Outweighing the Economic and Other Benefits of GMO Consumption

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GMOs, a highly disputed topic around the world. Huge organizations like Monsanto, Bayer, and the Center for Food safety are constantly contending over pros v.s. cons. Though, what exactly is a GMO? In summary, a GMO or Genetically Modified Organism is when one organism’s genetics are revised to give a gene to or receive a gene from another organism. Like creating drought-resistant crops, taking from crop A who thrives in a dryer environment, and giving crop B those genes, creating a new subspecies that is more resistant to dry climates. Due to the many different amounts of evidence that can both favor or attest to GMO’s, their existence can be greatly influenced by how they affect consumers, especially when it comes to economics, environmental and human safety. A major pro of GMOs is that they can help create more food for less and are better for the environment all benefiting consumers. A major con of GMOs is too many unknown variables with what seems like not enough long term studies to back them up.

The process of creating GMO is different between each individual company, but all have similar outlines of what kind of GMOs to create. it starts with a need for a specific trait in a crop is implemented like drought resistance or adding in a nutrient. Then begins the testing and isolating that specific gene, last begins the process of inserting that gene into the crops of interest. There are two different types of methods when it comes to genome insertion, the widely used ‘Shotgun’ method because ‘altering the genome of plant seeds is difficult due to their rigid structure. Many biotech companies use “gene guns” that shoot metal particles coated with DNA into plant tissue with a .22-caliber charge (Powell, 2015).” This can be lead to unknown factors like other genes being affected besides the genes being targeted for modification. Another way that can also lead to unknown factors because of the unpredictability of genes, but can be more accurate in genetic modification is using a bacteria to invade and alter a seed’s DNA to create the wanted GMO.

Genetically modified foods have a higher start cost but equal to lower prices in the long term. It has been shown that initial start-up costs to companies for GMOs are higher, but those higher startup costs cover the research and testing done before those GMOS are ready for market. Since the long term benefits make up for those initial high start up costs. More companies look into using GMOs to increase Yield (the amount farmers can harvest at a time) and increasing that quality meaning bigger and better crops with less loss during harvesting. In an article, Economic impact of GM crops a table chart spanning from 1996-2012 of cost vs revenue of first and second-generation crops shows that initially in the US a first-generation soybean technology, GMO cost farmers roughly ’15-39$ while the income was around 38$ (Brookes & Barfoot, 2014).” Therefore companies would need to raise prices, in the beginning, to make up for that dollar loss “As the second generation soybean GMO rolled out in the 2000’s ‘it costs about 47-65$ but with a revenue of 149$ and an increase of yield up to 11% (Brookes & Barfoot, 2014).” More crops being produced with bigger better yields can equal to more people having access to more foods that they normally would not have, with revenue almost double the costs of the GMO technology prices would become more affordable to the consumers.

Secondly with GMOs deforestation and greenhouse gasses can be reduced, and land sustainment can be increased. Farmers would not have to cultivate, till, and rotate their lots as often as they do now. Greenhouse gasses can be reduced due to ‘the fuel savings associated with making fewer spray runs…and then switch to reduced tillage or no-tillage (RT/NT) farming systems facilitated by GM HT crops, have resulted in permanent savings in carbon dioxide emissions. In 2015, this amounted to a saving of 2,819 million kg of carbon dioxide, arising from reduced fuel use of 1,056 million liters (Staropoli, 2019).” Soil would be less likely to be compromised due to farmers applying less harmful insecticides and herbicides to protect their crops. If GM crops can be modified to have natural pest resistance and herbicide resistance the environmental footprint can be drastically lowered by agriculture because of GMO technology.

