GMOs could one day end world hunger, but unscientific fearmongering has given them a bad rep.

Kitty Geoghan, Section Editor - The Reporter

A few weeks back, I talked about organic farming and why it’s not nearly as important as some folks think it is. But it’s hard to talk about organic foods without also mentioning GMOs, since the two are so often connected among fans of “clean eating.”

What is a GMO?

The term GMO, which stands for Genetically Modified Organism, refers to any living thing whose DNA has been altered artificially by biotechnicians. Typically, this involves the insertion of DNA from one organism into the cells of another, resulting in new traits being expressed in that organism. Scientists have developed all manner of GMOs, including goats that produce silk instead of milk and pigs that glow in the dark. But the real controversy around GMOs involves their biggest use: food production. Biotechnology can now produce tomatoes that don’t freeze, potatoes that don’t bruise, and apples that don’t brown. Sounds great, right? Well, like all fancy new technology that affects things we eat, GMOs have stirred up some concern among the health-conscious activists of the world.

Where is the Science? Actually, Right Here

The biggest proponent of anti-GMO rhetoric is The Non-GMO Project, an organization that aims to give consumers an “informed choice” on whether to consume GMOs. Their primary goal is the proper labeling of all non-GMO foods for those consumers who want to avoid GMOs. This sounds innocent enough; however, despite all their fear-mongering, The Non-GMO Project doesn’t even bother to provide evidence that GMOs are a health risk, instead simply stating (incorrectly) that there is no scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs. In fact, this couldn’t be further from the truth. While some small groups of independent scientists have questioned the safety of GMO crops, no major scientific organization has expressed these concerns, and major literature reviews have been conducted that found no significant risks. The science is clear: Consuming GMO crops does not cause cancer, obesity, allergies, gastrointestinal complications, or autism. In fact, GMOs have several benefits, which is why they were created in the first place. Insect-resistant crops require fewer insecticides, reducing exposure in human consumers – which, if you recall, was one of the goals of organic farming. Additionally, and much more importantly, GMOs may one day be able to end world hunger.

Feeding the World with GMOs

Researchers in biotechnology are currently trying to engineer a hyperefficient form of rice that may be able to feed twice as many people, in addition to being drought-resistant and far less finicky about the environment where it grows. The science behind it is complex, but suffice it to say that by changing the way rice plants photosynthesize, scientists may be able to maximize efficiency so that more rice can be cultivated from less space. This is a huge advancement, considering how limited our supply of arable land is. Additionally, the looming threat of climate change means that ecologically demanding plants like rice may have more difficulty adapting to future trends. It’s more important than ever that our agriculture is able to survive these changing conditions, and with biotechnology and GMOs, it’s heading in that direction.