Are Genetically Modified Foods Safe or Sustainable?

In United States’ environmental communities, genetically modified (GM) foods are often seen as unnatural and therefore harmful. In other countries, such as France, they are banned altogether, embracing natural techniques of raising plentiful crops. Despite excessive marketing campaigns, government endorsement and the pervasiveness of genetically modified foods, strong arguments indicate GMO food as unsustainable, a threat to living, and should be avoided.

Pro-GMO corporations cite that genetically modified foods is not necessarily harmful to humans and the environment in the short term; it really depends of the specifics of the genetic modifications. Although the rate of evolution is increased by science and the introduction and changes to specific DNA by genetic engineering techniques, the end result is essentially said to be the same as evolution by natural and human selection of traits, also known as the process of domestication or introducing new varieties and hybrids of domesticates.

This argument omits the fact that GMOs are bred for large-scale industrial farming operations that are harmful to the environment through depletion of the topsoil and the lack of diversity of plant or crop species- thus continuing a unnatural system.

The genetic engineering techniques of the modern era are much more precise than the mutagenesis (mutation breeding) or selective breeding of days of old but often produce the same, or in some cases, more hearty results.

The primary controversy with genetically modified foods has more to do with patent rights and economics than it does about heath- although health concerns are also extremely high. Industrial agriculture owns that patents on genetically modified food and they sell the rights to use the seed to farmers, at a much higher cost than normal seed. Additionally, the patent owner can sue farmer’s that get GMO mixed in with their crops, even if it is due to natural cross-pollination. It is in essence, big business agriculture more than sustainable agriculture or concerns about health.

The U.S. government’s position: Genetically engineered crops are safe, resist disease better, and can provide much-needed food in starving nations. Experts say 60% to 70% of processed foods on U.S. grocery shelves have genetically modified ingredients. Most foods made in the U.S. containing field corn or high-fructose corn syrup that likely have genetically modified ingredients. While the US government’s position is that GMOs are safe, many groups point out the obvious influence that corporations such as Monsanto have in such regulatory bodies. Health specialists, environmentalists and concerned consumers say no to GMOs are trying to push for transparent labeling.

The European Union position is that genetically modified foods are an unknown and that organic foods are preferred. The viewpoint is that the risk of genetically modified foods to health and the environment outweigh the benefits.

Regardless of the fear surrounding genetically modified foods they are simply a extension of the genetic modification that have been occurring to plants through domestication since the end of the last Ice Age. Genetic modification, or evolution, has been a part of human agricultural systems for 10,000 years and it is here to stay. The real question remains whether humans can evolve plants better than nature itself? -KATHY FAIRCHILD

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