Is Organic Food Really Better than Genetically Modified Food?

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Topic: Is organic food really better than genetically modified food? Many environmental organizations are concerned about the possible effects of genetically-modified crops on the environment and health. However, there is growing support for GM products amongst people who believed that it may have both environmental and health benefits, as well as contributing to reducing food shortages. Discuss both these views and use examples to support your answer, making reference to relevant literature on the subject.

 

Today, different types of food on the supermarkets’ shelves more or less contain genetically modified elements. Even though it mainly concerns food of plant origin, such as fruits, vegetables, and bread, most types of meat: chicken, pork, and beef might also contain them because these animals’ nutrition usually consists of GM-crops, for example, corn. This fact undoubtedly brings attention from consumers, because they want to be aware of such innovations in their daily meals, especially the consequences for their health. And with the increasing tendency in the percentage of GM-foods, they deserve it even more.

Genetically modified foods (GM foods) can be defined as foods derived from organisms whose genetic material (DNA) has been modified by using genetic engineering methods (World Health Organization, 2014). Genetic engineering techniques allow for new characteristics to be introduced as well as wider control over them rather than using other available methods such as mutation or selective breeding (‘GM Science Review: First Report’ Prepared by the UK GM Science Review Panel, 2003, p. 9). Such famous international programs as United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) during last decades of years are consistently concerned about the impact of genetically-modified crops on the human health and environment at the whole. “There is considerable uncertainty about the impact on human and environmental health, and also whether these products will provide a sustainable solution to food problems. The risks and benefits associated with GM technologies are difficult to quantify.” (UNEP, 2005). However, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (March 2003), “GMOs might reduce the environmental impact of food production and industrial processes” and “plants [genetically-modified] are being engineered to produce vaccines, proteins and other pharmaceutical products”, which also can lead to the both environmental and health benefits. This essay will discuss the strengths and weaknesses of GM food and thereby demonstrate equivalence in safety and possible advantages in producing of it over the non-genetically modified food. The main focus will be human health and environmental aspects of GMO. And the essay will be predominantly concerned with the UK and international experience.

In fact, people consume genetically modified organisms for hundreds, if not thousands of years, since the invention of agriculture, because of the artificial selection development. During the whole history people cultivate and breed organisms to maximize their benefits. For instance, cows that produce more milk and squash plants that can survive during the drought. On the stage of genetic engineering, scientists discovered the methods by which only a few particular genes in the cell can be replaced, removed or injected, as opposed to mainly uncontrolled commixture thousands of them using selection. Today we can observe a lot of benefits caused by this, one of the most famous is ‘Golden Rice’. According to the Greenpeace (2017), “’Golden’ rice is a genetically engineered (GE) rice variety that has been developed by the biotech industry to produce pro-vitamin A (beta-carotene)”. The purpose of this project is to help people, especially children, in areas where vitamin A deficiency is common, prevent blindness, which caused by lack of this vitamin (BBC, 2017). This problem was in the spotlight for recent years and one of the indexes of its deepness was described in the Business Insider UK (2014) by Friedman L. – “Around the world, 250 million children are vitamin A-deficient, including about a third of the world’s preschool-age population” (Friedman, 2014). Although such environmental organizational as Greenpeace, mentioned before, found and presented a lot of suspicions and disagreements, more than 100 Nobel laureates have signed a letter supporting ‘Golden’ rice implementation (Achenbach, 2016). Unfortunately, even though Pope Francis on November 7, 2013, has given his personal blessing to ‘Golden Rice’, public misconceptions about genetically modified organisms have prevented it from being available to the countries most affected by VAD (Vitamin-A Deficiency) (Golden Rice Project, 2013). As it can be seen, still there are a lot of difficulties to use such powerful instrument as genetic engineering today. It may be the best solution for the eternal problems, but also popularization and promotion of its safety and benefits might be also suggested strongly.

