By Romaric Moncrieffe
Genetically modified organisms. Just the name itself sounds scary. Something with a title that long can’t possibly be good for you. It’s too unwieldy, too science-y, and too unnatural to be beneficial. “Organic” on the other hand… that just rolls off the tongue. Everyone knows that organic foods are awesome right?
What If I said genetically modified foods are actually better for you than most of their organic counterparts? Would you believe me?
But I swear to you, it’s the truth. However, before you can understand why, you must first understand what a GMO really is and why the media purposely chooses to portray it in a negative fashion.
A GMO is an organism who’s DNA has been modified an exhibit a particular trait. Usually this is done in laboratories and it takes only a few hours to extract the target DNA. However, farmers have been doing this for generations by selecting their best crops and breeding only these crops together. There are currently seven billion people on the planet. We simply do not have the resources to keep farming in the traditional fashion[i]. Genetic Modification increases the efficiency of what we plant, enabling us to gain more from less. Nothing about the process is malicious, and there are no negative effects from consuming a genetically modified organism. In fact, many foods, such as rice or soybeans become better for us as a result of the process. Rice, the most commonly consumed food on the planet, is naturally unable to provide Vitamin A. Golden Rice, the genetically modified version of white rice, is infused with the gene that produces Vitamin A. This enables those populations suffering from extreme poverty to obtain their daily necessary nutrients through only one food source.
However, even though there are dozens[ii] of studies[iii] emphasizing the safety of GMOs, the public opinion in developed countries is still one of apprehension. This apprehension is caused by a mix of three factors: the media, large monopolies and consumer apprehension[iv].
The media is a huge factor in public opinion. It is a large factor in our everyday decisions, from what we wear to who we elect. Genetic modification, from the media’s prospective, is a tough sell. The phrase already has such a strong negative connotation attached to it that selling the idea to the public would be a lot harder than selling the idea of something which already has a positive connotation to it such as “organic.” The word organic, unlike the phrase “genetic modification,” leaves a very positive impression in your mind. When I think of organic, I think of hippies growing animals in a loving farm of happiness. Even though the reality is that organic crops and genetically modified crops are often grown on the exact same farms[v], I am still loathe to lose my positive impression of the organic growing process. The media chooses to exploit this consumer ignorance in order gain more sales. Companies often just have to mention the word “organic” in their commercials in order enhance sales of their product. This ensures that the cycle of organic sponsoring continues and keeps the cash flowing, thereby decreasing the appeal of intrusions into the market.
The only way around this cycle is government intervention. While smaller, independent companies do not wield the influence necessary to sway government interest, large companies such as Monsanto are able to successfully lobby for funding. However, these monopolies have a tendency to use underhanded and immoral methods to explore their research, and because of their influence they are unable to be prosecuted for these methods. This serves to keep the negative connotation associated with genetic modification alive and also limits the research of it to select corporations.
So what are your take-home messages?
- Genetic Modification is a highly beneficial process that enables us to maximize crop and nutrient output across the globe. There are millions of people who are able to survive as a direct result of genetic modification, as they are able to obtain a wide variety of nutrients from a single resource.
- It has been supported through intensive scientific research that eating a GMO has no negative side effects on an individual. Any ill effect associated with eating a GMO has no scientific evidence behind it and is based purely on hearsay. In fact, research also suggests that “eating organic” and eating GMOs both have the same effect.
- Genetic modification isn’t the problem. The problem is large monopolies such as Monsanto which dominate the market and destroy any competition because of their immense political influence.
Articles for further reading:
[i] Black, Robert E., Lindsay H. Allen, Zulfiqar A. Bhutta, Laura E. Caulfield, Mercedes De Onis, Majid Ezzati, Colin Mathers, and Juan Rivera. “Maternal and child undernutrition: Global and regional exposures and health consequences.” The Lancet 371 (2008): 243-60.
[ii] Eede, G. “The relevance of gene transfer to the safety of food and feed derived from genetically modified (GM) plants.” Food and Chemical Toxicology 42 (2004): 1127-156.
[iii] Pusztai, Arpad. “Genetically Modified Foods: Are They a Risk to Human/Animal Health?” (ActionBioscience). 3 Apr. 2013 http://www.actionbioscience.org/biotech/pusztai.html
[iv] Paarlberg, R. “The real threat to GM crops in poor countries: Consumer and policy resistance to GM foods in rich countries.” Food Policy 27 (2002): 247-50.
[v] Thottam, Jyoti. “When Organic Isn’t Really Organic.” Time 14 Mar. 2007. 2 Apr. 2013 <http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1599110,00.html>.
A student of George Mason University, Romaric is a somewhat easily distracted, slightly eccentric fellow followed by an aura of luck. Let’s just say he is as likely to get lost following a butterfly as he is winning at the lottery. A Biology and Ecology major, he takes this eccentric attitude and puts it to work studying the mysteries of life. Romaric has an intense fascination with science and random articles found on the internet. As a matter of fact, the random article he recommends for today is this.