GMOs: a new age of veggies

Graphic: Xavier Simonelli

Graphic: Xavier Simonelli

The culture of GMOs has been piloted by Monsanto, the billion dollar super-company and the largest “agribusiness” behind genetic modification. Monsanto is continually attacked in the media because of its ruthless business practices. Its tight grasp on the market often makes GMOs appear less desirable than their organic counterparts in the public eye —many reject the idea of GMOs solely based on their opposition to the idea of encouraging monopolies. However, it’s important to realize that Monsanto’s monopoly over the industry is only transitory whereas a lasting solution to world hunger, which Monsanto has unarguably provided, is not.

As the World Health Organization estimates, nearly 805 million people suffer from starvation or malnourishment because of a lack of access to affordable food. Even worse, this problem is amplified in developing regions where the majority of people are poor, small farmers. Unfortunately for them, arid soil and unforgiving climates mean that traditional farming techniques just aren’t cutting it anymore.

Every year, large quantities of agricultural yield are lost at the hand of uncontrollable environmental factors. Be it saline land preventing growth or drought conditions lessening output, the threats imposed by faulty agricultural conditions are too great to be ignored. Fortunately, GMOs allow plants to withstand these harsh realities. Modifications enhance the vitality of plants, allowing them to retain water in drought conditions, survive in saline environments, and repel weeds and insects. Indeed, it is no surprise that Wilhelm Klumpner of the German Department of Agriculture found in an analysis of 147 studies that over the past decade global crop yields have increased by 22 percent and farmer profits by 68 percent as a result of GM technology.

But the introduction of GMOs hasn’t exactly been met with unilateral praise. In fact, there is a growing movement against  GMOs because of the belief that they are associated with health risks. Because genetically engineered crops are resistant to herbicides, tenders can combat weeds year round as opposed to before the crop season. Consequently, consumers worry that the foods they eat are dangerous because pesticides have been sprayed on them directly. Thankfully, this is not the case—having looked at 1,783 studies over the last ten years, Alessandro Nicolia of Critical Reviews in Biotechnology concluded that there have been no traceable harms of GMO consumption.

Worse for the image of genetically engineered organisms is the conflation of increased pesticide use with herbicide resistance. Critics claim that, with time, GMOs will become more resistant to things like weed killers and will necessitate the increased application of toxic chemicals. Slight increases in herbicide use do occur, but these glyphosate-based herbicides are two-thirds less toxic than their organic counterparts, as they do not contain the more dangerous chemicals found in traditional pesticides. More importantly, this increase is offset by decreases in long-term insecticide use because of Bt-products, engineered to release deadly toxins to insects that try to eat them and thereby reducing the need for insecticides altogether. It is for this reason that the aforementioned Klumper finds that pesticide use has decreased on net by 37 percent because of genetically engineered crops.

The admittedly novel idea of GMOs can indeed be difficult to accept; never before have we seen the need to scientifically engineer our food. Consequently, developed countries like the U.S. are seeing an increasing movement to “eat locally” and organically. It’s important to remember, however, that while it is easy for us and the anti-GMO crowd to go to Trader Joe’s and buy food grown on organic farms merely 100 miles away, the majority of the world’s population simply can’t afford that luxury, and they’re going to need all the help they can get.

Leave a Reply

Please use your real name and email. Your email address will not be published.

Any comments containing the following material will be removed:
  • Hostility or insulting language directed towards other users, authors, Tower staff, or a specific group of people
  • Any type of harassment
  • Profanity, crude language, or slurs
  • Personal information about yourself or anyone else
  • Discussion unrelated to the article