As well as GM-foods can contain more vitamins and other useful components for human health, GM-crops also were created to increase production saving natural resources simultaneously, which makes a significant impact on the environment. The biggest part of commercial grown GM-foods is commodity crops, such as soybeans and feed corn, which have been modified to be herbicide tolerant and pest resistant (Weise, 2014). These crops often become the ingredients in the processed food and used as fodder for animals that will be later presented as meat. On the well-known example is transgenic crops, such soybeans, corn, cotton and sugar beets that were engineered to resist the herbicide Roundup. Roundup containing the active ingredient glyphosate that “has excellent environmental features such as rapid soil binding, biodegradation and extremely low toxicity to mammals, birds and fish” (Monsanto, 2017). Because of this ingredient, Roundup does not allow plants to metabolize food, thereby killing them. Thus, that it is almost impossible to use it around plants that are not going to be exterminate. During more than 15 years, Monsanto – the company that makes Roundup, was trying to develop crops that were resistant to glyphosate, so farmers could spray the herbicide over their whole field, damaging only the weeds. The effect of these inventions is fairly noticeable today, because of significant increase of crops production in the same area. It saves thousands of hectares of land, which could be allocated for agriculture purposes, because of rising needs caused by population growth. “With the global population rising quickly towards an expected 9bn in 2050, food demand is rising fast”, so “when managed properly, GM crops can enable you to intensify agriculture sustainably” (Carrington, 2012). Considering the number of people that suffer from hunger, we have an obligation to explore every possible avenue to increase crop yields and to decrease the amount of herbicide, pesticide, energy and water needed to produce a crop. Traditional and advanced breeding methods need to be a part of that and so does genetic engineering.

– Weaknesses –

One of the reasons GM-foods are attacked so viciously is not because of the scientific consequences of their existence, but the economic and cultural consequences of placing so much power over our food supply into the hands of very few very large companies. As with any new technology, it can have unintended consequences. It can be controlled and monopolized and even weaponized, so there is plenty of reason to keep an eye on the companies making these advances. Also, it is appropriate to keep in mind, that many companies today that offers different pesticides, such as herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides, are not interested in future development of genetic engineering because their products might not be needed at all. Thus, people may be misinformed about GM-food because of being in the centre of the ‘battlefield’ between businesses.

The GMO debate has become something of a surrogate for a much larger debate about economic. There are scientific concerns about genetically modified food, such as: how does inserting a single gene, for example, rather than swapping out huge chunks of genetic material, affect the genome at large. Additionally, many farmers save non-patented seed for next year’s crop, something that cannot be done with patented GM crop seed. The reason is, if public domain seed was unintentionally fertilized by a patented strain, these seeds, after next year harvesting, will contain another genome. It may mean dire consequences for those who sells certified organic crops or supply products into the markets where GMOs are prohibited. “The migration of genes from GM plants into conventional crops or related species in the wild (referred to as ‘outcrossing’), as well as the mixing of crops derived from conventional seeds with GM crops, may have an indirect effect on food safety and food security” (World Health Organization, 2014). In additional, there are traits we’re engineering into crops might have potential ecological effects. For instance, if genetically modified plants have insects’ resistance, it may damage not only pests but also insects that play an important role in crops fertilization such as bees and butterflies.

After having been consumed in billions of meals and having been studied for decades, there has been zero implication that genetically modified food poses a danger to human health. Unfortunately, that has not stopped an extremely vocal opposition from funding poorly-designed studies and publishing misleading papers. “The GM debate is over. It is finished. We no longer need to discuss whether or not it is safe. You are more likely to get hit by an asteroid than to get hurt by GM food” said Mark Lynas, the British environmentalist, who helped launch the anti-GMO movement in the 1990s (Wager et al., 2013).

– Organic food –

As it was mentioned before, there is a huge social movement against GM-food, that are often support organic food instead. The first pitfall, people that are involved in it meet, is the question: what food today can be called organic. Previously in this essay, a topic about artificial selection was surface discussed. It might be concluded then, that majority, if not all, plant food available today was more or less, later or earlier, modified by humans. Moreover, genetically modified organisms can be, and mostly are, more clear and favourable for human health than non-GM that have been grown with an enormous amount of chemicals, needed to protect them at all stages of growth because of their natural vulnerability. Additionally, these types of food have shorter shelf-life, thus require a contamination them by different preservatives, which impact on human health are also under the question in the worse side means. Next quotation from Genetic Literacy Project also claim that “while there has not been one death or even an illness linked to the consumption of foods made with genetically modified ingredients, thousands of people get sick and die every year because of contamination problems linked to slipshod organic farming practices at some farms” (Wager, 2013).

