Research Essay- Alpacaqueen

A New Light On GMOs

In this day in age, it’s ironic how concerned people are becoming about the food they consume despite how little they actually know about it. In Claire Morris’ article, “Public Views on GMOs: deconstructing the myths,” it even states, “70% of the population thinks that ordinary tomatoes do not contain genes, whereas genetically engineered tomatoes do.” If that quote doesn’t speak for itself concerning this epidemic than I don’t know what does. For years we’ve been faced with essentially two options when shopping for produce in the supermarket: organic or non-organic. Although many people swear by their strict organic diet, it seems that the public has been shielded from what else is out there. Currently hundreds of breakthroughs are being made in the field of food technology. While it may not be the precious “organic” label we’re used to, it’s a significantly better option. If  society begins to adopt this new mindset and supermarkets incorporate more products alternatively produced through food technology into stores, it will prove to benefit the producer, consumer and the environment.

One of the greatest difficulties in defining a term such as “organic” is that it has become a very loose, broad term. So loose, in fact, that the FDA doesn’t even regulate the term “organic” in food labels. This is instead placed in the hands of the USDA, and foods deemed organic still must comply with the standards of both the FDA and the USDA, which essentially state in the USDA’s website, “Organic operations must demonstrate that they are protecting natural resources, conserving biodiversity, and using only approved substance.” Although these requirements may seem promising, there are a lot of ways in which these organic standards aren’t as promising as they seem.

The term “non-organic” can be just as vague. As far as we’re concerned, “non-organic” could be anything from an organic carrot that just missed the mark for being labeled organic to a box of poptarts. There are so many ways in which produce is being engineered in so many different ways, so theres is no reason the labels shouldn’t keep up too.

One common misconception with organic food is that it is significantly healthier for humans. This is not proven to be true. In many instances, although organic food contains less pesticides than non-organic foods, the amount of pesticides have not proven to cause any difference in health among people. As explained by Max Whitmore in his article, “Advantages and Disadvantages of Organic Food”, one study done over a forty five year period concluded, “After reviewing 17 human studies and 223 studies of nutrient and contaminant levels in foods, researchers found little evidence pointing to superior health benefits in organic foods versus conventional foods.” This is just one of the many studies conducted proving in many instances, people are of equal health regardless of whether they eat organic or non-organic. Unfortunately, people have become so quick to judge things such as GMOs or anything that is not dubbed as organic that they completely disregard these possible benefits. In the article, Organics versus GMO: Why the debate?,” Robert Wager discusses this.

“According to the World Health Organization, 250,000 to 500,000 children in the developing world go blind each year due to vitamin A deficiency, half of whom die within a year. 250 million preschool children, mainly in urban slums, suffer from this deficiency. In all, 2-3 million people die from vitamin A deficiency-related diseases every year.”

In response to this terrible epidemic, researchers produced a genetically modified crop, “golden rice”. This crop not only promised to prevent blindness and build up the immune system, but was readily available to ship to the children in need. Unfortunately the environmental organization Greenpeace banned the distribution of this rice without looking into any information on it and simply stated it was on account of the fact that it might cause “environmental and health risks.” It is wrongful that one-sided anti GMO groups turn a blind eye to these situations when millions of people are falling victim to an illness that could be alleviated by a safely modified crop. It often seems as if organic activists cherry-pick the science behind their pro-organic reasoning, while ignoring the wealth of science that supports genetically modified organisms.

As a result of all this discrimination about food being enhanced through biotechnology, people fail to see the countless other options just waiting to be adopted by the food industry. When I say organic foods should be eliminated from stores across the nation, I don’t want to completely annihilate all sense of organic foods, but rather modify and enhance the label itself and introduce people to the variety of new, exciting and better options out there. Allison Aubrey from her article, Why Organic Food May Not Be Healthier For You,” discusses how scientists are “measuring nutrient levels in all kinds of crops…such as super-nutritious microgreens. They’re trying to breed new varieties of crops that yield not a bigger harvest but a more nutrient-rich harvest.” She suggests that instead of labeling food as simply “organic” or “nonorganic” perhaps food will be classified by the amount of nutrients they contain. For example, one company named Foodini is revolutionizing the food business by creating a machine that allows you to put in ingredients you pick and create your own food, such as chicken nuggets. In her article, “Six Technologies That Could Shake the Food World,” Annie Gasparro discusses this process.

