We Can Eat GMOs, But Should We?
By Wei Ni Zhang
Potatoes, soybean, squash, papaya, corn, and apples. What do these foods have in common? They are a part of a group known as genetically modified organisms (GMOs), or genetically modified crops. A GMO is an organism, such as a plant or animal, that has undergone genetic engineering to modify its genetic composition. For example, if an organism has a gene for repelling insects, scientists can use gene editing to take that specific gene and transfer it into a plant’s genotype so that the plant will also have the ability to repel insects.
GMOs have been used in the United States since the 1990s, and chances are you’ve eaten foods or food products that were either GMOs or made with GMOs. There are currently 10 GMO crops in the U.S., and many of the products and ingredients we use in our daily lives are made using those crops. In fact, more than 90 percent of the country’s commodity crops, such as cotton, canola, corn, and soybean, is GMO. While the actual number of GMOs is not a lot, there are over 120 GM crop varieties that are used to make many processed foods. With these crops so prevalent in our society, it raises ethical and moral concerns over GMOs and that while we can eat GMOs, should we?
One of the many concerns over GMOs is its effect on human health. In a 2015 study done by Pew Research Center, they found that 88 percent of scientists from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) believed that GMOs were safe to eat, in comparison to the only 37 percent of adults who believed that GMOs were safe. These concerns ultimately stem from a wealth of misinformation and lack of understanding when it comes to what a genetically engineered crop is. Those against GMOs view them as “mutated Frankenfood,” or poisonous foods that will harm humans. However, evidence has shown that GMOs are not the poisonous “Frankenfood” label they’ve been given; a meta-analysis of almost 700 studies concluded that there were no significant differences between GMOs and naturally sourced foods when it comes to health.
Furthermore, there have also been instances where GMOs have been found to help humans. Take golden rice, for example, a rice strain that has been modified to contain the pigment beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 250 million children have vitamin A deficiency and over two million have died due to it. That’s where golden rice comes in. Researchers say that the crop can supply 60 percent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin A. Despite this hopeful statistic, many are still critical of the crop, claiming that golden rice is a fix from industrial agriculture to a problem created by industrial agriculture (the industry that profits from GM crops).
There is also concern over the morality of GMOs and whether it is right to genetically modify an organism. When it comes to animals, the genetically engineering or selectively breeding of such violates animal rights as it diminishes the value of animals for human profit. So can the same be said about using plants, or even some animals, for our benefit in the food industry? Other concerns people have are the harmful impacts GMO has on farming practices, as well as the risk of GMOs contaminating other crops.
Ultimately, the moral status of GMOs is complex and difficult to arrive at a conclusion. As long as there remains risks regarding the practice of genetically modifying crops for food consumption, there remains concerns over the ethicality and morality of the practice.