If you closely analyze your recent diet, there’s a strong likelihood you consumed GMO’s in some shape or form. GMO’s, also known as genetically modified organisms are living organisms that have been genetically engineered or altered.
GMOs use DNA from other organisms to manipulate an organism’s natural structure or appearance. Scientists take desirable gene traits from plants or animals and insert them into the cell of another plant or animal (1). In recent years food producers have utilized genetic engineering as a way of increasing world food production. People tend to have differing opinions on the safety and efficacy of GMOs, but it’s important to take note of the potential societal benefits.
Hi, I’m Sean Torbati. Over the years I’ve publicly praised the benefits of making positive lifestyle choices. Following a healthy diet and regularly exercising can make a world of difference when it comes to improving long-term health and wellness. I’ve seen a lot of debate about GMO production and their impacts to personal/environmental health. In light of these competing debates, it’s important to take note of both sides of the argument.
Let’s take a look at GMOs in closer detail, along with their possible benefits and concerns.
What are GMOs?
Farmers and agricultural workers have cross bred plants to increase food output for several hundred years. Conventional breeding methods traditionally involved mixing genes from two different sources to achieve intended outcomes. These methods—while similar—differ from modern day GMO production techniques.
Creating GMOs involves manipulation of genes at a cellular level within lab-type settings. DNA is inserted into the nucleus of a single cell. After modification, scientists use natural plant hormones to help it grow and develop. Eventually all cells in the newly modified organism will contain the new gene.
Current GMO Use
Many people are under the impression GMOs have to be a certain shape or form. The truth is if you’ve eaten anything today, you’ve likely consumed a GMO. In fact, the US Department of Agriculture states that genetically modified seeds are used to plant more than 90% of corn, soybeans, and cotton in the United States (2).
Through genetic engineering, GMOs can be utilized to improve agricultural production or aid in pharmaceutical use. GMOs are most commonly to increase food production, but also have alternative uses such as reduction of pesticide use and creation of vaccine treatments.
Benefits of GMOs
One of the most profound benefits of GMOs is increasing food production capabilities. Over the next thirty years, the global population is expected to expand beyond nine billion people (3). Feeding an increasing world population in a sustainable way proves to be a global challenge.
Recent studies have shown that world food production has plateaued while the demand for food continues to increase (3). Although conventional breeding techniques can improve crop yields, the use of GMOs can bridge the gap between food demand and supply. Utilizing GMOs safely and effectively can help to reduce world hunger.
GMOs can serve the world by reducing world hunger. Nearly 1 billion people suffer from undernourishment globally (5). Eradicating world hunger is difficult to achieve, but increasing crop yields can serve to drastically reduce malnourishment figures. GMOs can aid in increasing food production while also improving food safety and quality—especially in developing countries.
Society has experienced a number of benefits since GMOs first started being used thirty years ago. The global agricultural market has experienced a tremendous surge since the introduction of GMOs began. Farmers experienced increased incomes of $186.1 billion between the years from 1996 to 2016 (4).
Aside from increased crop yields, organisms can also be modified to become more pesticide resistant. Over the last two decades, farmers have decreased pesticide use by approximately 8.2% (4). Reduced pesticide use is healthier for both humans and the environment.
Potential GMO Risks
Many often consider GMOs a threat to the environment and human health (6). Introducing genes into cells can result in different outcomes. A single gene can control several different traits in a single organism and may result in unintended side effects (6). GMOs can cause cause a number of potential issues including:
- Genetic contamination/interbreeding: interbreeding with wild-types thereby altering native species’ ecological relationship and behavior.
- Competition with natural species: GMOs can gain a competitive advantage over native organisms. They can spread to new habitats and cause ecological and economic damage.
- Ecosystem impacts: changes to a single species can extend beyond the ecosystem and cause damages.
- Adverse health effects on people and the environment: new diseases can emerge if the recipient organism has a pathogenic virus.
- Ethical concerns: some perceive GMOs to be a threat to the natural order and integrity of species.
Additional concerns raised by GMOs include ideas that genetically modified DNA is unstable and can cause damage to crops and organisms that consume it (7). Mutations in DNA have been linked to potential causes of cancers and other diseases. These concerns have led to questions on GMO impact to human health. Although these concerns exist, many other studies have found that GMOs exhibit no toxicity.
Should You Consume GMOs?
Although many people have raised concerns related to GMOs, many studies have found they’re no more likely to be harmful than traditionally grown food sources. For most, the benefits of GMOs outweigh potential risks. The ability to mass produce food for growing populations in a safe and effective manner means that GMO food production will likely continue into the future.
If you have any additional questions regarding GMOs, please feel free to reach out to me for more information. I’m here to help you live a healthy life today and the rest of your life.
Sean Torbati - PN Certified Nutritionist | EXOS Phase 3 Training Specialist
Co-Founder, Ambrosia Collective