wheat field

Are GMOs all bad?

Most of us who are advocates for sustainable agriculture have a negative view of GMO’s, and with good reason – they often come with pesticides, allergies, patent protection, harmful environmental impacts and a variety of other issues. But what if there are some GMO’s that could possibly make our world a better, healthier and more eco-friendly place? Do the positives out-weigh the negatives? Here are three genetically modified foods that have the potential to do a lot of good:

 

1. Orange bananas could save lives

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Photo via flickr

These new genetically engineered bananas place a strong argument in favor of GMOs (or at least, the science behind GMOs) and have been dominating the web in the past week. This new banana is orange in color and is enriched with alpha – and beta carotene that turns into the ultimate source for vitamin A once ingested. The super-banana will be able to meet children’s nutritional needs in developing countries where 300,000 children go blind yearly due to a lack of vitamin A and 650,000 die from the nutritional deficiency.

The project has been given an extensive $10 million donation from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for its work which is taking place at the University of Technology in Queensland, Australia. After failing to get the results that they needed by combining the Karat fruit with the banana, researchers turned to genetic modification, and its said that the results have been very promising. The human trials for the superfood will take place in the US this year and are expected to continue until the end of the year. The hopes are that the bananas will be ready to grow in developing countries such as Uganda by 2020.

Related:   France announces ban on genetically modified crops to continue

 

Opposition

However, this new breakthrough is not a new story. In the early 2000s  another solution to vitamin A deficiency (VAD) was developed by crop scientists called Golden Rice. Golden Rice is a genetically modified rice that is golden is color and is only beginning to be implemented as a solution to VAD this summer. The genetically engineered rice has been met with substantial opposition from Greenpeace, who claim that these quick-fix solutions causes environmental and health issues.

 

2. Long-lasting tomatoes could reduce produce waste for farmers and supermarkets

tomatos in a bowl
Photo via flickr

40% of the world’s food goes uneaten, according to Natural Resources Defense Council, and with 842 million people in the world without enough food to eat on a daily basis, this is an intensely painful statistic that reveals a lot about our world today.

But what would you say if there was a way to reduce the amount of food waste we produce every year by extending foods shelf life?

That’s exactly what scientists at the National Institute of Plant Genome Research in New Delhi have done. Their researchers have discovered that by suppressing the enzyme A-Man and B-Hex that start to accumulate during ripening, the tomato could double its self-life to over a month long. This could drastically alter the agricultural industry, where farmers regularly lose over half their stock due to early softening before they go to market and would reduce the amount of waste the supermarkets regularly have to throw away. The same technique used on tomatoes can potentially be applied to other fruit such as papayas, bananas and mangoes.

Related:   Using Diversity to Increase Food Security: An Interview with Vandana Shiva

 

3. Mold-less bread could reduce food waste in the home

bread on a table
Photo via flickr

Researchers have cracked sourdough bread’s fungus-resistant code and think that it can be applied to other bread, too. Sourdough creates acids during one of its fermentation steps that is resistant to fungus, and researchers claims that this information can be applied to other food during malting and plant production that will help extend the shelf life of food.

One Texan company, MicroZap, has developed a technology that uses microwaves of high-energy particles to sterilize the bread, killing mold spores and therefore keeping fungus away from food for longer. This means less bread will be thrown away, both at home and in your local supermarkets – saving potentially millions of dollars.

While GMOs clearly hold a lot of positive possibilities, the other side of the story is the corporations who stand to get rich off of this type of technology and will do whatever they need to in order to do so.

But whatever your opinion of GMOs is, one thing is for sure: There is a lot of positives and negatives to both sides of the story – and both sides deserve to be aired.

Sarah is a graduate of the University of College Dublin. After receiving her MA in Gender, Sexuality and Culture, she taught High-school English and History for three years before moving to Vancouver to pursue a career in writing. In her spare time, Sarah likes to write poetry, go to music festivals and drink wine. Her favorite food is the burrito. She is an avid reader of fantasy novels, an active participant in feminist circles, and will always have an adventure planned in the foreseeable future. Interesting fact: Sarah is fluent in Irish (Gaeilge).

