You’ve all probably seen that label on your food: “Non-GMO.” Have you ever wondered what that means? GMO stands for genetically modified organism, so in the context of food, Non-GMO means that that food item is made from organisms that were not genetically modified.
Like with many other things in our society, many people have assumed that as some GMO-sourced foods have been found to be less healthy than natural foods, GMOs ought to be done away with altogether. But the truth is, GMOs are irreplaceable resources in our modern society. They save lives, feed the poor, and in the near future, will be part of the solution to pollution, genetic disorders, and our growing population.
The connection many people are not making is that a very similar process to genetic modification, called selective breeding. Selective breeding has been used for centuries before genetically modified organisms have come to life (pun intended). So how is selective breeding similar to genetic modification? Well, in selective breeding, organisms with favored traits are chosen to mate by farmers, and therefore, the preferred traits, and with that genes, are passed on to the next generation of that organism.
In fact, all agricultural organisms have been grown through selective breeding. Even something as simple as not letting a crippled cow mate with others is in itself selective breeding, as it is the farmer that decides whether or not the cow’s genes will be passed on to the next generation. Genetic modification is simply the next step up. Instead of having to make a change over many generations, bothering with pedigrees, punnet squares, and other bores, people can add and change specific genes. With genetic modification, the same outcome can be achieved much faster.
Scientists do not yet fully understand genetic modification, but soon, the outcome of modifying organisms will be more than just the same. The outcome will be greater. Genetic modification has the potential for a new amount of precision. Before, when selectively breeding, many traits would be passed along.
For example, if a farmer mated a bald black cow with a furry white cow, they might get a spotted, semi-furry calf. Then to get rid of spots and grow full fur, the farmer would have to go through a few more generations. With GMO, a firm will be able to research and identify the correct gene, before splicing it into an embryo, and saving a farmer’s future cow population from that nonexistent California cold.
This precision may even apply to the quality of the food as a genetically modified organism will have no accidental or leftover traits from when it was bred with an individual different from itself. By creating a hybrid of two plants, a farmer may cause the new hybrid to produce larger fruit, but with the gene for size, other genes, such as a gene for flavor, may also be passed on, resulting in a large, but disgusting fruit.
With genetic modification, the specific gene for size can be found and spliced into the DNA of the seeds to create the same fruit, only larger. Precision allows for genes from different species, genomes, families, orders, classes, phylums and even kingdoms to be combined into one DNA strand. Because of this, scientists can also create that which could not be made through selective breeding. Scientists can splice a succulent’s gene for drought resistance into the DNA of a type of grass, and save water.
So why are are people making such a big fuss about GMOs? In short, many people are afraid of the future. Movies and the video games show the future as a place in which normal people are overshadowed by the superior genetically modified organisms. But in reality, people could not be more well off.
The wonders of genetic modification will offer cures to countless genetic disorders such as down syndrome, cystic fibrosis, Huntington’s disease and much more. Even today, GMOs are to thank for a thing called insulin, which is responsible for saving more than 371 million diabetics worldwide. That is a shipload of people, all accounted for by the wonders of genetic modification.
But GMO’s do more than just save minorities. With a projected population of 9.7 billion people by the middle of the century, we must rely on GMOs in order to feed our ever so big population. Besides, amid the climate change, old agricultural techniques will leave no space for other species to coexist.
To progress into the future, we must let go of the past, and embrace the power of GMOs. Genetically modified organisms will be the key to safely growing large amounts of food in would-be cramped spaces, under conditions that a traditional crop cannot tolerate. And as the price of land will continue to steadily rise, fewer and fewer people will have a choice.
In addition to medical advances, GMOs enable us to grow food faster, which in return makes food cheaper. For instance, the dollar menu, a major part in the life of many homeless people, relies entirely on genetically modified food sources.
There have been concerns relating to the safety of GMOs, but these concerns are not enough to dismiss the concept of genetic modification altogether. GMOs are essential to the lives of many people, by allowing for the cheap growing of chemicals such as insulin in very large amounts.
Although GMOs in the food industry are still partially in development, rest assured, healthier GMO foods will reach the market, continuing to feed our growing human population at an affordable price.