GMO… for some, these three letters are as terrifying as a Great White Shark swimming towards them at top speed and for others, they’re the solution to the world’s food supply problem. It’s 2016, it’s been nearly two decades since GMO made their first appearance, and not only are they still controversial, they’ve also taken control over an integral part of our agriculture.
GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organisms and no, we’re not talking about tomatoes that can talk or bananas that peel themselves, we’re talking about plants biologically engineered to resist the detrimental effects of herbicides or insecticides.
While humans have been modifying crops and strains of plants for years, the use of biotechnology to modify plants is relatively recent, and it’s already left a scar so deep in our environment that we may never have the chance to recover from it.
The use and commercialization of GMO has given rise to a heated controversy, with both sides providing data that is often wrong or simply irrelevant to the actual issues that GMO pose.
The Good Side of GMO, Ever Heard of it?
GMO has gathered such a horrible reputation that most people don’t realize the whole intention behind creating GMO plants was to make agriculture more efficient and provide solutions to the major food supply problems in developing countries.
A perfect example of a promising project cut short by the action of anti-GMO organizations and the bad rep of Monsanto. B-carotene deficiency is a major nutritional issue in Asian countries, Golden rice is a modified strain of rice meant to provide kids in these countries with the necessary dose or at least come close.
However, Golden rice has rarely seen the light of day because the strain was never perfected and as a result, the plant doesn’t perform well in the field which makes farmers wary of using the seeds.
There has been some promising development with GMO plants that help with the production of vaccines and medications for certain diseases. A valuable example is the use of tobacco plants by Kentucky Bioprocessing to mass produce Zmapp, the antibody used in 2015 to combat Ebola. Although the results for Zmapp were promising, they weren’t 100% a victory.
The issue with using plants as vaccine factories is that companies are fixing to use food crops such as rice and corn. What could possibly go wrong if you bought a can of corn in the supermarket and it turns out to have some GMO corn with a vaccine for a disease you don’t have in it? The big companies don’t care.
What about the food supply in the future?
One main argument used to defend the future of GMO is that it answers the demand for food supply in the upcoming years. This is an oversimplification of a problem that isn’t fixed by turning America into one giant crop field of GMO corn and soy.
Yes, we’re expecting an increase in our world population (9.7 billion people by 2050) but is the solution really to find ways to provide more food and land or to control our own population growth?
Shouldn’t we start discussing ways to reproduce responsibly in order to sustain our lives and the lives of the kids growing up today?
Resident Evil: GMO farming
Let’s talk about some of the horrifying, destructive and toxic effects GMO farming has had on our environment and will continue to have if it doesn’t stop.
The use of Glyphosate and other herbicides has increased exponentially over the last decade. Glyphosate was produced and commercialized by Monsanto, who swears by it and its non-toxic properties. The crops sprayed with Glyphosate are generally fed to farm animals that might later turn out to be source of the pork chop you’ll eat at dinner or the glass of milk you’ll mix with your coffee. Supposedly, traces of glyphosate or GMO crops shouldn’t be a part of your dinner menu, but the reality is another story.
Earlier this year the FDA was prompted to regulate and test the levels of glyphosate after a study showed alarming levels of glyphosate in popular foods. These foods aren’t supposed to have a trace of this chemical but due to poor regulations and lack of responsibility towards the public, this is the continent we live in, you’ll buy a bag of chips and you’ll get a toxic chemical as a bonus.
Another issue is the practice of tilling mixed in with the use of Glyphosate and other chemicals used on GMO crops. Tilling makes it easier for the chemicals and all the toxins that have been deposited in the crops and soil to run off as soon as it rains, leaving the soil poor in important nutrients and carrying all the chemicals down to contaminate our waters.
As if it wasn’t enough, the practice of these monocultures is putting the diversity of crops , plants and animals in America at risk. In Argentina, GMO soy has already taken over lands that used to be farms of diverse crops, and in an effort to expand the land dedicated to soy crops, the rain forest land is sacrificed.
In Mexico, research has shown that GMO corn has managed to contaminate crops of other indigenous corn varieties and completely extinguish others. Although there is a battle to place a ban on GMO corn in Mexico, their rich diversity of corn crops is still endangered.
GMO crops have also played a role in the decline of bees, the decrease in population for the Monarch butterfly, the ever growing crisis with climate change and many more issues.
The practices that support GMO farming go beyond crops, animal food and a can of Campbell’s soup properly labeled. They affect us globally and have already created more damage than we can ever hope to solve. There’s no thorough solution for this problem, and romanticizing the positive aspects of GMO won’t solve it.