8 COMMENTS

  1. “Most of us who are advocates for sustainable agriculture have a negative view of GMO’s, and with good reason – they often come with pesticides, allergies,
    patent protection, harmful environmental impacts and a variety of other
    issues.”

    Wow nothing like starting out with myths.

    One:All agriculture uses some form of pesticides. Even organic ag uses a whole host of naturally derived pesticides, some of which have huge EIQ’s compared to some used with GE crops.

    Two: There has never been a single documented case of an allergenic reaction to any GE food ever. Stop saying what is blatanly false. in fact GE crops are the only food tested for potential allergenic potential before commercialization. The Royal Society of Canada said:

    “Notwithstanding the limits of current technology, a GM[GE] food which has undergone a thorough, scientifically valid evaluation process for allergenicity,
    with negative results, should be considered at low risk to provoke or induce
    allergic responses and could possibly be even safer than a non-GM novel or exotic food which has not been subjected to the same
    scrutiny” RSC 2000

    Three: Patent protection exists for many types of seeds. This is in no way specific to GE crops. Without patent protection or other similar IP rights there would be no innovation as the costs would be prohibitive without some form of payback for the innovator. Are you against musician or authors getting IP protection, if not they why6 are you against IP rights for agriculture innovators?

    The US National Academy of Sciences 2010 report -Impact of GE crops on Farm Sustainability in the US states:

    “In general, the committee finds that genetic-engineering technology has produced substantial net environmental and economic benefits to U.S. farmers compared with non-GE crops in conventional agriculture.” NAS 2010

    I suggest you read this on-line document to learn the real science wrt sustainability of GE crops

  2. Thank you for this. I am starting to see a willingness to change the way the topic of biotech applications to agriculture is being discussed. First, I think we are seeing the topic moving beyond being dominated by a perception that the point and effect of ge is to result in a substitute for familiar foods — that somehow the process of ge itself is like a vampire bite. Outwardly the products may look similar, but there has been some overlooked or suppression of sinister transformation of the food product into some type of zombie, artificial replacement. I think the recent republication of the Seralini study is the last hurrah for this line of thinking.

    Secondly, there is a growing awareness that there are a wide array of ge interventions and there is a corresponding diversity of the purposes of the genetic tinkering, the actual genetic changes, and the economic models under which such biotech applications would be deployed and disseminated. Herbicide tolerance is only one example of ge, and while to this point, ht and bt traits have dominated the commercial deployment of biotech, ge may enable genetic interventions that compliment and reinforce sustainability, and also may not have anything to do with Monsanto.

    I would like to see the conversation surrounding ge being one of first identifying agronomic, nutritional or other problems or opportunities, and then assess how ge interventions could provide solutions the problem. I think the use of biotech to address the ringspot virus in papaya was a brilliant use of the technology. Overall, I believe bt technology has delivered a net environmental benefit when compared to alternatives and the overall strategy that could be facilitated by ge to endow plants with non chemical means to protect against insects could have lots of environmental dividends. Breakthroughs in nitrogen use efficiency and drought tolerance are two other areas where appropriate uses of the technology could pay tremendous dividends to farmers, consumers and to society.

    Interestingly, glysophate tolerance was itself was a solution to the need for agriculture to transition to practices that addressed erosion and soil depletion including adoption of conservation tillage and no-till, stimulated in no small measure by the conservation compliance provisions of the 1985 farm bill. A coalition of environmental groups and conservation professionals at the time championed tying eligibility for farm program benefits to adoption of best management practices such as no till. That led to a surgence in the late 1980s and early 1990’s of use of atrazine, to which corn and other grass species are naturally tolerant to, to control weeds not controlled by conservation tillage practices. Glysophate resistance was in turn an answer to societal concerns with the externalities of heavy atrazine use. While glysophate tolerance was by any measurement an improvement over previous methods to encourage adoption of conservation tillage to achieve societal conservation goals under the 1985 farm bill, it has indeed been an imperfect solution, and an overused solution. I agree that instead of incorporating it as an element of integrated weed management, it too often was used as a replacement for good integrated weed management practice. But, looking at herbicide tolerance in its historical context, its elimination does not solve a problem, it merely eliminates a solution to the problem.
    While much of the controversy on the surface has focused on whether the process of ge somehow introduces novel health issues, I think the controversy has actually been about, and will increasingly be about, not the technology itself but whether individual deployments of technology are wise or not.

