A genetically modified organisms (GMO) is made by splicing the DNA of one organism with the DNA of another organism. GMOs are used for food, fuel, humans, animals, insects and aquatic life. Though introduced decades ago, in the late 1990s, the debate still rages about whether the benefits of GM organisms outweigh their detriments. As recently as early December 2014, scientists squared off in such a debate at Intelligence Squared U. S. in New York City.
Proponents of GMO crops argue that they battle crop diseases, resist the negative effects of herbicides, enrich flavor, repel crop pests, increase crop yields, aid nutrition and replace fossil fuels with biofuels. In fact, the U. S. federal government has approved genetic modifications of more than 10 plants, though most GM crops in the U. S. consist of corn, sugar beets, soybeans, canola, cotton and animal feed. Even those limited types of crops account for a significant percentage of U. S. farming: according to the USDA, about 50% of U. S. cropland was planted with GMOs last year.
Opponents of GMO organisms do not necessarily agree on all the arguments against GMOs: some oppose the very idea of genetic engineering while oppose the ways in which GMOs are being developed and used. They combine to create a laundry list of arguments against GMOs. First, though proponents, including the government, insist GMOs are safe, opponents claim that some combinations could be unsafe: we know of an instance in Brazil in which use of GMO food had to be discontinued due to allergic reactions in people who were allergic to the “donor” food but did not know its DNA had been spliced in. Secondly, opponents point to the current lack of long-term research that could tell us whether GMOs are harmful over generations. The lack of long-term research is particularly troubling, as GMOs now contaminate other crops through “genetic trespass,” in which GMO seeds and spores are transported by wind, water, harvesters, insects, etc. We know this is so because approximately 80% of U. S. Midwest organic farmers have reported damages from genetic trespass. Lack of long-term research is also troubling because there is currently no regulation requiring labeling of GMOs: we probably eat GMOs every day without knowing it and without the benefits of long-term research. The lack of long-term research also means we do not know the eventual effects of GMOs on the environment. Finally, tearing a page out of futurist novel, opponents are concerned that the relatively few companies creating GMOs (Monsanto leaps to mind) will have too much control over our supplies of food and fuel.
Despite genuine concerns over present state of GMOs and despite urging from some scientists and environmental advocates for long-term research and labeling, the uses of GMOs continue to expand as is.
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