Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are in the news and in the grocery stores.
You can now buy cereal that is GMO-free. Some folks want to ban GMOs from the food supply. American agriculture has been receiving negative publicity for using genetically modified seed.
There is not one person reading this column that hasn’t been genetically modified, unless you are the result of cloning. What does all the hype about GMOs mean and how does it affect you?
Humans have been genetically modifying plants and animals since around 12,000 BC. They used the process of selective breeding. They chose traits that improved the breed, better wool, better carcass quality, higher yield, better taste and so on.
This process took many generations and years to accomplish. Imagine putting paper sacks on the beads of a quarter acre of wheat to prevent pollination and then adding the pollen of the desired variety that you wished to cross.
In the early ’70s scientists discovered a way of directly manipulating genes that represented a variety of different traits. They called this process genetic engineering.
They were able to remove and add traits as well as manipulate genes to achieve the results they desired. When the genes of one organism are inserted into the genetic material of a different species the result is called a transgenic organism. The resulting DNA is called recombinant DNA.
So why would scientists want to do this? In the field of agriculture, it speeds up the genetic breeding process immensely. When it would take years to introduce a new trait into a variety of corn it can it now can be done relatively quicker.
By making plants resistant to insects, disease or weed suppression it has the potential for increasing yields. In the 1920s having a corn yield of 50 bushels per acre was doing well. In our century, having a corn yield less than 180 bushels per acre would be disappointing to a lot of farmers.
By increasing yields, it reduces the cost of production, which reduces the cost of feed, which reduces the cost of that steak that’s on your plate. The United States leads the world in food production and we have the lowest food cost in the world.
The average American spends approximately 11 percent of their income on food. If you go south of our border, it goes up to 40 percent or more.
When I was in high school, the prognosticators predicted worldwide food shortage by the end of the 20th century. Due to the improvement of agriculture crops and livestock; this has not come to pass.
Scientists were inspired by Norman Borlaug, who created the “Green Revolution” of the 1960s with high yielding varieties of dwarf wheat. The Nobel Prize winner has been credited with saving over a billion lives.
By improving plant varieties such vitamin enriched white corn from South Africa, scientists hope to prevent malnourishment in impoverished nations. GMOs are not just relegated to agriculture. Scientists in the field of medicine are developing new techniques to combat disease through the use of GMOs. Genetically modified bacteria are used in the production of the protein insulin to help diabetics.
GMOs were developed by scientists to improve life on planet Earth. What about the naysayers who proclaim the danger of genetically modified organisms? They say that creating GMOs can result in “massive collateral damage that produces new toxins, allergens, carcinogens and nutritional deficiencies.”
According to the University of Georgia, crops created by using recombinant DNA technology were grown on almost 400 million acres in over 30 countries. These are the most studied crops in history.
Thorough evaluations have been conducted by regulatory agencies, both publicly funded and independent research institutes. No claims of adverse side effects from a GMO crop have ever been verified by reputable scientific peer-reviewed process.
If the folks who disapprove of GMOs want to make their case, they need to provide proof of the dangers of genetically modified organisms. Scientific studies must be used to back up their claims.
So what do we make of all this? We must look with discernment on both sides of the issue and determine whether science backs up the claims or not. We must also keep an open mind and not to make a decision based on emotions rather than fact.
Brian Maddy is the ANR Agent for Troup Cooperative Extension. The Troup County Extension office is located at 114 Church St. in LaGrange and may be reached at 706-883-1675, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.