Genetically modified organisms

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Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) refer to the development of new breeds of plants through genetic engineering. GMOs enable the transfer of desirable traits from one plant to another with the objective of improving its productivity. The healthy plants usually have some of their genes removed and transferred to the plants that need the modification. This type of technology can boost the resistance of the crops to harsh climatic conditions as well as the resistance to pests and diseases. GMOs have become a critical issue that has the capacity to affect evolution due to the high level of hybridization. The cross-pollination of wild plants by the genetically modified variants is likely to affect the level of adaptation among wild types. GMOs represent organisms that may lack the capacity to undergo successful adaptation to changing environmental conditions compared to the wild types. However, they play a critical role in resolving issues related to food insecurity as this paper will demonstrate.

Current GMO Crops

There are only nine plants that are available for genetic engineering, and they include papaws, cotton, squash, potatoes, canola, alfalfa, sugar beets, soybeans, and sweet and field corn (Weirich, 2007). The launching of these crops took place in different years. The genetic traits of the plants were the ability to resist disease, herbicide tolerance, and drought resistant. There are various uses of the crops such as food, animal feed, or fiber (Weirich, 2007). Soybeans have many uses such as industrial purposes, livestock, and poultry feed, pet food, adhesives and building materials, biodiesel fuel, vegetable oil, and printing ink.

Similarly, field corn has several uses such as starch, corn oil, alcohol, industrial uses, animal feed, fuel ethanol, and cereals. The major biotech plantations include soybeans at 50%, maize at 33%, cotton with a 12%, and canola at 5%. The other crops occupy a percentage of 1. There is hope for the launching of more biotech crops like the apples whereby the anticipated release is in Fall 2017 (Rai, 2016). The five best leading states in the breeding of biotech crops to the large scales include the US, Canada, India, Brazil, and Argentina.

Safety and the Health of GMOs

Many individuals have criticized the introduction of biotechnology claiming that these crops can result in diseases like cancer, allergies, or autism. However, research conducted for over 20 years since the launch of the biotechnology has shown that these crops are safe for both human and animal consumption. In 2016, the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS) conducted research concerning the subject of the GMOs safety and confirmed that indeed, the crops do not pose any harm to the body (Rai, 2016). Additionally, the World Health Organization, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, and American Medical Association have also carried research and confirmed that biotech crops do not cause any diseases. Besides, American Medical Association, the World Health Organization, the US Drug and Food Administration, and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reviewed their research and assured the people that biotech crops do not have adverse effects on the health. Therefore, there is no cause for alarm.

Effects of GMOs on the Environment

Since genetically modified crops are insect resistant, it is crucial to note that pollinators such bees and butterflies cannot survive in such conditions (Žel, et al., 2011). Bees are major agents of pollination. Therefore, the chances of transferring pollen from one plant to another are impossible, since the crops are insect resistant. Besides, the birds, which are also responsible for increasing pollination do not stand a chance in the GMOs. Since it is not yet clear whether the resistance of the GMOs is consistent or not, there are chances that the targeted pests could develop adaptive mechanisms (Žel, et al., 2011). Hence, the pests are likely to adapt to the pesticides and the herbicides.

Moreover, sugar beets, cotton, and canola are examples of the biotech plants that cross-pollinate. Therefore, these plants can cross-pollinate with the nearby wild plants of the same type and result in contamination. The GM crops produce toxins that are stronger than the poison that native plants produce. These toxins are likely to affect aquatic life (Shetterly, 2016) negatively. Animals that live in water might die or develop complications that could slow down their multiplication. Additionally, agents of pollination like bees, birds, and other wildlife might die or get diseases due to the toxin hence affecting the wildlife.

