Genetically modified foods, often classified as GMOs, have changed the way that people view their food. Although genetic modifications have occurred throughout history with selective breeding and growing methods, scientific advances have allowed this practice to advance to the genetic level. In the modern GMO, plants can be resistant to specific pesticides and herbicides while becoming adaptive to changing environmental conditions.
The primary advantage of genetically modified foods is that crop yields become more consistent and productive, allowing more people to be fed. According to Oxfam, the world currently produced about 20% more food calories than what is required for every human being to be healthy.
GMOs are not without disadvantages. Although there are no conclusive links, Brown University concluded that changes to foods on a genetic level combine proteins that humans are not used to consuming. This may increase the chances of an allergic reaction occurring. Since 1999, the rates of food allergies in children has increased from 3.4% to 5.1%.
Here are some of the additional advantages and disadvantages of genetically modified foods to think about.
What Are the Advantages of Genetically Modified Foods?
1. Food supplies become predictable.
When crop yields become predictable, then the food supply becomes predictable at the same time. This gives us the ability to reduce the presence of food deserts around the world, providing a greater population with a well-rounded nutritional opportunity that may not have existed in the past.
2. Nutritional content can be improved.
Genetic modifications do more than add pest resistance or weather resistance to GMO crops. The nutritional content of the crops can be altered as well, providing a denser nutritional profile than what previous generations were able to enjoy. This means people in the future could gain the same nutrition from lower levels of food consumption. The UN Food and Agricultural Organization notes that rice, genetically modified to produce high levels of Vitamin A, have helped to reduce global vitamin deficiencies.
3. Genetically modified foods can have a longer shelf life.
Instead of relying on preservatives to maintain food freshness while it sits on a shelf, genetically modified foods make it possible to extend food life by enhancing the natural qualities of the food itself. According to Environmental Nutrition, certain preservatives are associated with a higher carcinogen, heart disease, and allergy risk.
4. We receive medical benefits from GMO crops.
Through a process called “pharming,” it is possible to produce certain proteins and vaccines, along with other pharmaceutical goods, thanks to the use of genetic modifications. This practice offers cheaper methods of improving personal health and could change how certain medications are provided to patients in the future. Imagine being able to eat your dinner to get a tetanus booster instead of receiving a shot in the arm – that’s the future of this technology.
5. It creates foods that are more appealing to eat.
Colors can be changed or improved with genetically modified foods so they become more pleasing to eat. Spoon University reports that deeper colors in foods changes how the brain perceives what is being eaten. Deeper red colors make food seem to be sweeter, even if it is not. Brighter foods are associated with better nutrition and improved flavors.
6. Genetically modified foods are easier to transport.
Because GMO crops have a prolonged shelf life, it is easier to transport them greater distances. This improvement makes it possible to take excess food products from one community and deliver it to another that may be experiencing a food shortage. GMO foods give us the opportunity to limit food waste, especially in the developing world, so that hunger can be reduced and potentially eliminated.
7. Herbicides and pesticides are used less often.
Herbicides and pesticides create certain hazards on croplands that can eventually make the soil unusable. Farmers growing genetically modified foods do not need to use these products as often as farmers using traditional growing methods, allowing the soil to recover its nutrient base over time. Because of the genetic resistance being in the plant itself, the farmer still achieves a predictable yield at the same time.
What Are the Disadvantages of Genetically Modified Foods?
1. GMO crops may cause antibiotic resistance.
Iowa State University research shows that when crops are modified to include antibiotics and other items that kill germs and pests, it reduces the effectiveness of an antibiotic or other medication when it is needed in the traditional sense. Because the foods contain trace amounts of the antibiotic when consumed, any organisms that would be affected by a prescription antibiotic have built an immunity to it, which can cause an illness to be more difficult to cure.
2. Farmers growing genetically modified foods have a greater legal liability.
Crops that are genetically modified will create seeds that are genetically modified. Cross-pollination is possible between GMO crops and non-GMO crops as well, even when specified farming practices are followed. Because many of the crops and seeds that produce GMO crops are patented, farmers that aren’t even involved in growing these foods are subjected to a higher level of legal liability. Farmers that do grow GMO crops could also face liabilities for letting seeds go to other fields or allowing cross-pollination to occur.
3. Genes go into different plant species.
Crops share fields with other plants, including weeds. Genetic migrations are known to occur. What happens when the genes from an herbicide-resistant crop get into the weeds it is designed to kill? Interactions at the cellular level could create unforeseen complications to future crop growth where even the benefits of genetically modified foods may not outweigh the problems that they cause. One example: dozens of weed species are already resistant to atrazine.
4. Independent research is not allowed.
6 companies control most of the genetically modified foods market at the core level. Because most GMO foods are made from corn, wheat, or soybeans, even food manufacturers that use these crops are at the mercy of the manufacturer’s preferences. Over 50% of the seed producers that have created the GMO foods market prohibit any independent research on the final crops as an effort to protect their profits.
5. Some genetically modified foods may present a carcinogen exposure risk.
A paper that has been twice-published, but retracted once as well, showed that crops tolerant to commercial pesticides greatly increased the risk of cancer development in rats. The information from this research study, though limited, has been widely circulated and creates the impression that all GMO foods are potentially hazardous.
The advantages and disadvantages of genetically modified foods can spark a bitter debate. There is an advantage in providing the world with better food access, but more food should not come at the expense of personal health. GMO foods must be labeled in Europe and petitions in the US are seeking the same thing. We deserve to know what we’re eating and how that food is grown. Knowing more about genetically modified foods allows us to do just that.