When you read product labels in a supermarket or scroll through advertisements on your phone, you’ll often see Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) cast in a bad light. Even the word “GMO” carries a negative connotation. Still, I have never understood how genetically modified (GM) food could be that much worse than overpriced organic food, other than that GM food is deemed “unhealthy.” A genetically modified organism (GMO) is any organism that has been modified through genetic engineering to produce a desired trait. Over the last three decades, the use of GMOs in our crops and food has gained popularity and sparked major controversy within the United States. With approximately 92 percent of the country’s corn and 94 percent of the country’s soybeans artificially modified, many people have begun to fear GMO usage. As most GMOs are produced and owned by large corporations, many people doubt these companies’ true intentions. One common argument against GMOs is that they only create corporate profit—harming the environment and people in the process. However, this fear about GMOs is not based on truth, and the overwhelming benefits of using GMOs far outweigh the costs.
When one side of the debate about GMOs is dominated by large corporations, it is hard not to assume that genetically engineered crops merely line the pockets of big companies. However, in addition to benefiting these corporations, the commercialization of GMOs in agriculture aids developing economies and reduces the cost of maintaining crops for farmers and purchasing food for consumers.
GM technology is an especially valuable asset to many developing countries. In 2014, GMO eggplants were introduced to Bangladesh, and since, the Food Drug Administration (FDA) has stated that farmers “who grow GMO eggplants are earning more and have less exposure to pesticides.” The United States Agency for International Development has also partnered with countries in Africa and Asia to engineer staple crops such as cowpeas, potatoes, and cassava. These foods are engineered to gain a resistance towards insects, diseases, and viruses to help farmers in less developed countries maintain their crops.
There is also a growing concern that GMOs can cause allergic reactions and harm the environment. This could not be farther from the truth. Based on 30 years of real world evidence, the World Health Organization reported, “All genetically modified foods currently available on the international market have passed safety assessments and no effects on human health have been shown.” The FDA, Environmental Protection Agency, and U.S. Department of Agriculture also regulate and assess the safety of bioengineered crops to people, animals, and the environment. Many genetically engineered crops are even selected to produce specific traits that make them healthier. In 2002, it was found that frying potatoes can produce acrylamide, a chemical linked to cancer. Through genetic engineering we can select a specific gene that produces less of this chemical, or even take it a step further and select other traits that increase a potato’s nutritional value. While it is true that GM crops can have a harmful impact on the environment and can cause damage to many other plant species through outcrossing, the breeding of two different species of plants, many countries have already established rules to segregate GM crops from non-GM crops to prevent any unexpected mutations through accidental breeding, according to the WHO.
Although the fears surrounding GMOs are understandable, we cannot forget the advantages of bioengineering technology. The convenience and efficiency of genetically engineered crops has great potential to improve the agricultural industry both within the United States and abroad. Our frequent exposure to negative messaging about GMOs highlights society’s discomfort adopting GM food. However, we should realize that the risks that are present with GMO use do not outweigh the vast benefits. When I look for foods at the supermarket, the GMO label won’t set me off. The next time you’re shopping for groceries, you shouldn’t pay attention to that pesky label either—it’s not just harmless but beneficial to society.