Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs): Facts and controversies


Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are organisms (plants, animals, or microorganisms) that have been genetically modified to express a desired phenotype or produce a product of interest. These unique gene combinations that are not available in nature are obtained through genetic engineering processes.

GM crops are designed to build resistance to direct application of pesticides, resist drought conditions, enhance nutritional properties, and create disease resistance. The previous strategy used to improve the traits of edible crops was selective breeding, but it was time-consuming and required generations to implement changes. In contrast, genetic modification can bring precise, stable and fast results.

Genetically modified crops are commonly used in the United States, and 90% of common crops such as soybeans, cotton, and corn have been genetically modified. In addition, 80% of food contains genetically modified ingredients.

Although, trusted platforms including the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) stated that the use of genetically modified organisms is completely safe and poses no risk to human and animal health. Although there is no evidence that it is harmful, there have been controversies related to the use of genetically modified organisms and their health and environmental effects.

Advantages of using genetically modified organisms:

Crops have been modified to establish resistance to pests, such as Bt cotton, which has the Bt gene naturally present in the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis. It is estimated that the use of genetically modified technology has reduced the use of chemical pesticides by 37% and increased crop yields by 22%. Genetic modification can help crops overcome stress conditions such as drought and disease conditions such as fusarium wilt, and ultimately increase crop yields, thereby bringing more profits to farmers. More nutritious foods can be developed, such as golden rice, which contains a higher proportion of β-carotene, mainly to control the growing blindness caused by vitamin A deficiency in this area. It can also enhance the flavor and aroma of foods, such as non-browning apples.

Questions related to the use of genetically modified organisms:

1. Allergies: Although there are currently no reports of allergic reactions to genetically modified foods, people have been worried about the occurrence of allergic reactions due to the presence of foreign genes. In a case reported in the mid-1990s, a protein in Brazil nuts was transferred to soybeans, causing allergic reactions in people who were sensitive to Brazil nuts. Genetically modified products were quickly abandoned. Now, any new genetically modified food has passed a series of strict safety assurance tests, so there are no more case reports.

2. Cancer: It is believed that the use of genetically modified food will increase the risk of cancer, because cancer is related to changes in DNA, and genetically modified food involves changes in the gene level. A study suggested that mouse trials showed an increased risk of tumors and premature death, thus exacerbating the controversy. Although the study was later withdrawn due to lack of authenticity, controversy still exists. The American Cancer Society (ACS) guarantees that there is no evidence that cancer is in any way related to the use of genetically modified organisms.

3. Environmental issues: Herbal medicines are resistant to Roundup and other herbicides, and have adverse effects on related crops. Use genetically modified technology to cultivate herbicide-resistant crops. Studies have found that trace amounts of glyphosate contained in genetically modified foods are safe for human consumption.

4. Ethical issues: genetic modification is considered to interfere with nature and its decisions. In addition, it should unbalance our ecosystem through the exchange of attributes between organisms that do not exist in nature. Although there is no research to prove that genetically modified organisms cause harm to the environment, long-term effects will appear over time.