Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are crops genetically engineered in a lab to exhibit certain traits. Scientists and consumers have been debating the advantages and disadvantages of GMO foods for years.
Some people believe that GMO foods are more nutritious and healthier due to being treated with fewer pesticides. In contrast, others worry about the potential health risks associated with consuming these foods.
Here’s what to know about the pros and cons of GMO foods, backed by science.
GMOs are crops whose genetic makeup has been re-engineered in a laboratory to favor the expression of desired traits. These traits can be anything from resistance to pests and herbicides to enhanced nutritional content.
The genes of GMO crops have been adjusted by adding new genes that can improve the crops in different ways, such as being easier to farm, faster to grow, or more environmentally sustainable.
While selective breeding could produce similar results of perpetuating ideal genes in crops, it would take several generations, and many moving parts would make it difficult to determine what genetic adjustment caused a new trait.
Genetically modifying crops involves utilizing scientific techniques to alter an organism’s genes, which can happen much faster than selective breeding.
GMO foods first hit grocery store shelves in the early 1990s, with the first GMO produce (a tomato) created and available for sale in 1994, and have been steadily gaining popularity ever since.
GMOs are in various foods like soybeans, corn, canola oil, papaya, apples, potatoes, sugar beets, alfalfa, and some types of summer squash. At least 90% of US soy, corn, and cotton is grown with genetic techniques. They’re also present in many processed food items such as breakfast cereals, snacks, and vegetable oils.
GMO crops offer many benefits to the consumer and the farmer growing them.
Treated With Fewer Pesticides
One of the most notable advantages of GMO foods is that they allow farmers to treat their crops with fewer pesticides.
Pesticides are chemicals used to kill pests, such as insects, fungi, or weeds, that can damage crops. While pesticides can help farmers protect their crops from getting destroyed, they can also harm human health.
A 2017 study found that GMO crops are associated with a reduction in the use of pesticides. The study’s authors analyzed data from 1996 to 2018 and found that GMO crops led to a decrease in the overall use of pesticides by 8.3%. Another study found that GMO technology may have reduced chemical pesticide use by 37%.
GMO crops can also be more nutrient-rich than their non-GMO counterparts. For example, a GMO version of rice enriched with beta carotene is available in developing countries, where rice is a staple food and vitamin A deficiency is a persistent problem.
Known as “golden rice,” the enhanced rice has the potential to improve the health of millions of people who consume rice as a part of their daily diet.
In addition, golden rice is more efficient than other methods of delivering vitamin A, such as supplements and fortifying foods with vitamin A, because it doesn’t require changing people’s diets or habits.
More Affordable for Consumers and Farmers
Another benefit of GMO crops is that they tend to be more affordable for consumers and growers.
A study published in the Journal of Agricultural Economics found that, on average, GMO crops cost 10% less to grow than non-GMO crops because GMO crops require fewer inputs, such as water, fertilizer, and pesticides.
Because food producers are saving money, they’re charging lower prices for their GMO crops, which can translate to significant savings in the grocery store for consumers. In some cases, the cost of GMO crops such as beets and corn can be 15-30% lower than non-GMO versions.
While there are several benefits associated with GMO crops, there are also some potential drawbacks that have caused many people to be concerned about their safety.
One of the biggest concerns about GMO foods is that they may cause allergies.
For example, when soybeans were first genetically modified to be resistant to herbicides by adding a protein found in Brazil nuts, there was a worry that the new protein produced by the modified genes could cause allergies in people who are sensitive to Brazil nuts.
However, this GMO food was quickly abandoned once scientists understood the implications.
While it’s valid for people to have allergy concerns, there have been no allergic reaction reports for any GMO foods that are available to purchase. The FDA confirms that GMO researchers must run tests on their foods to ensure allergens aren’t getting transferred over.
Another concern that’s been raised about GMO foods is their potential to cause cancer.
A 2012 study found that rats fed a diet of GMO corn developed more tumors and other health problems than mice who were not fed GMO corn. However, it’s important to note that this study has been widely criticized for its methodology and conclusions and has since been retracted because of its poor design.
There is no human research that ties GMO consumption to cancer, as stated by the American Cancer Society.
GMO crops may also contribute to the development of antibiotic resistance.
Some GMO crops are engineered to be resistant to antibiotics, which means they can survive being sprayed with large amounts of these drugs.
When humans consume these crops, it’s possible that the antibiotic-resistant bacteria is absorbed in the gut or passes through the body and into the sewage system through feces, making antibiotic treatments less effective.
The Final Word on GMOs
Overall, you must evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of GMO foods and make the decision that’s best for you and your family. If you’re concerned about the safety of GMO foods, you can always look for products that are certified organic or Non-GMO Project Verified. These labels indicate that a product is made without GMO ingredients.
Additionally, the FDA requires that all food manufacturers list whether a product contains GMOs, so you can always check the ingredient label before purchasing a product.
It’s important to note that the FDA considers GMO foods to be safe, so you don’t have to avoid them if you don’t want to. They may provide more nutritional value and keep a little more money in your pocket.