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The amount of people that are currently suffering from starvation and famine is not only troubling but is inhumane. Most of these families that are extremely malnourished and facing life-threatening conditions are located in areas of the world where the environment is harsh and growing food is a futile task. Food aid foundation reports that 1 in 7 people go hungry daily ('World Hunger Statistics,' n.d.). Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are a great solution to help fight this global crisis. However, lack of knowledge and misconception regarding GMOs has generated irrational fears among the general population.
This, in turn, has slowed down the process which could help, if not solve this epidemic our world is facing today. It is imperative that society as a whole understand what GMOs are and how they are created. We must also recognize that GMOs have been around for decades and have been consumed by people globally for generations and finally comprehend that GMO production is heavily regulated by government agencies to ensure the safety of its consumption.
A look back at the evolution of homo sapiens reveals that the need for convenience and ease has always been present. From the invention of the wheel to the electric-powered cars that are present today, the desire to better our living conditions has always been around. This desire is also apparent in agriculture history. As a molecular biologist, Karyl Haro Von Mogel states, 'Humans have been seeking ways to improve their crops and livestock for millennia' (Janabi, 2013, pp.
5). For centuries, humans have been breeding plants in order to increase its taste and nutritional content and reduced environmental stress (i.e., drought). However, it took several years and the trial and error method to produce desired results. Genetic engineering essentially is the exact same concept but is science-based making the process of modifying crops more precise and extremely time-efficient. Many advocates of GMO state that genetically modified food is another apparatus under our agriculture belt. 'Genetic engineering is one of the most recent tools, which allows us to more directly alter what we have been changing almost blindly for thousands of years' (Janabi, 2013, pp. 5). An interesting fact that most people may be unaware of is that there many produce items in our grocery stores which are man-made creation. Broccoli, for example, resulted from breeding wild cabbage plants, it did not exist in nature prior to its creation. This demonstrates that humans have been modifying the molecular structure of food for a very long time. Subsequently, the following question arises, why do GMOs have a prominent negative view if DNA modifications have been common practice? The first sensible answer is a lack of knowledge. A study conducted in 2017 which assessed the knowledge and understanding of GMOs among 500 adolescents concluded that the majority of the adolescents had no interest in the matter because they lacked understanding in this subject. Whereas only 1.6% (or 8 kids from the 500) of the adolescents had a keen knowledge of the issue (Lachowski, Jurkiewicz, Choina, & Florek-kuszczki, 2017). Another reason of negative views on GMOs can be attributed to pseudoscience. There have been many self-proclaimed scientists who were able to make a considerable amount of profit through fear-mongering over the use of GMOs. The book, 'The Lowdown on GMOs According to Science' states that opponents of GMOs intentionally spread myths throughout the world in an attempt to deter people from the use and consumption of GE crops. For example, in Africa, people were given false information to the locals that genetically modified foods from USA would render men impotent. Or in the Philippines, the public was deceitfully informed that if an individual walked through a field of GM corn it could change the sexual orientation of a heterosexual male into a homosexual (Lachowski, Jurkiewicz, Choina, & Florek-kuszczki, 2017). None of these claims hold any scientific accuracy and is an attempt to manipulate the less informed into conforming to ideas which only benefit a few individuals. The evidence of GMOs creating health risks to humans has never been established scientifically. 'In over 30 years of experience, according to authoritative sources such as the U.S. National Academies and the American Medical Association, there is not one documented case of harm to humans, animals or the environment from GM products. (Lachowski, Jurkiewicz, Choina, & Florek-kuszczki, 2017)
The first step in order to eliminate the spread of false information and misconceptions is by openly educating the general public on what exactly GMOs are and how are they created? The area of study which focuses on ways to artificially transform genetic material of all living organisms in order to create a new function for them or transform them completely is called Biotechnology (Fowler, Roush, & Wise, 2013). Scientists discovered a way to join together DNA segments from different organisms, this is known as recombinant DNA technology (rDNA). First, a section of the DNA is separated through restriction enzymes which will recognize the sequence of the DNA that needs to be cut. Once that gene is separated, it is added to plasmids. The plasmid is also cut using the same restriction enzyme. Next, the DNA fragment inserts itself into the plasmid. DNA ligase is also added to help connect the backbones of the DNA to the plasmid. This plasmid is then inserted into a bacteria which will replicate the intended gene. (Fowler, Roush, & Wise, 2013). Once the preferred gene is obtained it is then inserted into the organism which the researchers are trying to modify. The insertion of the new gene transforms the DNA structure of the organism. This method allowed scientists to develop GMO crops which carry traits that non-GMO crops do not possess. Characteristics such as disease resistance, herbicide and pest resistance, better nutritional values and better shelf life (Fowler, Roush, & Wise, 2013). Having crops that sustain such qualities is important when it comes to providing food for the part of the world where famine and starvation are prevalent. Most countries where famine and starvation are common are under extreme weather conditions which make it difficult for crops to grow. Fourat Janabi, author of Science, Statistics and Skepticism states 'Organic farming will not suffice for Sub-Saharan Africa they need heat-tolerant and drought-resistant seeds strains.' (Janabi, 2013, pp. 79). Crops that can withstand these weather conditions can be tremendously useful in feeding millions of people, especially those located in geographic areas where the weather conditions do not provide an optimal environment for growing food.
