The Mathile Blog
Posted on November 12, 2014 by Lauren Houle
When most people hear the words, “genetically modified food,” they immediately think of negative adjectives like unnatural, dangerous and environmentally detrimental. I, like many Americans, am guilty of these judgments. Before I started working at the Mathile Institute, I made a huge effort to steer clear of anything that could have been genetically engineered in the grocery store. I searched for “Certified Organic” and “Non-GMO” labels like it was my last dying duty. But why did I buy into the insane societal fear of genetic modification, when in reality, I had no idea what those words even meant?
The collective opinion against GMOs is largely due to the power of social media. However, we are hardly to blame. When old biases surrounding a heated topic like GMOs are enforced on a large scale, it is easy to passively stand by instead of detaching the hard facts from the current “social hype.” Many of us fear the social isolation that could potentially occur from expressing an unpopular opinion, like pro GMO, openly. This spiral of silence, which is very prevalent in scientific debates, leaves us frightened and misinformed by inflated misconceptions.
Those in opposition of GMOs are probably very familiar with the Gilles-Eric Séralini corn study, which claimed that rats developed cancer after they were fed genetically engineered corn. However, the mediated-realities that promote this study do not reveal that the rats were already prone to cancerous tumors. There was also no control group for the rats that ended up developing growths. This two-year study involving 200 rats hardly stands up to the fact that thousands of farmers have not seen a similar cause-effect relationship between their GE animal feed and the health of their livestock.
GMOs are safe for both animals and humans. Genetically modified technology simply takes some of nature’s desirable traits, and adds them into our food. This process is done without any harmful substances or chemicals. Although the controversy surrounding GMOs is quite new, we have actually been unknowingly, and safely, eating genetically modified food for two decades. Most of the food that we eat, which contains corn or soy, was made from genetically modified ingredients. Still not convinced that GMOs are safe? Take it from the experts. The US National Academy of Sciences has stated that, “no adverse health effects attributed to genetic engineering have been documented in the human population.” The American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Medical Association and the European Commission has also recognized that GMOs are just as safe as conventionally produced crops.
GMOs are crucial on a domestic and global level. We are estimated to have 9.6 billion people on earth by 2050. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN has estimated that we need to grow 70% more food to make up for this drastic population increase. Without an increase in supply to match this demand, food prices will increase and food shortages will become prevalent, especially in underdeveloped countries. GMOs are the answer to this problem. GMO technology increases food production, reduces costs and lowers prices. The high-yield, high quality crops produced with this technology will deter hunger, and therefore, save lives. GMOs also play a sizable part in the fight against malnutrition. According to the World Health Organization, 250,000 – 500,000 children develop blindness every year due to Vitamin A deficiency. Half of these children will die within a year after losing their vision. Gene variations have been discovered that can change nutrient lacking white corn into orange corn, which is very high in pro-vitamin A carotenoids, a substance that improves eyesight and immune health. This is just one example of genetic modification being used to meet the needs of a suffering population, an especially important aspect in developing countries where people are not lucky enough to have access, let alone easy access, to nutrient rich foods.
Although there is much opposition to the use of GMOs, I believe this period of doubt is necessary. When the public is presented with a possible threat, it is important to evaluate whether or not there is enough risk to cause true concern. The large debates surrounding GMOs will bring real facts into light, and eventually, the masses will see how genetic modification can save numerous lives and protect our food security for the future.