|All You Need to Know About GMOs|
|Written by Émilie St-Hilaire, Four Green Steps|
|Sunday, 22 July 2012 23:52|
Written by Émilie St-Hilaire, Four Green Steps
Since the beginning of relying on agriculture for survival, humans have gained control over nature by selecting only seeds with the most desirable traits. Today, this form of artificial selection has been taken to a whole other level as plants are genetically modified in order to satisfy specific demands. Should we be worried about Genetically Modified Organisms eventually dominating our plates and backyards?
First let’s briefly define the term GMO. A genetically modified organism is a microorganism, plant or animal which genetic information has been altered to give it new characteristics or to remove some of its characteristics. The first GMO’S were created around 1970, but were commercialized only about 20 years later.
Many organisms are modified to resist to pesticides or/and insects, viruses, or harsh climatic conditions. Some fruits and vegetables are modified to have a more desirable appearance. Research is presently made to create vegetables that are more nutritive, higher in protein or fiber.
A Few Statistics From 2011
Percentage of the crop that are genetically modified (worldwide) Canola 26% Maize 32% Soy 75% Cotton 82%
Top Ten Producers of GM Crops (with percentage of production surface). Together, these ten countries produce 98% of genetically modified organisms in the world.
Effect on Health
There is a risk that GMOs have a harmful effect on human health. These risks are however hypothetical. There is a risk of allergic reaction; if a protein from an allergen food A is introduced in another organism, B, an individual who presents allergic symptoms to food A might have an allergic reaction when consuming food B. Since gene mixing can yield unexpected results, effects on human health can be hazardous. Undesired complications might also appear only in the long run.
On the other side, GMO could eventually be beneficial on certain aspects of health. For example, foods can be modified to be more nutritious, containing more healthy fatty acids, which are good for the hearth. Some vitamins or nutrients can be added to plants, for example, a form of rice richer in Vitamin A could help solve the Vitamin A deficiency in many countries. Hypoallergenic versions of foods as peanuts or soy could be created and would be safe for consumption by people with allergies to these products.
Effects on the Environment
Some plants are developed to produce their own herbicide or insecticide. This could lead to the evolution of chemical resistant insects or plants. These resistant species would require more powerful chemicals to be eliminated. There is a benefit however to plants that produce their own pesticides: fewer artificial chemicals are needed to repel insects and undesired plants.
Other types of plants are designed to be pesticide resistant; that means it can be spayed with an infinite amount of chemicals. While the plant is not affected, the pesticides accumulate in the ground and waters. GM plants are also said to be a threat to diversity, as there is a risk of genetic contamination of wild species by pollination if a genetically modified crop is situated near enough.
Tips to Identify GMO Fruits and Vegetables.
In most countries, GMO products are clearly identified.
However, in Canada and United States, there is no law forcing producers to label to label the GMO products. For fruits and vegetables, a trick is to look at the little sticker on it, where a code is written, called a PLU code. If the code contains four numbers, for example 4011, this is a conventional banana. If the code starts with a 9, like 94011, this is an organic banana. And if the code starts with an 8, like 84011, this is a genetically modified banana.
Of course, genetically modified products are highly tested in order to limit the risk factor before they are commercialized. But does this intense testing eliminate completely risks? And are there any alternatives to GMO that would not compromise productivity? Can GMO be the solution to nutritional deficiencies and lack of food around the world?
Image courtesy of Creative Commons.
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