Genetically Modified foods have been around for decades, and many have been consuming these foods unknowingly for years. It is important to mention that another common misconception people hold is that our supermarkets are filled with genetically modified produce when in reality, there is only a handful of food that has been genetically modified. Some genetically engineered foods found in our supermarket are soybeans, cotton, canola, potatoes, papaya, alfalfa, squash, and sugar beets (Delaney, Goodman, & Ladics, 2017). A commonly grown crop in the US is Soybean and since 1996 it has been the most predominant transgenic crop in USA (Bonny, 2011). Another commonly grown GMO crop in the USA is corn. Farmers have been choosing to plant GMO crops for various reasons, but the biggest one seems to be the increase in profit and decrease in the amount of time and effort it takes in rearing crops. United States Department of Agriculture reported that GE crops when measured in acres, increased by 68% from 2000 to 2005 and 45% from 2005 to 2013 (Fernandez-Cornejo, Wechsler, Livingston, & Mitchell, 2014). Another reason why farmers have adopted GE crops is it allows for better management of time, facilitate other production practices and to reduce pesticide cost (Fernandez-Cornejo et al., 2014). Farmers have been selling these GE crops to the consumers for several years and these GE products have been consumed by us for a very long time. Thus far, there has not been a single legitimate case linking GMO foods to harmful effects on humans.
Even though many critics claim that GMO foods can cause numerous health risks, none of these claims have been proven. Time after time studies has concluded that GMOs have no correlation with health issues and are safe to consume. Biochemist Michael Simpson stated, 'There are literally dozens of peer-reviewed articles that show that GMO crops are safe' (Janabi, 2013, pp. 50). Not only are there many peer-reviewed articles which reassure the public that GMOs are safe to consume, but there are also many government agencies that regulate the GMO development and methods to make sure genetic engineering is practiced with the concern of public safety in mind. GMOs are very closely supervised by government agencies such as USDA, FDA, and EPA to certify that these genetically engineered foods are safe for human consumption and will not cause any threat to other plants or animals (Fowler, Roush, & Wise, 2013, pp. 621). These agencies require the developer of GMOs to verify that the toxin in their product is safe for the environment as well as consumption. The more research that is being done on this topic, the more it becomes clear, that GMOs are not only safe to consume but are needed in the world today.
In conclusion, our society must be thoroughly educated on what GMOs are, why they are needed and how GE crops are created. We must also understand that GMOs pose no threat to human health and many government agencies are involved in this process to ensure that GMOs are safe to consume. It is time we realize that the wide array of misconceptions regarding GMOs arise from fearmongers, and individuals who manipulate facts to serve their personal agenda. We must appreciate and value GMOs resilient characteristics against extreme weather conditions, which make them an optimal solution to the increasing world food demands in all geographic areas. Finally, GMOs have been consumed for several years and it has been concluded that there is no correlation between the consumption of GMOs and harmful effects to humans. It is time to let go of these inaccurate beliefs and understand that the benefits of GMOs clearly outweigh the concerns of uninformed and unverified sources. By raising awareness and providing enough resources to the general public the misconceptions and negative views on GMOs can change and the world can abundantly benefit from its use.
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