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The Advantages & Disadvantages of Genetically Modified Food: Both Sides of the Debate

written by: Sonal Panse•edited by: Paul Arnold•updated: 10/8/2014

The number of countries growing genetically modified crops has increased in recent years causing much debate over the safety of these products. Supporters claim it will feed the world and promote better health and ecological welfare, while others believe the food contains risks to human health.

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    Where do you stand on the GMO debate? Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) include crops, vegetables and fruit that have been created using genetic engineering methods. Scientists combine desirable genes from various species to create new genetically-altered crosses with enhanced nutritional, productive and ecological value. This differs from traditional breeding in that genetic transference between unrelated species does not occur biologically in nature.

    The process of combining inter-species genes, which is called recombinant DNA technology, does not have the checks and balances that are imposed by nature in traditional breeding. Because of this there is a risk of genetic instability. This means that no one can make any accurate predictions about the long-term effects of GMOs on human beings and the environment. Extensive testing in this regard is either very expensive or impractical, and there is still a great deal about the process that scientists do not understand.

    This is the crux of the matter in the ongoing debate of GMOs. Food is an emotional topic. It matters a great deal to all of us. We are what we eat after all. The subject is also of vested interest for the corporations that manufacture genetically modified seeds and agricultural technologies. The arguments are intense and passionate.

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    Proponents Claim That There Are Many Advantages

    • Crops are more productive and have a larger yield.
    • Could potentially offer more nutrition and flavor (although this is debated).
    • A possibility that they could eliminate allergy-causing properties in some foods.
    • Inbuilt resistance to pests, weeds and disease.
    • More capable of thriving in regions with poor soil or adverse climates.
    • More environment friendly as they require less herbicides and pesticides.
    • Foods are more resistant and stay ripe for longer so they can be shipped long distances or kept on shop shelves for longer periods.
    • As more GMO crops can be grown on relatively small parcels of land, they are an answer to feeding growing world populations.

    Corporations insist that:

    • Genetically modified foods are safe. Changing a few genes here and there does not make a crop toxic or dangerous.
    • Why shouldn't we alter nature to meet our needs? There are many natural organisms that human beings have transformed to serve their purpose.
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    Critics Cite the Dangers of GMO Foods

    • Scientists can choose which genes to manipulate, but they don't yet know where in the DNA to precisely insert these genes and they have no way of controlling gene expression. Genes don't work in isolation, changing a few could change the whole picture, with unpredictable results.
    • The use of genetically modified food should not be encouraged without research into the risks.
    • Not labeling is wrong and unfair to the consumers who should have the right to know what they are buying so they can decide for themselves whether they want to buy the food or not. Even if health safety factors are not an issue, some people might have moral or religious objections. They should not have to eat GMOs if they don't want to.
    • Genetically modified crops pose a risk to food diversity as the plants are much more dominant.
    • Herbicide-resistant and pesticide-resistant crops could give rise to super-weeds and super-pests that would need newer, stronger chemicals to destroy them.
    • GMO crops cross-pollinate with nearby non-GMO plants and could create ecological problems. If this were to happen with GMO foods containing vaccines, antibiotics, contraceptives and so on, it would very well turn into a human health nightmare.
    • The claim of ending world hunger with GMOs is false. World hunger is not caused by a shortage of food production, but by sheer mismanagement, and lack of access to food brought about by various social, financial and political causes.
    • GMO technology companies patent their crops and also engineer crops so that harvested grain germs are incapable of developing. This is not empowering to impoverished Third World farmers, who cannot save seeds for replanting and have to buy expensive seeds from the companies every year. The new technology also interferes with traditional agricultural methods which may be more suited to local environments.
    • GMOs are not the answer to world hunger and health. Instead we should focus on improving organic agricultural practices which are kinder to the earth and healthier for humans.

    There are many more questions about genetically modified food that can only be answered through time, research and experience. What side of the argument do you fall on?

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    Additional Resources:

    Genetically Modified Foods and Organisms:

    Genetically Modified Foods: Harmful or Helpful?