The Future Is Now Thanks to Genetically Modified Foods

The world population has more than tripled since the 20th century, reaching a staggering number of 7.4 billion people. To feed this exponentially growing population, agriculture has to be scaled up to sustaining levels. However, resource constraints have forced scientists to explore methods such as Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in order to yield more crops.

According to the World Health Organization(WHO) GM foods are “foods derived from organisms whose genetic material has been modified in a way that does not occur naturally”. 

Application of GM Foods

A study from Iowa State university found that Bacillus thuringiensis GM crops returned 160.4 bushels which was higher than non-Bt GM crops with only 147.7 bushels. The increase of plants was due to the GM crops being able to protect themselves from an adverse effects of insects and other pesticides. With an increase yield in crops, GM crops prove to be part of a solution to yielding more crops.

Environmental science and biology teacher Andrew Goldenkranz feels the GMFs have many positive benefits and specifically cites an example of enhanced Vitamin A retention in Golden Rice.  

“One of the best examples has been a case involving Golden Rice. So in developing countries you have a high incidence of vitamin A deficiency related blindness,” Goldenkranz said. “The scientific community has engineered a strain of rice that has vitamin A embedded right into it…instead of having to take vitamin A supplements and it works. ”

In developing countries people often suffer from malnutrition due to lack of resources and one in particular is of vitamin A deficiency which can, as Goldenkranz mentioned, causes blindness.

The name golden rice comes from the amount of β-carotene the rice has: the more it has the more yellow the rice will look. Golden Rice often seems to be “one of the best examples” due to it’s affordability in terms of distribution, manufacturing and high retention of vitamin A.

Another application of reducing the malnourishment in developing countries has been through high-iron rice. The International Rice Research Institute(IRRI) is currently researching a way to genetically modify the endosperm, the edible part of the rice after harvested, to have more iron retention. If succeeded, this crop will have the added benefit of higher zinc as well.

In developing countries rice provides a majority of the food that people eat, and most people only eat polished white grains which do not retain much iron. The potential increase in iron and zinc retention is one of the many cases that are being researched for those countries.

Ethical Implications

GM Foods have helped increase food production since the the mid-1990s; however, there has been ample debate among public and scientific communities regarding the benefits and ethical issues surrounding GMFs.

Many scientists believe that there is a serious lack of data that can prove that GM Foods are safe for consumers. They also argue that the genetic recombination may not be controlled, and therefore not intended for genetic modification may also get affected.

Others say that genetic modification points to a myriad of possibilities in terms of  increasing flavor retention and crop production, helping developing countries and strengthening disease resistance.

Junior Aditi Gnanasekar debated on the topic of the GMO’s and offered her own perspective on GM Foods in common occurrence.

“Whenever I think of GMO’s I associate GMO’s with chemicals and things that are not good for organisms,” Gnanasekar said.

Junior Sarin Gole who is currently taking AP Biology tells a similar insight as to the norm perception on GM Foods.

“They connote GM Foods with foods that are chemically modified and are bad for you,” Gole said.

The view that GM Foods are bad isn’t that uncommon. According to a poll conducted by ABC News about 52 percent of people believe that GM Foods are unsafe to eat with 13 percent who are unsure on the topic. Another poll indicated that 57 percent of people would be less likely to purchase foods that were labeled Genetically modified.

A lot people may correlate GM Foods with not only being harmful for health, but also suggest that they lead to diseases. However there has been no correlation between GM Foods and viral infections.  There has even been substantial scientific evidence that indicates that, GM Foods are safe to eat.

Another worry that people have is that the use of genetic modification on plants will reduce the biodiversity. A recent study on the GM crop transgenic wheat suggested that there was little difference in the bacterial diversity in the soil.

Scientists throughout the world are realizing that although food production has never been higher, the amount of hunger has also never been as enormous. With an expanding population, scientists are trying find new applications for GM foods that will hopefully hold promise. But, with controversies surrounding GM Foods, it may take longer than it already seems to be.