GMOs Have a Bad Reputation, but is it Deserved?

Ryan Bhandari |

GMOs.jpgIn America, it's almost impossible to avoid GMOs (genetically modified organisms) at the supermarket. Nearly 80% of all processed foods in the United States are genetically modified. And because the US doesn’t require food manufacturers to label GMO products, consumers often have no idea the products they are consuming are genetically modified. In contrast, the European Union decided to ban the sale and distribution of GMOs in 1999. Why hasn’t the United States followed suit? Probably because there’s nothing wrong with GMOs and Europe’s decision to ban them was a severe overreaction.

Those who are against genetically modified organisms derive their arguments from the supposedly negative long-term health effects of GMOs. The opponents of GMOs point to several isolated research reports that they then use to justify the claim of health risks. In the 1990’s, the UK’s government tasked Dr. Pusztai, a former researcher for the Rowett Institute in Scotland to do research on the health impact of genetically modified organisms. When he fed genetically modified potatoes to rats, he found that the animals showed pre-cancerous growth cells as well as smaller brains, livers, and testicles. The rats that were fed the regular potatoes showed none of these symptoms.

GMOs are Bad for You! (If You’re a Rat)

The Russian Academy of Sciences conducted a similar experiment where they fed genetically engineered soybeans to hamsters and measured the results. The hamsters that were fed these soybeans often times lost fertility and the offspring they managed to produce had a much higher mortality rate. These hamsters also started to grow an abnormal amount of hair in their mouths.

These animal experiments have led many to call for the United States to follow Europe’s path and outlaw GMOs. They argue that the health risk posed by these GMOs is too great and cannot be ignored, or that there should at the very least be more testing before we distribute GMOs to the masses.

The problem with this logic though is that it equates rodents to humans. The genetic structure of a rodent is far different to that of a human. GMOs have been on the shelves of our supermarkets for nearly 20 years now. The World Health Organization, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Scientists and the American Medical Association all claim that these GMO crops are just as safe, if not safer, than conventionally grown crops. Therefore, human trials for GMOs have basically been conducted for the last two decades. Over that time, there has not been a single incident linking GMOs to any sort of adverse health problems in humans.

GMOs – The Terrible, Horrible Remedy to Drought and Disease

Opponents of GMOs are also ignoring the incredible benefits of these crops. GMOs have been documented to exponentially increase crop yields. GMOs can be engineered to be drought and disease resistant. They are also more environmentally friendly, because they require less square footage of soil and reduce the need for farmers to use toxic pesticides. In some cases, GMO crops can even be healthier than conventionally grown crops. For example, Swiss researchers created something called “golden” rice that has extremely high amounts of beta-carotene.

The United Nations estimates that 1 out of 8 people in the world faces chronic undernourishment. Golden rice was originally developed to combat Vitamin-A deficiencies in children, an affliction that’s estimated to affect nearly 250 million children around the world. This crop could have been an answer to fixing the Vitamin-A deficiency problem, but it is currently in production…nowhere, largely because of the anti-GMO sentiment around the developed world. Some scientists have gone so far as to claim that groups like Greenpeace, which have systemically blocked efforts to reproduce it, are responsible for the deaths and blindness of millions of children around the world. It makes absolutely no sense.

Arguments Against GMOs...Now Fact Free!

Ultimately, the problem with those who oppose GMOs is that they have no basis to back up their claim. They use a false equivalency when they cite the effects of GMOs on hamsters and rats as a precursor to the maladies human beings will supposedly face, yet there is not a shred of evidence that GMOs have harmed humans in any way. They even admitted this themselves – opponents postulate that there MAY be long-term effects that we don’t know about, because there hasn’t been enough testing. They say that the current science might be wrong.

By that same logic, maybe we shouldn’t actively try to slow down the adverse effects of climate change because there’s a possibility that the science might be wrong. Society shouldn’t make decisions based on the possibility that the current science is wrong…it should make decisions based on what the current science tells us. And what the current science tells us is that GMOs are not any more dangerous than conventionally grown crops.

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