Genetically Modified Organisms A synopsis on the advantages and disadvantages of their use in agriculture by Jacob Sparks
What is a GMO? Genetically modified organisms (abbreviated GMO) are plants and animals whose genetic material has been altered through the use of genetic engineering techniques. Genetic engineering is the scientific manipulation of genetic material. In the case of agriculture, genetic engineering is used to provide plants and animals with certain agriculturally beneficial characteristics.
Origin of GMOs Genetic engineering first began in 1973 when two scientists cut a section of DNA from bacteria and inserted it into an entirely different strand of DNA. However, the first genetic engineering of agricultural products did not begin until 1986 when genetically modified tobacco was tested in Belgium. Genetically modified tomatoes were approved for commercial production in 1992 and were deemed “not inherently dangerous” by the FDA. GMOs eventually became approved in the European Union and became more wide spread throughout the world as time passed.
Why are Plants Genetically Modified? The main purpose of GMOs from an agricultural standpoint is to increase the durability of crops. This is done through inserting genes into plants, such as Bacillus Thuringiensis (BT), that makes plants resistant to insects. Other genes are also inserted into crops that cause virus resistance and herbicide tolerance (resistance to weeds and other harmful plants). The increased durability of crops results in less crops being destroyed, thus causing greater food production and lower food prices. Squash, corn, potatoes, and soybeans are examples of crops that are often genetically modified. BT Corn
Why are Animals Genetically Modified? Animals are genetically modified because they are perceived to have some economic benefit to both farmers and everyday people. For example, animals raised for the products they produce are genetically modified to make more of that product. For example, sheep are genetically modified to grow more wool. Pigs and cows are genetically modified to have more meat on them. Experimentation is also occurring to produce disease resistant animals such as pigs resistant to the influenza Genetically Modified Cow virus.
How Common are GMO Foods? Surprisingly, approximately 80% of packaged grocery foods in the United States and Canada are genetically modified in some way. Common genetically engineered foods in the US include corn, soybeans, canola, cotton, beets, papaya, squash, and zucchini. Though most animals in US agriculture aren’t genetically engineered, most are raised eating genetically engineered grains.
Land Dedicated to Genetically Modified Crops by Country
Advantages and Disadvantages of GMOs Advantages DisadvantagesHigher yield of crops due to less crops GMO foods don’t taste as natural as non GMOdamaged by insects and disease foodsLess pesticides need to be purchased and Some organisms (such as butterflies andused, causing more economically productive bees)farmers and less pollution are harmed by pesticides in GMO foodsFood production increased, causing Labeling GMO foods causes additionaldecreasing starvation in LDCs expenses in processing and labelingAdded nutritional value in food due to Possible cross pollination of GMO foods withincorporating additional vitamins into crops non GMO foods result in the inability to track GMOsSmell of GMO foods are often enhanced Insects can possibly evolve to be resistant to insect resistant GMO cropsGMO foods do not need as fertile land as Cross pollination of GMO crops with weedsnatural foods in order to grow could result in “super weeds”Less additives are needed to keep GMO foods New allergies could develop to GMO foodsfreshGMO crops are less likely to get sicknesses Possible health complications could arise due to unknown long term affects of GMO foodsGMO crops that freeze less in the winter can GMO crops sometimes fail like normal cropsbe produced (genetically modified cotton has failed in India)