Genetically Modified Organism foods, usually shortened to GMO foods, are the way of the future. These plants are easier to grow, yield more crops, are resistant to pests, drought, and disease, and can grow in unfavorable conditions. For this reason, a large portion of agriculture in the world is not done with GMO crops. However, many people worry that GMO foods may have negative effects on people’s health. The fact that GMO foods have not been around long enough to test the long term effects on health means that we do not know for sure whether the food is healthy or not.
GMO food refers specifically to plants that have undergone the scientific process of splicing DNA to add or remove certain genes. Humans have been selectively breeding plants and animals for millennia, but direct gene therapy is a relatively new and unexplored field. While gene manipulation provides exciting opportunities to increase the amount of food we can produce, and thus the number of humans the earth can comfortably support, the potential problems are numerous. Read on for a few of the potential concerns some scientists have with using genetic manipulation on our food.
One potential issue with GMO food is allergies. Allergies are usually a reaction to a certain protein in a food. When genetic engineering is done, new proteins are often created that did not exist before. Genetic engineering can also increase the levels of other proteins that may be allergens. In this way, GMO food could either cause increased levels of an existing allergen, or create a brand new, deadly food allergy.
The production of GMO food has the potential for creating dangerous new diseases. When genetically modified cells are created, it is difficult to force all host cells to take on the new genes. The solution to this is to make the genetically modified cells immune to a certain antibiotic, and then deluge the host with this antibiotic. This causes all the cells to die, save the ones that have the genetic mutation. While this is an effective way to isolate genetically modified cells, it is also possible for this process to isolate extremely antibiotic-resistant bacteria. After repeating this process enough times, these bacteria may be very strong and completely immune to conventional medicine, potentially creating a new super disease.
GMO foods also are exposed to much more pesticides than normal plants can handle. Crops are specifically designed to resist certain pesticides. This makes growing the crops much easier, since they can be doused in as much pesticide as is required to eliminate threats, without harming the crops themselves. However, inundating crops with pesticides means that the poisons can soak into the food that we eat. The most common pesticide used in this technique, called glyphosate, has been tested on animals and shows links to birth defects, cancer, damage to the reproductive system, and problems with the endocrine system. Even washing the foods carefully is not enough to fully remove the pesticides, since they can be absorbed through the roots and end up inside the crop.
While gene manipulation is a revolutionary technique that has helped to alleviate a lot of hunger, it is far from a magic bullet. Many scientists believe that there are significant dangers involved in the production of GMO foods, and that caution is called for. The potential for new deadly allergies to form, or new super diseases to be created, means that this technology needs to be monitored carefully. Increased human exposure to pesticides could also create numerous widespread health issues. GMO food is here to stay, but we do not know what dangers it may pose.