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Biotechnology has served as foundation to a number of groundbreaking innovations in modern science. One such revolution revolves around genetically modified organisms (GMOs), organisms modified genetically to phenotypically suit the needs of humans. [1] GMO research has become especially prevalent in the food industry, where genetically modified crops continue to grow as a new norm in food production. These techniques have been linked to reductions in chemical pesticide use, increases in crop yields and overall growth in agriculture revenues.

However, despite this notion, the rapid implementation of GMO crops has come with its share of controversies, which in turn have spawned myths related to GMO’s safety. As a result of these myths, GMO research is regularly scapegoated as a contributing factor to problems with which it has little to no association, including agricultural hindrances and health problems ranging from cancer to birth defects. In actuality, many of these associations are either simply unfounded by any tangible evidence or are a classic result of citing correlation without accounting for causation. These harsh criticisms have led to a reverse halo effect stemming from public misconceptions and subsequent stigmas.

To understand the potential benefits of GMO crop research, we must first dispel these myths and focus on the facts that have been misconstrued in their wake. Here, I take a look at several common GMO crop myths and provide insight as to why they are false.

 

MYTH: “GMO is not natural and is wrong. We are destroying natural, organic species of grain.”

This claim is blatantly false. Humans, for millennia, have been planting and selectively breeding crops, which in effect is exactly what we are doing today (just at a more accelerated pace). GMO research focuses on genetically modifying crops so that we can isolate the most favorable characteristics in these organisms. We have done the same thing with dogs — the poodle, for example, did not exist thousands of years ago, but as we began to selectively breed animals, just like crops, we determined their path in evolution. It is a false argument that the engineering of crops is unnatural; if that is the case, then we have been doing things incorrectly since the dawn of civilization.

 

MYTH:  “Resources are being devoted to GM crop research. These resources should instead be directed to organic farming or other ecological practices because these practices are proven safe.”

If anything, more resources should be devoted to GM crop research because it is the best shot we have at solving world hunger. Ecological organic farming processes are not going to feed the millions of people who are undernourished right now. Furthermore, ecological farming would take an exponentially greater amount of land to provide the same yield that a field of GMO crops would. This is a combined result of being able to pack GMO crops closer together (because of less disease susceptibility and less demand for resources) and a far greater percentage of the crops lasting till harvest. So for those confused individuals who consider themselves environmentalists, yet denounce GMO, heed my words: do you want to continue destroying the environment through deforestation and heavy usage of pesticide and insecticide, all for maintaining your organic farming practices?

Another argument that I often hear is, ‘GM crops are causing malnourishment in the form of overeating and dietary insufficiency.’ This malnourishment is not the fault of GMO crops — it is the fault of the people who choose to follow an unhealthy lifestyle. GMO crop research is already an established technology, and it needs to start being embraced rather than pushed away.

 

MYTH:  “Field trials of biotech crops are dangerous because there is a higher risk of contaminating non-biotech crops”

Biotech field trials are tightly regulated and are under very strict conditions. The FDA would shut down anyone who is not following these regulations. That matter is purely an administrative concern.

 

MYTH:  “Biotech crops are responsible for the evolution of superbugs and killer weeds. These pests and weeds evolve to overcome the crops’ genetic modification.”

This myth is a total misinterpretation of Darwinian evolution. The crops themselves are not responsible for unwanted evolution — rather, it is the irresponsible and excessive use of pesticides and herbicides that is leading to changes in bugs and weeds, both of which are naturally adapting to overcome these threats. From this perspective, genetically modified crops are a far sustainable option than traditional organic farming which requires millions of gallons of pesticide, annually, to maintain crop yields.

 

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Bibliography

[1] “Genetically modified organism.” Wikipedia. Sept. 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetically_modified_organism. Accessed Sept. 20, 2017.

[2] “GMO foods: good or bad?” Healthline. Sept. 2015, http://www.healthline.com/nutrition/gmos-good-or-bad#section2. Accessed Sept. 20, 2017.

[3] “Genetically modified crops.” Wikipedia. Sept. 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetically_modified_crops. Accessed Sept. 20, 2017.

[4] “Genetically modified food controversies.” Wikipedia. Sept. 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetically_modified_food_controversies. Accessed Sept. 20, 2017.

[5] “Myths and facts of biotechnology.” Biotechnology Led Enterprises, BLE. 2015, http://ableag.org/myths-and-facts-of-biotechnology/. Accessed Sept. 20, 2017.