Search Paper: Genetically Modified Organisms

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My Question

With the world population expected to reach 9.8 billion by the year 2050, current farming techniques will be unable to produce enough food to feed the world. A total of 795 million people throughout the world are malnourished and one out of six Americans goes hungry each day. A solution to this worldwide issue could be the use of genetically modified organisms. GMOs are not widely accepted, every new technological advancement raises questions and concerns. In researching this topic I hope to weigh out the pros and cons of implementing genetically modified organisms into our food supply and medical practices, determining if GMOs are good or bad.

Before conducting my research I was aware of the beneficial impacts that use of GMOs could have on our food supply. Genetically modified organisms allow farmers to grow more crops on less land, are sustainable, lower food prices, are better for the environment, cut down the use of pesticides and water, and so much more. Before researching GMOs I was also aware of the arguments made against genetic modification. I had heard that GMOs could cause health problems, harm biodiversity, and cause complications with other crops through cross-contamination with other non-GMO fields. The conflicting information that I had received left me a little confused about GMOs and their purpose. Are genetically modified organisms some big scam developed by large companies like Monsanto, or could they be a solution to world hunger?

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I began researching this topic with an open mind and a positive attitude toward genetically modified organisms. Prior to researching this topic, I was unaware of any credible research that could disparage the use of GMOs in our food supply. I also believed that all information used against genetic modification was purely opinion based.

With the growing controversy over genetically modified foods, I became interested in forming my own opinion about the use of genetic modification. Beginning this research I felt very strongly that GMOs were nothing but beneficial, especially used as a method to help end world hunger. I wanted to be able to learn about the concerns of arguments of anti-GMO activists so I could be better able to argue my opinion and back it up facts and credible research.

When I began researching GMOs, I hoped to learn more about what they are and how they are being used in agriculture throughout the world. I was interested in learning how GMOs were being used in wealthier countries such as the United States, and in poorer third world countries such as Africa, where growing crops can be difficult due to lack of water and the presence of harmful pests.

My Search Process

Prior to conducting my research, I had several conversations with friends and family regarding GMOs. These individuals either possessed careers in agriculture or had an agricultural background. While speaking with them, they never made any negative comments regarding genetic modification, generally, they were very pro-GMO.

After listing to a few opinions about GMOs, I decided to begin my research in order to form my own opinion on whether or not GMOs are good or bad. I thought that the best way to discover more information regarding genetic modification would be to examine the website of the companies that genetically modified organisms. After learning more about the companies, I began looking for scientific research that could provide an answer to my questions.

I had the most success in finding credible information when I looked at educational websites, ones that professionals from Harvard, Perdue, and Cornell University manage. These websites gave me access to credible research and facts while giving me insight into how genetic modification is being used around the world. I also found that when researching my topic, it was extremely beneficial to utilize information from government regulated sites such as the FDA to obtain true facts that could also boost my credibility.

I had a difficult time locating unbiased and credible research on genetically modified organisms. Many of the anti-GMO websites were purely opinion based, they did not offer any actual scientific research to back up their view on GMOs. I also found it extremely difficult to be unbiased myself. I had a difficult time looking for information to back up the anti-GMO perspective, however, I overcame this by looking for the most credible anti-GMO research, such as information from The Non-GMO Project.

I realized, soon after starting my research project, that my question was much more complex than I had originally thought. I was interested in determining if GMOs were good or bad, however, there was no easy way to determine this without analyzing all of the uses for genetic modification. I also had to look into all of the potential health and environmental effects of GMOs.

What I Have Learned

What is genetic engineering? For thousands of years, humans have been modifying the yield, shape, size, and taste of organisms through genetic modification. In the last few decades with an increase in technological advancements, genetic modification has become much more precise. Today, scientists have the ability to replicate desired genes in a laboratory setting. Purdue University states that Gene editing occurs, “when a scientist makes a tiny, controlled change in the DNA of a living organism.” Modifying the genetic material of an organism in a laboratory with advanced new techniques, allows scientists to produce organisms with specific desired traits. Some traits that scientist have produced within the realm of genetically modified crops are drought resistant, herbicide tolerant, and pest resistant crops.

There are a variety of ways in which genetic engineering is being used today. Genetic engineering has created drought-resistant crops, herbicide-tolerant crops, higher yielding crops, vitamin fortified food, and so much more. William Powell, a Professor in the Department of Environmental and Forest Biology at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry says that genetic engineering is allowing, “ us to produce a blight-resistant American chestnut that’s genetically over 99.999 percent identical to wild-type American chestnuts.” The American chestnut tree population has been decimated by, “chestnut blight, a devastating disease caused by the exotic fungal pathogen” (Powell). Introducing genetically engineered chestnut trees into the wild “could also be used to boost the genetic diversity” (Powell). With genetic modification, the American chestnut tree population and biodiversity can be restored. Another example of the benefits of genetic engineering is the implementation of drought-resistant corn in impoverished and drought-prone countries such as Africa. Cornell University states that “The drought-tolerance gene could most benefit farmers without the capital to afford irrigation infrastructure, who grow rain-fed crops and thereby run the risk of harvest losses when rains fail.” Genetic modification allows farmers in the poorest parts of the world to grow crops, in turn allowing them to financially support themselves. Insect resistant crops are also being introduced in underdeveloped countries. Mark Lynas from Cornell University writes, “Farmers are continuing to rapidly adopt Bt eggplant (brinjal) in Bangladesh, resulting in reduced pesticide use and higher incomes.” This genetically modified eggplant has made it possible for farmers in insect plagued areas to grow crops and increase their income. Lynas also states that “A study in the 2016-17 cropping season compared 505 Bt brinjal farmers with 350 non-Bt brinjal farmers. This indicated a 61 percent saving in pesticide cost, which translated to a 650 percent (six-fold) increase in returns, from $2,151/ha for Bt brinjal as compared to just $357/ha for non-Bt brinjal.” There are environmental and biological factors in certain parts of the world destroying entire species of plants and making it difficult to grow crops. The introduction of GMOs into these parts will result in less hunger, an increase in income, and more genetic diversity.

