Genetically modified organisms need a closer look
Published: Thursday, January 17, 2013
Updated: Thursday, January 17, 2013 23:01
Genetically modified organisms have been around for thousands of years. Humans have selected desirable traits for cats, dogs, cattle, plants and several other organisms. Recently, there has been controversy over allowing the growth of genetically modified crops, in regards to not only human safety, but cross-contamination with non-modified crops.
According to the Capital Press, farmers and other supporters filed over 6,000 signatures with the Jackson County Courthouse for a petition to ban genetically modified crops from being grown next to organic crops. The fear of cross-contamination is the reason behind the ban. While cross-contamination is an issue with genetically modified crops, I do not believe an outright ban on them is the correct approach to solve the issue. Farmers who grow those crops have a right to grow them. If genetically modified crops are their sole crop, then the ban would mean farmers would have to change their whole operation. This may be labor and capital intensive, and indeed time consuming.
What do we do about genetically modified crops?
Again, I do not feel a ban is the right approach to the problem. The appropriate approach is research — we should research the possible effects of these crops on humans as well as with cross-contamination, and whether these effects are worth worrying about.
Through research we can help alleviate or eliminate many of the controversies surrounding genetically modified crops. Or at least work to improve them. Among the controversies surrounding genetically modified crops are antibiotic resistance transferring from crop to humans and modified crops enhancing peoples allergies.
Recently, labeling has become an issue with genetically modified crops. While it may help inform consumers on what is in the food they eat, labeling doesn’t seem to make much difference in what food people will pick — we all have our preferences. Labels on tobacco and alcohol products don’t prevent people from using them, yet both products kill hundreds, if not thousands of people a year.
In addition, if we label genetically modified crops, should we not also require food companies to put accurate nutritional fact labels on their food, and have stricter ingredient lists on highly processed foods such as doughnuts and candy bars? Why should we just label modified crops?
We must also not overlook the benefits genetically modified crops have already brought us, and what they could do for the human race. According to Oak Ridge National Laboratory, there are sweet potatoes resistant to a virus in Africa that can decimate the sweet potato harvest, rice with enhanced vitamins and iron to combat malnutrition, and a variety of plants that can now grow in places historically they could not due to weather and climate restrictions.
Genetically modified crops have many benefits. They have helped animals grow faster, have affected the taste of crops, and made crops pest-repellent and resistant to viruses which may decimate harvests.
We have modified organisms genetically for many years through selective breeding — think Mendel’s peas. He was able to map out, genetically, what traits could appear in the offspring pea plants, or which were recessive or dominant, and thus developed the principles of Mendelian Inheritance.
We have selectively bred dogs. Indeed, when we domesticated wolves to become our faithful companions we know today, we bred the wolves that demonstrated the tamest attributes. This is evident in a Russian experiment involving foxes during the Soviet era.
Dmitri K. Belyeav, a Russian scientist, wondered if selecting tameness attributes, as opposed to aggressive ones, would result in hormonal and neurochemical changes, according to Scientific American. After a score of tests, only the ones who were the least fearful and did not show aggression were selected for breeding. Over the 40 generations of this experiment, the end result was a group of domesticated, friendly foxes. I bring this up, not to elaborate upon how foxes or dogs were domesticated, but that we have selectively bred animals for many, many years.
So, this brings up the point: Is this proposed ban the right way to deal with those who grow genetically modified crops, and the right direction to take with regards to genetically modified crops? I feel more research needs to be done with regards to the effects of cross-contamination and human health, but an outright ban is a step in the wrong direction if we are to fully develop and understand the benefits of genetically modified crops and organisms.
Tyler Pike is a junior in agricultural sciences. The opinions expressed in his columns do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Barometer staff. Pike can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.