Prolonged use of the herbicides in the farms has an adverse impact on the weeds. In fact, the unwanted plants develop adaptive mechanisms, and with time, they develop resistance. Hence, the effectiveness of the herbicide resistant crops diminishes with time and results in the emergence of what Scientists call super weeds (Shetterly, 2016). In some instances, the genetically modified crops could lead to the horizontal transfer of genes to the environment. The transfer occurs when the biotech crops shed their leaves which the microorganisms in the soil feed. So, some genes from the plants end up in the bacteria or the fungi into the ground. Similarly, some insects and other animals feed on the maize stalks of the genetically engineered crops, therefore, end up acquiring the DNA of the plants.

Modern Agriculture

Since the introduction of the biotechnology, farmers have innovated GPS self-driven tractors as well as the use of drones to increase production. There are reduced expenses and increased food and feed supply to cater for the demand globally. Undoubtedly, biotech crops have minimized food wastage since they are disease resistant as well as drought resistant (Lee, 2008). Besides, farmers can now grow more food on a small piece of land and use fewer chemicals and fuel. With the new technology, Scientists are in a position to increase the number of vitamins in some crops such as rice and sorghum. For instance, Scientists have genetically modified beta-carotene in the golden rice hence improving the nutrient content (Lee, 2008).

Advantages of GMOs

The introduction of the biotech crops has many benefits to the farmers as well as to the consumers. Foremost, since the farmers spend less on resources and time, they have managed to maximize the profits hence improving their standards of living. Further, GMOs are economically efficient because farmers do not have to spend money on the pesticides. The amount of money that could have bought the chemicals is saved and dedicated to other sectors like healthcare, education, or infrastructure. Some regions experience harsh climate conditions like high temperatures such that some crops cannot withstand the heat (In Rai, 2016). However, the transfer of the genes from one plant to another has boosted the resistance of the crops to the unconducive conditions. Therefore, crops can now grow in the regions that experience severe climatic environments thus increasing food productivity.

The growing of the advanced crops has fewer expenses than the traditional foods, so, food prices become cheaper. The famine-stricken families can now purchase the foods at an affordable price and prevent nutritional deficiency diseases. Another benefit of the GMOs is that researchers can add nutritive value to the crops that lack essential minerals. The added vitamins will also eradicate deficiency infections in the sections that experience starvation (In Rai, 2016). Finally, research has confirmed that GMO foods are safe for both human beings and animal consumption. So, there are no cases of toxins reported in the biotech crops.

Disadvantages of GMOs

The biotechnology crops have a negative impact on the ecosystem because they are harmful to the agents of pollination like the bees and butterflies. The genetically modified crops transmit some of their genes to the wild plants, and this is likely to increase weeds (Shetterly, 2016). Research shows that biotech plants usually leave unwanted residual substances in the soil for as long as five years. The residuals are likely to affect soil microorganisms negatively. The chemical residues also affect aquatic life (Shetterly, 2016).  As mentioned earlier, biotechnology can damage the environment since the plants do not grow in their natural ecosystem.

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Conclusion

Since the innovation of the genetically engineered crops, many nations have tackled food crisis issues regarding increased yields, pests, disease control, and reclamation of land that was not conducive to agriculture. With the new technology, many states have continued to embrace the GMOs to eradicate famine. However, some regions are facing trade challenges such as quota and tariffs. In the modern day society, researchers are still innovating GMOs to meet the demand of an increased population worldwide, as well as crops that are environment-friendly. The primary objective of the Scientists is to maximize food production and minimize food wastage internationally.

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  1. Rai, V. R. (2016). Advances in food biotechnology. Chichester, West Sussex, UK ; Hoboken, NJ, USA : Wiley Blackwell.
  2. Lee, M. (2008). EU Regulation of GMOs: Law and decision making for a new technology. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar
  3. Shetterly, C. (2016). Modified: GMOs and the threat to our food, our land, our future.
  4. Weirich, P. (2007). Labeling genetically modified food: The philosophical and legal debate. Oxford: Oxford University Press
  5. Žel, J., Milavec, M., Morisset, D., Plan, D., & Eede, G. (2011). How to reliably test for GMOs. New York: Springer-Verlag.
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