Genetically Modified Organisms have been used in production agriculture for 10,000 to 20,000 years. In the last few years there has been much interest by the general public about GMOs in general. Examples of crops that are the result of genetic modification include:
- Broccoli — resulted from breeding wild mustard plants in 6th century B.C.
- Apples — the apples we know today originated from dwarf apples from Kazakhstan.
- Strawberries — bred for cultivation in 1750, a cross between wild strawberries in Virginia & Chile.
- Kiwi fruit — known as Chinese Gooseberry — brought to the USA in 1904 for decoration, and cultivated in New Zealand in 1906 for food.
- Soybeans — Roundup Ready herbicide tolerance.
The development and farmer adoption of GMO crop technology has increased significantly. For example, according to the USDA Economic Research Service (ERS), in 1996 less than 25 percent of the acres were GMO crops.
By 2016, nearly 100 percent of the soybean acres were planted to herbicide-tolerant soybeans, and more than 75 percent of the acres were planted to GMO corn.
Data from the National Agricultural Statistics Service shows the adoption of soybean varieties with some level of genetic modification for herbicide tolerance nearly doubled from 2000-2016. (See table 1.)
Many public opinion surveys have been conducted about GMOs, with many respondents saying they are opposed to GMOs.
These opinions are often based on fear, a lack of knowledge about GMOs, a lack of understanding of science, and emotion. However, these are still feelings held by the public and must be considered.
It’s important to stress that there are markets available for non-GMO crops. In fact, there may be economic advantages to identifying and building a relationship with a non-GMO market.
Regulations and oversight of GMO development and use have been in place since the early 1970s.
In 1974, the National Institutes of Health established a DNA Advisory Committee as a result of concerns over scientist concerns that DNA could be used as a weapon. International Regulations for GMO research have found that GMOs benefit mankind when used to increase food availability and quality and for medical care.
When used wisely, GMOs can alleviate disease and hunger. The International Regulations for GMO research also emphasizes that due diligence and thorough attention to risks is required.
Dr. Kevin Folta is the chairman, Horticultural Sciences Department at the University of Florida, and has studied GMOs extensively. He is quoted as saying: “It is hard to think of a scientifically-based downside to the technology. The central one is resistance to Bt and specific herbicides. It is particularly a problem because Bt is one of the few pesticides allowed in organic cultivation, and resistance takes away an option. Acquired resistance is not a GMO-specific problem.”
Some have asked why no studies of GMOs have been conducted on humans. The reason is because there is no hypothesis to test. Studies have been conducted on animals to look for problems and none have been found.
The American Medical Association (AMA) released a statement that read: “bioengineered foods have been consumed for close to twenty years, and during that time, no overt consequences on human health have been reported and/or substantiated in the peer-review literature.”
The AMA did recommend that products go through mandatory testing prior to commercial use. What are the potential advantages and disadvantages associated with the use of GMOs?
Advantages and disadvantages
On the advantage side, GMOs can reduce chemical applications, reduce fuel consumption, save time and reduce equipment repair. Also, research studies have confirmed the safety of GMOs and improved food quality and nutrient content.
Disadvantages include the higher price of GMO seeds, lack of public acceptance, ethical issues, allergic reactions, and pesticide resistance.
In summary, GMOs are nothing new. They have been used for thousands of years and have allowed for significant improvements in production agriculture.
GMOs have also allowed for improved nutrient content of foods, especially in poor countries. The use of GMOs has also allowed for less chemical applications and reduced fuel consumption — both positively impacting the environment.
It’s important to keep in mind that not everyone is a believer in GMO production, use, and consumption. Educating the public about the potential advantages and potential disadvantages of GMOs is important.
More and more people don’t care to hear about the science behind GMOs, but do want to hear directly from farmers about why they do or don’t use GMOs. Don’t be afraid to tell your story!