The Controversy Behind Genetically Modified Organisms

Contributor:  Dania Baraka

Genetically modified organisms is a rapidly developing and changing field in the technology and science sectors as well as in the business world. There has been a dialogue surrounding GMOs, but it’s not entirely positive. Most people are vaguely familiar with GMOs but are not exactly sure what they are and are therefore skeptical. GMOs are defined by the World Health Organization as, “organisms (i.e. plants, animals or microorganisms) in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination…It allows selected individual genes to be transferred from one organism into another, also between non-related species.” The concept of “unnatural DNA” is what makes people quite wary of GMOs. People view this as a concern since, in theory, all of the produce in the world should provide us with the nutrients we need. While that is true, that’s not the case for many people in the world, especially those who live in third world countries where they do not have the same access to the same produce that people living in first world countries. GMOs have the potential to revolutionize and possibly help alleviate some of the current problems facing food disparities.

There are many reasons why GMOs are currently an active area of research. There are many benefits (and drawbacks) to the mass commercialization of GMOs in the food industry. GMOs in food can help extend their shelf life or add more nutritional value where there is very little or none. In the farming industry, crops with a higher tolerance to pesticides are in high demand in order to yield a larger crop. In the world of social justice and third world country development, Vitamin A deficiency is rampant in many countries. A lot of people living in Eastern Asia are highly susceptible to Vitamin A deficiency. There has been recent developments in GMOs where rice, a major food staple in the eastern Asian countries, has been modified to become more nutritious. Rice, which makes up the majority of the calories of an individual living in these parts of the world, has very little nutritional value. Developers have actually taken white rice and manipulated it to contain Vitamin A in order to help address the lack of Vitamin A in the average diet. The rice is aptly named Golden Rice, a coloring it receives from the Beta Carotene put inside the rice. There have been many praises and controversies over this special variety of rice – is this just another way for a small handful of corporations to receive billions in dollars from selling this, or is it really to help the eradicate malnutrition in some of the world’s poorest areas? Some say the rice is only here to help further what future goals lie ahead in the world of recombinant DNA technology, while others argue that the rice is more expensive and does not replace the need for quality education about food and nutrition.

GMOs in food, unlike normal diets, are regulated and upheld to certain standards in order to ensure the health of the consumer. The World Health Organization states that “the safety assessment of GM foods generally focuses on: (a) direct health effects (toxicity), (b) potential to provoke allergic reaction (allergenicity); (c) specific components thought to have nutritional or toxic properties; (d) the stability of the inserted gene; (e) nutritional effects associated with genetic modification; and (f) any unintended effects which could result from the gene insertion.” GM foods are studied and tested on a case to case basis to ensure that what is being put out on the markets is in fact safe for consumer use.

GMOs are still an active area of research and there are high hopes for their potential to benefit the lives of thousands of people who suffer from Vitamin A deficiency, resulting in blindness, premature deaths and a multitude of other serious health problems. What is your stance on genetically modified foods? Let us know in the comments below!

References

"Frequently Asked Questions on Genetically Modified Foods." World Health Organization. World Health Organization, n.d. Web. 24 Mar. 2016. <http://www.who.int/foodsafety/areas_work/food-technology/faq-genetically-modified-food/en/>.

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