And it seems as though no conclusive answers to our questions are in sight. The best any layman can do is learn what is known thus far and decide for oneself.
GMOs are genetically modified organisms – they’ve had their genomes altered through genetic engineering. In a lab, DNA from one organism is modified and then transferred into the DNA of another organism in order to produce desired traits. Used mostly in plants such as corn, soybeans, canola and wheat, two desired traits that are of particular value are drought tolerance and pest resistance. These desired traits help produce crops that are at less risk from the elements and require less care.
Two examples of genetically modified foods include:
- The Flavr Savr tomato. This more rot resistant tomato was made by a California company, Calgene.
- Roundup Ready soybeans were engineered to resist the weed killer, Roundup. When fields are sprayed, everything but the soybeans died.The controversies surrounding genetically modified foods focus on both human and environmental safety, and on labeling so people can have choice. No matter which side of the GMO issue you fall on, one has to admit that the ability to isolate a specific gene for a single trait is pretty cool science, at least.
While producing genetically modified foods sounds unnatural, science has continually led us to ongoing positive medical advancements that have helped people lead longer and healthier lives. Some of the current and future accomplishments in favor of genetically modified foods include being able to develop foods that have added nutrients, foods that contain vaccines, and faster growing foods. With growing world population and hunger still a global issue, the ability to feed the planet is key.
Because this is a relatively new science, there has not been thorough testing over time on both the human and environmental impact of genetically modified foods. Some of the worries include the unknown impact on other organisms such as soil, or in cross-pollination. Political issues include the worry that developing nations will become increasingly dependent on richer nations and large dominating companies. And one of the biggest dilemmas is of how to label these foods.
It is obvious that careful monitoring of the genetically modified food supply is needed to document both the positive and negative side effects, for there is the potential that GMOs can have much to offer in the future.