‘PG Economics reports that in 2014 these GM crops contributed to the reduction of almost 2.4 billion kg in carbon dioxide emission savings. The cultivation of GM crops globally contributed to reduced fuel-burning equivalent to removing 1.07 million cars from the road (Staropoli, 2019).” Lastly is GMOs can introduce new nutritional contents to foods that normally have little or none for example “Golden” rice. With the ability to swap genes into other crops, foods like rice that initially have no nutritional content, but can be produced in mass easily in resource-poor countries, can be genetically engineered to have high levels of whatever nutritional content is missing in that population’s diet. An example is countries lacking Vitamin A food that they can easily produce, manage, and more importantly afford that also gives them the nutrition they need to live. ‘Golden rice’ has been used in countries like Africa and Asia where Vitamin A deficiency is high and ‘the lack of Vitamin A in rice led to the death of more than one million children and 350,000 going blind in the past (Mahgoub, 2016, p. 244).”

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Cons when dealing with GMOs is legality when it comes to ownerships of GMO and GMO seeds, farmers being unable to breed GMO crops. Due to the competition over GMOs, GMO technologies, and the expensive start-up costs, these same companies that are investing into GMO’s are also investing in ‘sterile seeds.’ Meaning these seeds will produce a harvest and offspring but will not “breed,” therefore theses farmers cannot breed these GMO crops and could potentially get fined largely if they do. This would not be sustainable for farmers to make a competitive market for themselves, leading to smaller agricultural markets or farmers having to constantly raise prices to afford to pay the companies investing in GMOs prices for more seeds. That higher cost is would get passed to consumers and market. Secondly, although these crops can be modified to have a pesticide or herbicide resistance genetically modified into their code, as they are being harvested the leftover after harvest will wither in the area. If they do they can potentially breed pest resistance as well and creating “Super Pests”.

A “Super Pest” is an insect that has become resistant to the types of pesticides used, which can happen both with the pest resistance that GMO crops can have or pesticides used. The B. Thuringiesis GMOs, BT is a great example of a gene used in GMO pest resistance. In a study by the University of Arizona it was found that ‘Bollworms resistant to the B.T gene reach sexual maturity faster, almost ensuring that resistant mate with each other (Gao, Liu, Wu, & Wu, 2004).” Though GMO did not directly affect the bollworms, indirectly through natural selection it gave bollworms the opportunity to adapt to survive the new environment. With super pests that could potentially damage the GMO crops, farmers could lose out on huge yields and cause a shortage. Shortages and Losses can equal to higher prices and less accessibility to those crops for consumers and the market.

Furthermore, issues with GMO that can directly affect consumers would be GMO creating food new food allergies. Since GMO is the process of moving around, adding, or subtracting genetics in foods and crops, new food allergies could be created or intensified. A product of genetically engineered food can produce a “Novel protein.” One example is a lectin, a protein in beans used in potato crops (Mahgoub, 2016, p. 265).” There are consumers who have a food allergy to lectin, and could result in those consumers becoming ill or even dying if the allergy is severe enough. Correct and efficient labeling of GMO would need to be established before GMOs with novel proteins could or should be released to consumers.

In conclusion, GMOs can benefit consumers economically by creating more food and better quality foods. Starting off as more expensive due to research and testing, but long-term benefits are worth it. Being able to produce more foods with better nutritional content GMOs can feed more people and keep them nutritionally well, though all those new genes being added into the mix, may create new allergies to foods, consumers have been eating before GMO technology was introduced. All the while GMOs can also benefit the environment by using up less land. With more naturally resistance crops being created, using up less harmful chemicals to protect them against threats like pests and weeds, it is a balancing act though, because more exposure to the gene can also create a more resistant pest.

Looking at all the evidence, I would have to agree that the Pro’s of GMO definitely outweigh the cons. A lot of the initial hurdles and obstacles are all political and economy-based, pest resistance can still happen when these crops are exposed the same chemicals routinely and it is just a natures way of adapting itself to the human component. GMO could be the start of ending famine in countries far worse off and dealing with America’s own ever-growing population; by creating something that is cost-effective, easy to grow and maintain all the while having it contain common basic nutrients populations are missing. As long as a system can be developed to label those GE crops appropriately, food allergens can be avoided, just as they would today.

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