“Parents can let their children pick a shape like dinosaurs or stars, and the Foodini will print—and cook—chicken nuggets in that form. Machines also plan to have inputs for fat and calorie content that will adjust the size of the nuggets or cookies that come out.”

This allows people to really take control of and customize their own food to suit their needs. Besides touching on human health, food technologies are also being put to use to benefit the environment. When any given food begins to make people sick at a large scale, every once of it is tossed away. Now, researchers have discovered a new concept: edible barcodes. Later in the article Gasparro explains this stating, “Applied to food, the bar codes are invisible, tasteless and safe to eat. Created by combining segments of seaweed DNA into a unique signature, the bar codes can be applied to a single food item like an apple or a silo full of wheat used in flour.” Because of this, tainted food can quickly and easily be traced back to the source of the issue, saving massive quantities of food that would otherwise be thrown away. In an article from Crop Life International, “5 Big Biotech Breakthroughs,” one of the ways in which food is being preserved is through producing drought-resistant crops in areas that face long periods without rainfall. As the article explains, scientists “hope to plant the biotech maize in 2017, as a recent study from the International Food Policy Research Institute estimated drought-tolerant maize could raise yields by 17% in East Africa during severe droughts in 2050.” Not only will this safe alternative save the farmers from disposing of wasted dried crops, but produce an even greater abundance than ever before.

These breakthroughs have, and continue to, prove as effective alternatives to keep up with the ever growing issues correlated to today’s food industry. As these problems begin to grow and evolve, the ways in which we safely modify our food should to. Hopefully in the future, there will be no clear cut “organic” labels but rather an abundance of other healthy alternatives all brought to life through genetic and technological means. This process can only be expedited through the support of consumers and industries willing to set aside their old biases and take a look at the breakthroughs being made in the food technology industry.

As mentioned previously, one major category that advancements in food biotechnology affect are the producer, or in this case, the farmers and researchers. In many ways, these new inventions and methods for farming are dramatically changing the game, and for the better.

With the adoption of such technologies, farmers’ jobs become less time consuming and more productive. Instead of having to weed through thousands upon thousands of crops, many fruits and vegetables are being genetically modified to build up resistance to soils with toxins or poor fertility, saving farmers time and money.

In a piece by Purdue University, the paper explains how crops are being developed that “utilize nitrogen or water more efficiently, which allows them to produce food and fiber with less applied fertilizer and irrigation – an advance that could not only reduce production costs, but could also improve water quality.” Speaking of saving farmers money, the paper continues with the statement,

Abdalla et al. (2003) predict the full global adoption of biotech crops would result in income gains of $210 billion per year for farmers – and that some of the greatest gains are expected to occur in developing countries.

This is a substantial amount of savings. We aren’t talking a few tens of millions, we’re estimating $210 billion dollars PER YEAR. If more of the world were to adopt these biologically enhanced crops, it would reduce costs dramatically, not only for its producers in our own country, but also developing nations who struggle with coming up with the funds to sustain a sufficient yield.

Endorsement of these biotech crops and technology certainly have a positive effect on the consumers as well. Many companies are utilizing 3-D printing to produce food like never before. One company, Modern Meadow, has already used a type of bioprinting to form leather from taking a small portion of the product in its final state, forming samples of collagen from the animal, and using technology to assist the collagen in growing into a state of hide. CEO of Modern Meadow, Andras Forgacs and his team were able to form “skin models” of fully functioning organs such as livers and kidneys through 3-D biotech printing. Forgacs is working towards using this technology to create produce, which could completely revolutionize the meat industry.

Food printing technology is even being accepted by specialty consumers with great purpose. NASA is utilizing printing technology to produce foods, such as pizza, for astronauts to make during space exploration.