Of course, it does not mean that ‘organic’ food should not exist at all, or has to be replaced by GMO fully. Instead, it might become a road whim because of the amount of human effort and sums of money spent on it. People should have a choice undoubtedly. However, this choice also must concern those, who basically does not have a choice at all, means people suffered from starvation and avitaminosis, or just those, who does not want to spend extra money on the ‘same-safety’ food only because it contains less than one percent of a different gene inside.

– Conclusion –

In conclusion, the full acceptance and wide permission of GM-products, especial food, may still take a long time. But when it happens, it might undoubtedly bring a lot of benefits for society and environment. This new stage in organic-technology revolution can solve eternal before problems, such as world hunger, and help mankind to maximize food production output reducing resources costs at the same time. Being as safe as any other organic food, GM-food is more economically and ecologically justified. Genetic engineering might help us face the significant challenges of the world with more and more people and a climate that is less and less stable. All weaknesses of genetic modification that appear today, should be considered not as threats but temporary problems that must be solved in the near future. And last but not least, the more people are aware of the natural origin and basic structure principles of genetically modified organisms, the faster our world development and wellness will reach new horizons of the quality of human being.

References

Achenbach, J., 2016. The Washington Post: 107 Nobel laureates sign letter blasting

Greenpeace over GMOs. [online] Available at:

<http://www.goldenrice.org/PDFs/Nobels%20pro%20GM.pdf> [Accessed 09 March 2017].

British Broadcasting Corporation, 2017. GM crops. [online] Available at:

<http://www.bbc.co.uk/education/guides/zx6g87h/revision/3> [Accessed 09 March 2017].

Carrington, D., 2012. The Guardian: GM crops good for environment, study finds. [online] Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2012/jun/13/gm-crops-environment-study>

[Accessed 09 March 2017].

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2003. Weighing the GMO arguments. [online] Available at:

<http://www.fao.org/english/newsroom/focus/2003/gmo7.htm> [Accessed 09 March 2017].

Friedman, L.F., 2014. Business Insider UK: A Miracle Rice Could Save Millions Of Lives. [online] Available at: <http://www.businessinsider.com/what-is-golden-rice-2014-6?IR=T>

[Accessed 09 March 2017].

Golden Rice Project, 2017. People Pope Blesses Golden Rice. [online] Available at:

<http://www.goldenrice.org/> [Accessed 09 March 2017].

Greenpeace, 2017. Special Report: Golden Rice. [online] Available at:

<http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns/agriculture/problem/Greenpeace-and-Golden-Rice/> [Accessed 09 March 2017].

Monsanto, 2017. Roundup: Product description. [online] Available at:

<http://www.monsanto.com/global/au/products/pages/roundup.aspx> [Accessed 09 March 2017].

UK GM Science Review Panel, 2003. GM Science Review: First Report. [online] Available at: <http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20121212135622/http://www.bis.gov.uk/files/file15655.pdf> [Accessed 09 March 2017].

United Nations Environment Programme, 2005. Africa Environmental Outlook: Section 3 Emerging Challenges. [online] Available at: <http://www.unep.org/DEWA/Africa/docs/en/aeo-2/chapters/aeo-2_ch09_GENETICALLY_MODIFIED_CROPS.pdf> [Accessed 09 March 2017].

Wager, R., Popoff, M., Moore P., 2013. Organics versus GMO: Why the debate? [online] Available at: <https://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/2013/10/15/organics-versus-gmo-why-the-debate/>

[Accessed 09 March 2017].

Weise, E., 2014. USA Today: Genetically engineered crops in nearly 12% of fields. [online] Available at: <http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/02/13/gmos-2013-plantings-up-to-117-worldwide/5430617/> [Accessed 09 March 2017].

World Health Organization, 2017. Health topics: Food. Genetically modified. [online] Available at : <http://www.who.int/topics/food_genetically_modified/en/> [Accessed 09 March 2017].

World Health Organization, 2017. Food safety. [online] Available at:

<http://www.who.int/topics/food_genetically_modified/en/> [Accessed 09 March 2017].

DEFRA

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/organic-farming-how-to-get-certification-and-apply-for-funding

BT crops

http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2015/insecticidal-plants/

Restriction Report

http://www.loc.gov/law/help/restrictions-on-gmos/

Bananas

http://grist.org/science/these-vitamin-fortified-bananas-might-get-you-thinking-differently-about-gmos/

Purple tomatoes

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-25885756

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