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Using Science For Bad...Where Do We Draw The Line On GMO's

By Nichole Fabbro

25 July, 2013

Genetically modified crops once seemed like a dream come true for agriculture. Plants that resist pests without needing to be sprayed by pesticides, which can resist drought and disease, could have resolved significant problems with economic stability for farmers and food insecurity. However, the reality of genetically modified organisms (known as GMO), is proving to be more of a nightmare. 

The problems with GMO crops are both biological and economic in nature. GMO crops are often hardier than their non-modified cousins, and are often used in large-scale agriculture. Seeds for GMO crops are developed by large corporations, who use strong-arm tactics to oblige farmers to use their seeds, and sue farmers whose crops have been cross-pollinated by GMO crops, even unintentionally. 

With such widespread use of GMO seeds, within a few growing seasons, GMO crops can reduce biodiversity of its species. Species that have low biodiversity, where variety is limited and most members are closely related to each other, are especially prone to disease as there are few members that have the genes to resist infection. With low biodiversity, a single disease can decimate global supplies of a crop. The economic security of a hardy crop and the promise of plentiful food can be undone with a single pathogen.

GMO crops include global staples such as rice, corn, potatoes and wheat. They include crops with food, cosmetic and industrial uses, such as soybeans and rapeseed, from which canola oil are derived. Alfalfa is used in animal feed, and with large-scale agriculture offering feed instead of pasture raising makes raising large animals efficient and affordable. Cotton is also grown with GMO seeds. The near-ubiquity of crops grown with GMO seeds means that if a GMO crop should fail, global markets could go into a tailspin with the loss of a staple crop.

GMO crops also disturb the balance with creatures that form part of the ecosystem with their non-modified varieties. These crops can be designed to give off pesticides, and this, like most aspects of GMO crops, seems appealing. But GMO crops that excrete pesticides also kill beneficial and harmless insects. This can jeopardize pollination, and disturbs the ecological balance that keeps other plants and animals healthy. Pests that were kept in check by the pests targeted by the GMO produced pesticide can grow to unmanageable numbers, prompting greater use of pesticides, which GMO crops were developed to avoid. Pests can also evolve to resist the pesticides, meaning that GMO crops must be regularly re-modified to keep up with evolving creatures. This means increased prices for farmers, who traditionally grow new crops from the seeds produced by the previous crop. This can also cause an increase in food prices, and drive some farmers out of business. 

The loss of biodiversity and the threat GMO crops pose to beneficial or harmless insects has prompted campaigns to either ban GMO crops, or require their labeling. Consumers interested in helping preserve biodiversity can then avoid purchasing items produced with GMO crops, and choose products that do not use GMO crops, which several companies offer. In addition to the concerns for the future of the crops and the insects which pollinate the crops, there is also a growing concern for the effects that the food has on the human race. Scientists are beginning to see that these genetically modified food sources can also cause some cancers and diseases which is the reason a high percentage of people who have been exposed to these chemicals will become familiar with the site of nursing scrubs. Protecting the lives of people exposed to these crops, should be of highest concern in these matters.

There are methods of breeding more hardy crops that do not entail the same risks of genetic modification. Farmers have bred crops more resistant to drought, disease, and other adverse factors for centuries. While these traditional methods are not perfect, they have a lesser potential impact on global biodiversity, entail less risk for disease, and do not pose a significant hardship on small-scale agriculture.  

Nichole Fabbro is an avid writer who enjoys writing on topics of Technology, Environmental issues, and News topics of interest. Her top interests are food labeling, recycling and human rights.





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