Concerns about the environmental impacts that GMOs may have has risen. Past agricultural practices have required the use of pesticides. The National Center for Biotechnology Information states that “Pesticides can contaminate soil, water, turf, and other vegetation. In addition to killing insects or weeds, pesticides can be toxic to a host of other organisms including birds, fish, beneficial insects, and non-target plants.” Currently, insect resistant GMOs are being created that kill insects when they eat the organism. This trait cuts down the use of harmful pesticides. Joseph Opoku Gakpo from Cornell University writes that Nigeria, “approved the commercialization of its first genetically modified crop — the pest-resistant Bt cotton, which has a higher yield. Bt cotton can resist the devastating bollworm pests, reduce use of pesticides on farms and minimize the crop’s environmental impacts.” Introducing pest-resistant crops that kill insects when they ingest the plant has reduced the harmful and expensive effects of heavy pesticide use in the United States and other foreign countries.

GMOs have been the subject of many studies. These studies have sought to determine if genetically modified food is safe for human consumption. Purdue University has stated that “There is no data to indicate that consumption of GMOs is bad for human health.” Another argument made about GM crops it that pest-resistant crops, or genetically modified organism that are modified to contain toxins that are harmful to insects, are harmful to human health. This is not the case, poison is all about perspective, something that is toxic to an insect may not be toxic to a human, coffee is toxic to insects but safe for human consumption. GMOs have been in the food supply for a while, in fact, “We have been eating GMOs for more than twenty years. No health issues related to genetically modified organisms have arisen at this time” (Perdue Agriculture). With the growing amount of evidence that GMOs are not harmful to human health, genetically modified food may become more common in grocery stores and our homes.

All foods produced with and without genetic engineering are specifically labeled. It wasn’t always like this, “Back when GMOs were introduced into the market in the 1990s, the federal government didn’t require a label if a food product contained an ingredient that had been genetically modified. The United States regulating agencies determined that there were no notable differences in nutrition and food safety from other foods we eat that would require special labeling” (Perdue Agriculture). After demanding to know exactly what was in their food, consumers and anti-GMO activists got what they wanted, “In response, in the summer of 2016, Congress passed a bill that was subsequently signed by President Obama. This legislation establishes a federal standard for labeling foods that have been made with genetically modified organisms. The bill requires food manufacturers to use one of three types of labels to inform consumers when GMO ingredients are in their products: a statement on the package, directions to a website or a phone number, or a QR code” (Perdue Agriculture). No one is forcing anyone to eat food produced with genetic engineering. Everyone has the right to know how their food was produced and what is in it.

Food is not the only thing that is produced with genetic engineering. The world’s first insulin produced with genetic engineering was approved thirty-five years ago. Prior to the development of genetic modification, diabetics relied on insulin sourced from the pancreas of livestock such as pigs or cows. This insulin was a solution, but not a great one. Insulin sourced from livestock had a slightly different chemical composition than then of a human, making it less effective. The Genetic Literacy Project states that “During the early 1970′s, as the supply of animal pancreases declined and the prevalence of insulin-requiring diabetes grew, there were widespread fears of possible future shortages of insulin.” Today, insulin is produced using much different techniques. Scientists, “isolated a ringlet of DNA called a “plasmid” from a bacterium, used certain enzymes to splice a gene from another bacterium into that plasmid, and then introduced the resulting “recombinant,” or chimeric, DNA into E. coli bacteria” (National Center for Biotechnology Information). This method is known as recombinant DNA technology or, “genetic engineering,” or “gene-splicing” – became available and offered the promise of unlimited amounts of insulin that was identical to the molecule produced by humans” (National Center for Biotechnology Information). Before this technology was developed the life expectancy of people with diabetes was extremely low. Genetic engineering has improved the quality of life that diabetics able to have with insulin produced with genetically modified bacteria.

All food is regulated and inspected by the government. Purdue University writes, “The regulation of genetically modified crops in the United States is divided among three regulatory agencies: the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Department of Health and Human Services’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA) (only transgenic food requires regulation by all three federal government agencies).” All food sold has, “Labels that are truthful and not misleading and food labeling is enforced by the Food and Drug Administration as well as the United States Department of Agriculture” (Perdue Agriculture). GMOs are heavily regulated by the government, just as any food should be and is. These regulations contribute to a safe food supply and ensure that the food we purchase is safe.

What This Means to Me

Through this research project, I have learned that GMOs have the potential to be highly beneficial. GMOs are helping to boost biodiversity, make it possible to grow crops in harsh environments, increase sustainable agriculture, and produce an unlimited supply of insulin. They are helping people in impoverished countries feed and financially support their families. GMOs are helping to create a safe and abundant food supply and to create other products that are absolutely essential to human survival.

It was not difficult for me to find credible information to support the use of GMOs, however, it was more difficult for me to find credible anti-GMO research and information. In the future, I would like to dig deeper into information research that does not support the use of genetic engineering.

After researching genetic engineering I feel that I am able to conclude that GMOs are doing more to help the human race than to harm. GMOs are producing more crops, reducing the price of food, allowing farmers to grow food harsh climates, creating an endless supply of affordable insulin and so much more. Without GMOs, it will be difficult to produce enough food to feed the growing population.

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Search Paper: Genetically Modified Organisms. (2021, Nov 06). Retrieved from

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