The craze in food these days is everything organic. While that’s not a bad thing, the hype that genetically modified food is nothing more than a “science experiment on a plate” is undeserved. GM foods actually do have some upsides.
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are organisms that contain genetic information from other organisms. These added genes can code for anything from producing their own herbicide or insecticide to producing more fruit or growing at colder temperatures.
And yes, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, they are just fine to eat.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) stated that the DNA and transgenic proteins of GM crops are removed in the process of turning crops like soy and corn into oil and high fructose corn syrup. So we may eat food with these ingredients daily, but we actually ingest very little of the engineered DNA or the proteins it codes for.
According to USA Today, most of the GM crops in the US fall under two categories: Bt crops, which produce their own insecticide, and herbicide tolerant crops (HT crops).
Bt crops, because they produce their own insecticide, prevent the need to heavily spray crops. Insecticide is indiscriminate when it kills. It could kill pollinators or predatory insects, like the ladybug, that eats pests that eat the crops.
Insecticides can also bioaccumulate, or build up in the tissues of organisms. This can lead to biomagnification, which is an increase of toxins as you move higher in the food chain. (Ever heard about what DDT, an organochlorides with insecticide properties, did to eagles or read Rachel Carson’s“Silent Spring”?)
Now, what about HT crops?
The most common herbicide used in agriculture is glyphosate, better known as Round Up. This herbicide kills a broad spectrum of plants, but it is much less toxic than other herbicides. The HT crops that are resistant to Round Up are called Round Up Ready crops.
Why does that make a difference, you ask? Why is that a good thing? First, you must ask what farmers did before Round Up Ready crops.
Farmers couldn’t spray their fields while the crop was growing because they would be effectively killing their livelihoods. Instead what they did was till up the field before the growing season and wait to see what weeds grew. If they deemed it necessary to spray herbicide on the field, they would.
Think about all the chemicals that are distributed on the bare ground, only to be washed into streams and rivers before the seeds even hit the dirt. Not to mention, in tilling up the field with nothing in the soil to hold it in place, a large amount of fertile ground is washed away.
With HT crops, though, the need to plow or spray before planting is eliminated because when the weeds get high enough in the corn, farmers can just spray them without worrying about damaging the crop. Round Up decreases the use of other, more toxic herbicides that the crops are not resistant to.
But GM foods aren’t necessarily out of the water yet. They do present some concerns as well. The fact is, however, that GMOs were created with good intentions. To say that nothing good ever came from them just isn’t fair.
All information pertaining to the effects of Bt and HT crops was found in this book:
Withgott, J., & Laposata, M. (2012). Essential environment: The science behind the stories. (4th ed.). New Jersey: Pearson Education Inc.
Written by: Allyson Ernst
Photo License: Creative Commons