Unpopular Foodpinion - GMO can save the world from starvation
The science is clear, but so is the wave of disapproval among the people
Yes, I know what I'm saying here and I stand by my words. I'll do my best to clarify the science behind genetically modified crops and bring awareness about the ways those crops could save you from eating crickets or starve in the future. But first, I'll answer the basic questions.
What is GMO?
GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. You can add genes, remove genes, replace genes or rearrange genes. You can even combine genes from different organisms – tomato and fish for example. The idea behind this tweaking is to improve our food and farming it. For instance, you can boost the crops yield, you can make them more resilient to certain weather and even make them produce their own natural pesticides to protect themselves, rather than you, spraying various harmful chemicals for the same purpose.
How this works in practice
What's the point of GMO?
The point of GMO is to produce more food. Pests and freak weather have an enormous agricultural impact on our crops and the rampant climate change makes farming even more difficult, as Jeremy Clarkson pointed out on his show, when he was hit twice with unseasonal weather patterns and nearly lost his crops. GM crops are aiming to at least limit, if not eliminate the chances of such losses. There are good intentions behind GMO, not conspiracies for population control, no matter how hard the internet is trying to lead your mind there!
Is it killing the bees?
Nope! Makes no difference for the bees whatsoever. Neither for the honey. Doesn't make a difference for any pollinator in general. It does make a difference for other, cultivated crops, because the bees can cross-pollinate them with GM crops. The result is what most anti-GMO groups are using as their main tool - it "contaminates" neighbouring crops and the bees are helping with that. Sure, it happens, but then try to instruct your bees how and where to pollinate. And it's not as major problem as Youtube is trying to present it. In fact, only about 10% of the neighbouring crops may get cross-pollinated. Emphasis on MAY. And the next Q&A paragraph will tell you why it shouldn't be considered a problem at all.
Credit: GMO Science Community
Are GM crops safe?
Based on more than 130 research projects, conducted and reviewed by more than 500 independent research organisations in the span of 25 years - YES, genetically modified crops are safe! There is a scientific consensus that GM crops are as safe as any other crops. So you can now rest assured. GMO is not a chemical solution, so your liver doesn't treat your GMO food in any different way.
There is a catch, however, which unfortunately is in the labelling policies. Some countries do not require GMO ingredients to be labeled, and that can lead to allergic reactions, believe it or not. An example would be that fish-crossed tomato again – if you're allergic to fish and this particular gene is at fault, you can have an allergic reaction from ketchup, for example, made with those tomatoes. Worse still, since that GMO tomato won't be labelled, the list of possible allergens won't be changed and you could think that you've suddenly developed a tomato allergy. This is how an inadequate policy in a country which allows GMO foods can ruin your day. It's very rare, but not impossible.
Oryza Sativa (GMO plant) - Credit: NPR
Are GMO plants harming the environment?
Difficult question – yes and no. Bear with me on this one. There are crops that are modified for better yield and they naturally require more nutrients from the soil. This means that the soil in which they grow will become infertile more quickly. And this can be a big issue. Fortunately those crops are on their way out all around the world, because of this exact potential consequence.
On the other hand, some crops have been optimised, with some missense mutations removed from their genetic pool. So these crops now require less resources from the soil to produce their usual yield, which automatically sets further back the expiration date of that soil by keeping it fertile for longer. But by all means, 98% of all GM crops don't make any difference for the soil or the environment.
Golden rice (Oryza sativa) - Credit: ScienceMag
How can GMO be beneficial?
There are many ways for the GMO foods to be beneficial for us, but I'll give you just one example with the Golden rice, pictured above. Worldwide, it is by far the most well known GMO culture and for a good reason. It has been engineered to boost its nutrition value three times and add vitamin A precursors, that would become vitamin A in your body. Why this particular vitamin? Because dietary vitamin A deficiency kills around 670,000 children under the age of 5 each year and leaves around 500,000 others with irreversible childhood blindness. So by adding carotenoid genes from a carrot, the rice gets an equal quantity of vitamin A per gram with a carrot, while the already high nutrition values of rice gets boosted by a factor of three, which means that an average yield of golden rice could feed three times more people than the same yield of white rice. All of that while requiring the same amount of water and soil nutrients as a regular white rice. *mic drop and thug life glasses*.
How can GMO save the world from hunger (or crickets)?
If you're still reading, don't worry – it's finally conclusion time! Genetic modification science started in the early 90s and it's still quite young, so the scientists have a limited amount of ways to modify crops that have been tested and known to work. With future advancements in the field, eventually we'll be able to create crops that are resistant to everything (seasons included), have higher nutrition values and would grow the same way, just about anywhere in the world. That's huge, considering the damage that global warming is already causing to cultures like coffee and cocoa. Now, hail resistant crops won't be happening for obvious reasons, but that's a small niggle, compared to the possibilities ahead. And yes, GMO will feed the world in our darkest hour, I have no doubts about that, and neither should you!