    • Wow, fantastically well-informed comment! I think I learnt a lot just from reading it! Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

  3. I oppose GMO’s first and foremost because of the undue influence and control of the food supply exerted by greedy multinational corporations. The obligation to buy their products and use their deadly pesticides with blatant disregard for the collateral damage to the environment and its inhabitants should remain front and center. If GMO’s held promise for the common good and were developed and used in an ‘open-sourced’ way with independent testing to insure safety, an honest discussion and evaluation could ensue.

    • The obligation to buy their products and use their deadly pesticides with blatant disregard for the collateral damage to the environment and its inhabitants should remain front and center.

      No one is obligated to buy any GMO products or herbicides, Farmers buy them because they work and LOWER the environmental impact of farming.

      If GMO’s held promise for the common good and were developed and used in an ‘open-sourced’ way with independent testing to insure safety, an honest discussion and evaluation could ensue.

      There are 1000s of open source and university developed GMO varieties, but sadly they will never see the light of day because the regulator framework is too onerous. It costs over 100 million dollars to get a GMO to market, far too much money for any university or individual.

    • It’s always a good idea to keep an eye on the corporations behind these types of things, they’re not always open and honest about everything.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  4. There is a worrisome perception being put forth by pro-GMO advocates that nature is somehow ‘broken’ and genetic engineering is needed to ‘fix’ it. Your examples of long-lasting tomatoes and mold-less bread are good examples of working against natural processes; tomatoes are supposed to rot and bread is supposed to mold. Your example of GM bananas is even more off the mark. Here in Malawi, Africa where I have been living and working on nutrition-security issues for over 17 years, we find high levels of
    nutritional deficiencies including Vitamin A. We also have a
    nutritional ‘stunting’ rate which affects 47% of the nation’s children under
    the age of 5. These problems, however, have nothing to do with a lack of access
    to genetically engineered crops, but rather with an incessant push towards the
    monocropped production of maize (corn). Despite the potential for year-round
    and seasonal production of nutritious food crops, many local farmers have been
    encouraged to sacrifice diversity in favor of a once-a-year harvest of maize.
    Even though the nation has had several consecutive years of surplus maize harvests, our malnutrition
    rates have remained steady. There are literally hundreds of local foods that
    farmers and families could be utilizing to eliminate nutritional deficiencies,
    but instead we find the nation’s fields sitting in a state of ‘food deserts’
    for 11 months out of the year. Now, as the limited nutritional nature of
    monocropped agriculture is taking its toll, we find people turning to genetic
    engineering to try to adapt the world’s plants and animals to very unhealthy
    and chemical-based systems of production. There is no need, whatsoever, to put
    a nutrient like Vitamin A into a plant in which it does not naturally occur.
    Just grow and eat nutritious foods! As we move further and further away from
    natural solutions, we find nations, like Malawi, setting up expensive–often
    donor funded–programs to fortify unhealthy foods like cooking oil and sugar
    with Vitamin A. This is not a sustainable or a healthy approach to good
    nutrition. Solutions exist, but we need to stop promoting the idea that all the
    world’s nutrition should come from a limited handful of artificially engineered
    crops.

    • I absolutely agree that there are better solutions to the issues that are being raised, and I wasn’t try to advocate using GMO’s as a “get out of jail free” card, that’s why I was careful to include information regarding the opposition to the GMOs.

      Of course, a 500-1000 word article is in no way, shape or form an authoritative or definitive guide to the very complex issues surrounding GMOs and there are places where such information is available and I would suggest to anyone who is interested in pursuing the matter to look into those resources.

      Thanks for your comment, it was great to hear from you!

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