Crop biotechnology is being used to reduce health risks among humans as well. Many plants and vegetables are being engineered to give its consumers greater nutritional value and decreased disease risks. As author Theresa Phillips explains in her article, “5 Ways Food Biotechnology Has Changed the World,”  “…the (once lowly) soybean has been developed to produce more stearic acid, thus improving the heat stability of the oil, to match the properties of trans-hydrogenated fatty acids.” Reduction of these fatty acids prevent less risk in clogging the arteries.

These new foods are fighting to take down more illnesses than one. We’d all prefer tomatoes that can be “bred to produce higher amounts of lycopene”, a compound which could in turn prevent things such as high cholesterol, heart attacks, and even some types of cancer.

In developing nations that struggle with sourcing fresh water, engineers are introducing technologies to test its purity. Philips explains this as well in her article, as it states, “Cryptosporidium parvum (Crypto), is a water-borne pathogen that produces spores, making it difficult to remove by boiling or chemical treatments.” Fortunately, scientists are currently working to introduce certain antibodies that help to detect these impurities.

It doesn’t stop there. Food biotechnology has a great effect on our environment as well. With so much of our planet’s land being used up more and more each day, one farm in London formed a new solution by producing crops from a farm built in abandoned underground tunnels, called a hydroponic farm. These types of farms grow food without soil and instead use a water solution packed with nutrients.

Additionally, Exxon Mobil recently engineered a strain of algae that is able to produce massive amounts of oil. What does this mean for the environment? A new and promising (and sustainable) source of biofuel. As the article from Exxon Mobil explains, “Algae has other advantages over traditional biofuels because it can grow in salt water and thrive in harsh environmental conditions, therefore limiting stress on food and fresh water supplies.” While many jump to assume genetically engineered food and food technologies are set to destroy the planet, it may just be one of the last approaches in saving it.

The world of food biotechnology isn’t here to hurt us. It isn’t here to shove hundreds of toxic chemicals into our produce. It’s here to transform the food industry as we know it for the better, and keep up with the ever-evolving and ever-growing demands of the world, and positively reshape the needs of its producers, consumers, and environment.

As stated earlier, a majority of non-GMO bias simply comes from people’s lack of understanding on the subject. Evidence points to the fact that adults who are educated about genetically-modified foods (GMOs) not only accept their safety but consume them without hesitation. In fact, based on a 2018 Pew Research Poll, 65% of respondents who eat a fair amount of GMO food report that they have read a great deal on the subject and feel well-informed. Those who admit ignorance about GMOs, on the other hand, fear and avoid themAmong GMO-abstainers, many of whom admit to having “health concerns” about the products, a whopping 75% also admit they have read nothing about genetic modification or GMO foods. In another poll conducted by the New York Times, they asked people on Facebook about their opinion on gm foods, their results as follows:

Would you buy food with genetically modified ingredients if you knew they were in there?

Yes: 48

No: 429

Maybe: 19

Need More Information: 24

This survey revealed that 82.5% of people would not purchase foods if they knew they contained gm ingredients. Considering approximately three-fourths of foods in supermarkets are GMO, you may have a hard time getting around them, and have probably already purchased countless gm products without knowing so. Do not fear, however, this doesn’t mean you’ve killed the planet or will turn ill overnight.

Clearly, a large majority of people who reject biotech foods are so against them because they believe they pose a health risk to themselves or the animals consuming them. This is simply not the case. Thousands of studies have been done researching the long term effects of eating GMO versus organic foods, and many, if not all, of the results conclude that the subjects’ health were unaffected in either circumstance. As for animals, the same rings true. Researchers at the University of California looked at the health of over 100 billion animals after switching their diet from non-GMO to GMO and found no difference in their health. Many people believe that since non-organic foods are sprayed with pesticides, we’ll contract disease if we consume them. Also untrue. If anything, genetically modified foods are actually better for your health than organic. Many crops are being engineered to provide health benefits such as increased nutrient levels or aid in disease resistance. In one article by The Food Dialogues, they elaborate on this stating, “Today we have GMO soybean seeds that produce healthier soybean oils, eliminating trans fats and containing increased levels of Omega 3. Tomorrow we hope to have bananas in Uganda  that have up to six times as much Vitamin A.” Some scientists are even working to develop foods infused with antioxidants that could prevent cancer. If anything, we should be greeting biotech foods with open arms, not turning against them.

