Despite fearmongering, GMOs are the key to a healthy & sustainable future

nathan signed ed
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A lot of plant-based foods at the grocery store are labeled ‘non-GMO’—as if genetically modified crops should be avoided. In reality, we ought to embrace the technology. 
 
Genetic modification to our food is as old as agriculture itself. When humans began domesticating plants, we used selective breeding to enhance desired traits. This meant greater crop yields and bigger, tastier fruits and vegetables. 
 
With the discovery of the DNA double helix in 1953, it eventually became possible to directly transfer favourable genes from one species to another. Naturally, this has dramatically expanded the scope of what we can do when compared to traditional methods of selective breeding. 
 
For example, in the 1990s, the ringspot virus was wiping out papayas. Researchers used a gene gun containing tungsten beads coated with DNA from the viral coat and shot them into the papaya’s nuclei, incorporating the viral gene into the plant’s genome. As a result, papayas became resistant to the ringspot virus. 
 
Despite this remarkable achievement, the public perception of genetically engineered food is negative. According to the PEW Research Center, 51 per cent of Americans think it’s unsafe to eat genetically modified foods based on a 2019 survey. 
 
The Non-GMO Project, which is responsible for all those labels on our food, argues consumers should have an informed choice about what they buy. But widespread anti-GMO sentiments are based on superstition, not facts.
 
Those who vehemently oppose GMOs claim our food is injected with viral particles and bacteria which are harmful to human health. In the most common genetically modified crop, corn, a gene from an insect-killing bacterium is inserted. This allows the corn to produce a protein that kills insects but is harmless to humans, negating farmers’ need to spray potentially harmful insecticides on their crops.
 
There are plenty of substances that are deadly to one species but not another. Caffeine is a naturally-produced insecticide, but is consumed and enjoyed by humans every day.
 
In the 30 years we’ve been using GMOs, no one has found any evidence they’re harmful to human health. On the contrary, GMOs can even be used to produce crops with higher vitamin and nutrient content, which will improve our health. 
 
Moreover, GMOs are essential to meeting the food demands of a growing population while minimizing the negative effects of agriculture on climate change. By engineering crops that need less water, we can create drought-resistant food sources at a time when droughts are becoming more frequent.
 
In addition, it may be possible to produce crops with a much greater yield so we can continue using farmland we already have and avoid clearing forests to create more. 
 
Next time you see the label ‘non-GMO’ on packaging at the grocery store, don’t celebrate it.  There’s no reason to shy away from a revolutionary technology that stands to aid us in the fight against climate change while improving human health. 
 
Nathan is a fourth-year English student and The Journal’s Arts Editor.
 

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