papaya, Hawaii, Ringspot. Retrieved April 25, 2018The Science of GMOs. (n.d.). Retrieved April 20, 2018Weise, E. (2016, May 17). Academies of Science finds GMOs not harmful to human health. Retrieved April 20, 2018Where are GMOs grown and banned? (n.d.). Retrieved April 20, 2018