Frankenfood. GM-No. Teenage Mutant Ninja Soybeans. Such is the typical consumer’s opinion of genetically modified, or GM, produce. So when I first heard about GM food, I was intrigued – but also more than a little skeptical. Change the chemical makeup of food? The idea sounded like a Julia Child-inspired sci-fi story. I could also see its potential, however: hardier, more nutritious food for less money. So I did some research and found that, thankfully, genetically modified produce is more blessing than curse.
The biggest misconception about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is that they are untested and unsafe. In fact, genetically modified food has been tested and approved for consumption by over 2,000 studies performed worldwide, according to the Genetic Literacy Project. “GM crops are the most extensively tested crops ever,” says the American Association for the Advancement of Science. And in all those tests “no effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods,” according to the World Health Organization.
Another common misconception is that genetically modified food is harmful to the environment. A review for Landes Bioscience refutes this by arguing that “commercialized GM crops have reduced the impacts of agriculture on biodiversity.” But how? Well, some genetically modified food has been altered to be poisonous only to certain undesirable (non-human) pests, as an article for the University of Kentucky explains. This reduces the need for broad pesticides that will run off into rivers and streams and destroy ecosystems.
Some GM crops have been altered to enable them to grow in environments with little water and poor soil, according to the University of Michigan. This means that when growing GMOs, farmers can irrigate less and use fewer chemicals than they would on regular crops. In addition, GM produce can be cultivated more easily in third-world countries where agricultural pesticides are less available.
Given that science supports the safety of GMOs, it might not make sense that GM crop-producing companies funded the “No on Initiative 522” campaign (in opposition of labeling GMO foods). According to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, however, legally mandating labels on GMOs could “mislead and falsely alarm customers,” because customers with misconceptions about GMOs wouldn’t buy the labeled food.
Another reason that GMOs are under attack is their association with the companies that produce them – primarily Monsanto, the largest producer of GM seeds. Tarnishing the name of GM food as well as its own, Monsanto has committed countless agricultural atrocities. Its worst offenses include producing cancer-inducing pesticides, according to the Chemical Injury Network, and prosecuting farmers who have accidentally grown GM crops in their fields, according to Food Inc. The stains on Monsanto’s reputation have unfortunately rubbed off on GMOs as a whole, and consumers are at risk of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Fortunately, Monsanto is not the only group genetically modifying food. In 1999, scientists in Switzerland modified rice to contain vitamin A, a vital nutrient for eyesight. According to the World Health Organization, over 250 million preschool-aged children suffer from vitamin A deficiency. This GM rice can help solve that problem. Or it could have – before the funders of the rice project pulled their grant after harsh anti-GMO campaigns. But with new support, the Golden Rice Project, as well as other beneficial GM projects, could help millions of people.
There are many great aspects of genetically modified food, from easier cultivation to helping malnourished children in third-world countries. So before you start campaigning to eliminate GM food, make sure that you know the facts.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.
This piece won the March 2015 Teen Ink Environment Contest.