As for the environment, don’t place the devil horns on gm crops for this issue either. Contrary to popular belief, genetically modified foods are working to help the environment, not hurt it. GMOs require a much smaller amount of land to farm than organic, produce a greater yield on top of it and requiring much less water consumption. In one article by “GMOanswers” the piece explained, “Between 1996 and 2015, crop biotechnology was responsible for an additional 180.3 million tons of soybeans, 357.7 million tons of corn, 25.2 million tons of cotton lint and 10.6 million tons of canola, without having to bring more land into production. To produce the same amount of crops without GM technology, farmers would have needed to cultivate 48 million additional acres of land.” Many crops are even engineered to become drought resistance, not only saving water, but helping foods grow in countries where lack of rainfall posed as a critical issue.

Although many believe with the production of all that food must come thousands of pesticides killing the planet, it simply isn’t true. Many believe that GMOs simply aren’t worth all the use of herbicides, as the NonGMO Project objects “More than 80% of all genetically modified crops grown worldwide have been engineered for herbicide tolerance. As a result, the use of toxic herbicides, such as Roundup®, has increased fifteenfold since GMOs were first introduced.” However, Brooke Borel explains in her article “The Pros and Cons of Herbicide-Tolerant GMOs” how with this Roundup system, “farmers could stop tilling, which prevented the associated environmental pitfalls.” Tilling actually causes a great deal of harm to the environment in many ways, from polluting waterways to killing nearby plants and animals. Borel continues in stating, “Glyphosate also has a low toxicity—lower than that of caffeine. ‘It’s probably one of the safest herbicides in terms of environment and human health,’ says Keith Solomon, an environmental toxicologist and pesticide toxicology expert at the University of Guelph in Ontario.”

Additionally, A great deal of gm crops are being engineered to already contain resistance to insects and diseases without the need of pesticide spray. Quinn Fucile in her article, “Is Genetically Modified Food Safe?” explains this in her statement, “One example is plants engineered to produce BT endotoxin, which is only harmful to insects and will only kill pests that try to feed on the crops. This protects other insects in the environment that may be useful, because farmers no longer have to spray and pesticide, it’s built into the plants.” Not only does this reduce harmful pesticide use that could otherwise damage surrounding land and rivers, but it also allows animal and insect biodiversity to remain abundant.

Hopefully I’ve been able to open the public eye, or at least one eye, to the countless benefits that genetically enhanced and biotech foods can bring to the table, and eliminated any prior misconceptions behind them. With all of these advantages that accompany these “new foods,” whether it concerns us or our environment, there is no reason they should be left in the dark any longer.

 

References:

Organic Standards. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.ams.usda.gov/grades-standards/organic-standards

Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. (2017, December 27). Labeling & Nutrition – Organic on Food Labels. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/Food/LabelingNutrition/ucm473870.htm

Marris, C. (2001, July 01). Public views on GMOs: Deconstructing the myths. Retrieved from http://embor.embopress.org/content/2/7/545?casa_token=3rhU2i8A8nYAAAAA:52mVUK6U4UVFd7OYTgWEUTgTTffMTZ3XJW2mknVG5n0o5wxjJPqDADnDR09SiiLMTNMtni2ZZex3t84f8xIh1A#ref-7

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Borel, B. (2014, July 21). The Pros and Cons of Herbicide-Tolerant GMOs. Retrieved from https://www.popsci.com/blog-network/our-modern-plagues/pros-and-cons-herbicide-tolerant-gmos

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What Are the benefits of GMOs, Both Today and in the Future? (n.d.). Retrieved October 31, 2018, from http://www.fooddialogues.com/article/benefits-gmos-today-future/

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