The Pros and Cons of GMOs

Pros and Cons of GMOs

Posted: Apr. 04, 2018

On July 14, 2016, Congress passed a bill requiring genetically modified foods to be labeled as such. Manufacturers and distributors can notify consumers in one of three ways: with a text label, a symbol, or a QR code which consumers can scan to get a list of genetic modifiers used.

Many in the food industry support the law, yet some lament the new requirement and question the real purpose of the bill. One big fear is that this is the first step toward a future ban of modified foods in stores. Those in opposition to such labeling are even lobbying for a threshold to be determined; they claim that many foods are modified to a small degree and may not warrant a label. Pro-labeling advocates like Sen. Bernie Sanders from Vermont, on the other hand, believe that distinction should be left to the consumer.

There is a greater demand for wholesome ingredients than ever before. And consumers have shown that they are willing to pay more for organic ingredients to avoid genetic modification entirely. Scientific research does indicate that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are harmless to consume, but because consumers are savvier than ever before, they are asking for more information from the food industry.

The lack of transparency has many avoiding regular food items, as is evident from the rise of organic and farm-to-table movements. Even mass-market food producers are unable to ignore the call. Just look at food conglomerate Campbell’s, which launched a line of organic soups and broths that is a few dollars more expensive than their regular products.

The discussion surrounding GMOs takes place in households, across industries, and in politics. Scientists and food manufacturers tout the benefits of genetically modified foods, while anti-GMO campaigns and organic-food producers warn of potential negative health effects.

Below we examine both arguments. What are the pros and cons of genetically modified food?

Pros: For GMOs

Scientists, bioengineers, and many in the food industry support genetic modification because it improves the yield of crops and offers global sustainability:

  • Crops are more resistant to diseases, droughts, weeds, and pesticides
  • Larger yields allow farmers to maximize land space and use fewer herbicides
  • Improved flavor, texture, and nutritional value
  • Increased shelf life
  • Growth in infertile soil, diminishing starvation in developing countries

“Are consumers aware of these benefits?” wonder many in the food industry. Being forced to add a GMO label would lead to some consumer avoidance, despite scientific research findings that show GMOs are not harmful.

Some of the brightest scientists in the world are asking for a more honest conversation about the benefits of GMOs.

Scientists Supporting GMOs

In a surprising display of support for genetic modification, 107 Nobel laureates (including Bill Nye the Science Guy) wrote to Greenpeace, asking the organization to cease its anti-GMO campaigningparticularly because it hurts the humanitarian initiative of the Golden Rice Project. Spearheading the pro-GMO movement was Richard Roberts, chief scientific officer of New England Biolabs, and 1993 Nobel Prize winner Phillip Sharp.

Their call of support for GMOs has led many to investigate the truth of the claims made against genetically modified foods. After all, if the leading scientists of the world are fighting for greater understanding, there must be validity to the pro-GMO argument.

Cons: Against GMOs

The claims against consuming genetically modified foods are twofold: fears for health and concerns about biodiversity:

  • May have a trigger effect for food allergens
  • Higher levels of toxins could be produced with the insertion of a foreign plant gene
  • Plant resistance to bacteria builds up a human resistance to antibodies
  • Decreased nutrition
  • Not enough research is done on health effects
  • Modified strains with more flavor but less nutrition are replacing original strains
  • Modified strains can grow in the wild and build super resistant weeds

There are doctors, such as Dr. Keith Kantor Sc.D., Ph.D. who say they have seen adverse effects from GMOs, even though there isn’t scientific evidence which states that GMOs are the cause. In a piece he wrote for CNN iReport, Dr. Kantor claimed that patients who eliminated genetically modified foods from their diets experienced decreased food-related allergies.

Those out of favor with GMOs are stringent in their belief that there is not enough information available to claim that bioengineering is, in fact, harmless. They argue that it is only logical to hypothesize about and be cautious of the possible threats to health.

In Europe, the threat is enough to have an almost total GMO ban in place. In 2015, the EU allowed national governments to decide their own restrictions, but they are for the most part quite similar: Very little to zero genetic modification is allowed. Few genetically modified crops have since been approved to be grown commercially on EU soil.

Greenpeace Defends Its Position Against the GM Food Industry

The call by the 107 scientists to stop Greenpeace’s anti-GMO campaign was answered with a measured letter. Greenpeace made clear its position: It questions the depth of the research conducted in relation to the effect of GMOs on health, and the ability that global leaders have to ensure a cautious use of GMOs.  

(Read the full response here, from newscientist.com.)

Since the passing of the new GMO label law and the emergence of a strong champion for GMOs, the discussion was given new life. We suspect this is only the beginning of one of the most critical scientific debates of our time.

Posted: Apr. 04, 2018 | Written By: Emma Alois

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