Genetically Modified Food – Is it good or bad

28


Discussion by: harpreet

Hi All,

I am from India and activism against GM foods has been steadily growing here. Organizations like Greenpeace etc are also militantly campaigning against GM crops. But no one is exactly furnishing the pros and cons of the same. If any of you has indepth knowledge on this subject, request you to kindly share the same here. I have done a fair bit of research on this and honestly it has confused me even more. My confusion can be summarized using below questions. Please answer the same:

1. Are GM crops harmful to our health?

2. Can industrial production of such crops impact native crops.

3. Are they really a necessity ( I think they are but just asking)?

4. Whats the exact procedure of producing such a crop?

 

 

28 COMMENTS

  1. Well modified crops can be engineered to be disease resistant , so in theory there is less of a need for pesticides.
    Another upside is that they generally produce a better yield of crop , putting pressure off in terms of food supplies.
    On the down side they introduce new selection pressures into the eco system that can have a destabilising effect on flora and fauna
    The problem of course is the unseen issue , naturally producing crop engineered by natural selection has proven efficacy The crop has matured slowly and is well tested in nature , i.e eaten for example

    Good Idea or bad idea? Hard to know , I’d prefer it didn’t happen but at the same time it maybe a practical choice

    1. nothing GM has shown to be harmful yet. in the long term maybe dangers might be found. however, that could be the case for any food

    2. yes, that’s nature for you

    3. with a growing population more arable land is needed, a crop that could grow in the desert irrigated with seawater (for example) would save rainforest destruction and feed poor nations. necessary is a bit of a subjective view but there are potential benefits such as fortifying crops with vitamins or ensuring crops don’t fail in poor weather or are resistant to disease so there are social and economic implications

    4. i’ll defer to the clever apes

    1. There is neither any theoretical nor empirical reason to think so. However, GM crops are deliberately resistant to pest-killing toxins, whose concentration and diversity rise in response to the evolution of resistance to them in pest populations. These toxins do appear to be harming human health.
    2. It’s likely some native strains will eventually be outbred by escaped GM strains. There are natural events akin to this, such as the evolution of Spartina townsendii. However, “native crops” are often worth replacing. For example, for many species polyploidy is the only reason they are agriculturally interesting. Diploid strawberries, bananas & wheat aren’t worth eating. (S townsendii also owes its success to polyploidy; it’s a major driver of evolution in plants.)
    3. Without GM we cannot feed anywhere near the world’s population. Thank you, Normal Borlaug. However, corporations have made strains that can’t reproduce, so farmers have to buy seeds from them regularly. That’s not necessary.
    4. If you want species A to have a trait B already has as a result of a specific known gene or set of genes, you use various DNA splicing techniques to copy the gene(s) in question into A’s genome. Sequencing the enzymes responsible for the trait allows us to infer which gene(s) are relevant, so the trait’s molecular mechanism must be understood. But B needn’t be a plant, e.g. tomatoes made frost-resistant using a gene from a species of fish. Once you have the desired genome, which might be the product of several modifications, you make the cell grow into a plant. (Sometimes 1 or more early divisions are made to fail with colchicine to induce polyploidy.) You then clone the plant by vegetative propagation. Cross-breeding then reintroduces variation, if appropriate.
    • In reply to #4 by Jos Gibbons:

      There is neither any theoretical nor empirical reason to think so. However, GM crops are deliberately resistant to pest-killing toxins, whose concentration and diversity rise in response to the evolution of resistance to them in pest populations. These toxins do appear to be harming human health.
      It…Could you please provide the source(s) for your claim that the toxins are harming human health. I’ve seen some information to that effect but have not compiled it. I’ve been engaged in a very tiring discussion most of the day on Slate.com about this subject. The article is called “A Hippie’s Defense of GMOs.” I oppose Monsato’s practices and the lack of long term studies on health effects. Thank you.

  2. Questions I have with GM crops include the following:
    (1) Can farmers be reduced to sharecroppers? They do not own the seeds from crops.
    (2) Can air pollinating GMO’s cross contaminate non-GMO crops?
    (3) Can GMO crops resistant to pesticides become weeds?
    (4) Can GMO crops contain toxins that affect non-target organisms?
    (5) Can GMO’s increase use of pesticides or herbicides?
    (6) Is oversight of GMO’s adequate?

    • In reply to #5 by olydobbie:

      Questions I have with GM crops include the following:

      (1) Can farmers be reduced to sharecroppers? They do not own the seeds from crops.

      One of the deliberate aims the GMO Corporations, which must be resisted. Greenpeace is right on this issue.

      (2) Can air pollinating GMO’s cross contaminate non-GMO crops?

      Yes, and also horizontal gene transfer by other means, mediated by bacteria (I think – more info, those reading?) – those tailored genes will get out there, to compete in the wild, it’s only a question of when.

      (3) Can GMO crops resistant to pesticides become weeds?

      Absolutely

      (4) Can GMO crops contain toxins that affect non-target organisms?

      Such as butterflies. Well, in principle, it seems possible. Studies needed to find out to what extent it actually happens, and read the results with one eye on who funded the study.

      (5) Can GMO’s increase use of pesticides or herbicides?

      Isn’t this the Key Feature of “Roundup Ready” seeds? Saturate the place in Far More Roundup Than Ever Before, and only our star engineered crop will survive. All else perished in the poison. So, plant these seeds and then spray like you’ve never sprayed before…

      (6) Is oversight of GMO’s adequate?

      Hell no!!!

      Excuse the flamboyant language folks, I’m just tired of the same old “prefectly safe … feed the hungry …. for the good of mankind” stuff that comes from those with money to make out of it. I know Prof D doesn’t seem alarmed by GMOs except that they may be the wrong target to get worried about, but one essential point from my reading of his work so far, is that there is no such thing as a “gene for” some particular trait. So you can’t just copy/paste genes and expect to get the-same-organism-only-different-in-just-one-way. They all work in complex collaboration with many of the other genes in the genome, and they don’t come in neat single-effect packages like the GM industry would like us to believe. I look forward to enlightened responses, I know many folks here are a lot better educated in this field than I.

    • In reply to #5 by olydobbie:

      Questions I have with GM crops include the following:
      (1) Can farmers be reduced to sharecroppers? They do not own the seeds from crops.
      (2) Can air pollinating GMO’s cross contaminate non-GMO crops?
      (3) Can GMO crops resistant to pesticides become weeds?
      (4) Can GMO crops contain toxins th…

      do you trust Monsanto?

  3. That is a bit like asking “are chemicals good”?
    The two most common modifications are to make the plant produce its own BT pesticide and Roundup readiness.

    The advantage is you don’t need to spray any pesticide, and thus the BT stays where you want it. The disadvantage is it is “burned” into the plant. It does not wash off just prior to harvest. Monoculture is rapidly making pests resistant to BT. It some parts of the world it is pointless.

    Roundup is a herbicide. If your corn plants are genetically modified to be immune to Roundup, you can spray Roundup on the fields and the corn will survive and the weeds will die. The genes jump species so before you know it the weeds are immune too.

    Genetic modification is also used in a manner similar to traditional selective breeding. The plants created have very high yields. The catch is they typically need large amounts of water and chemical fertilizers. They also must be kept in a narrow temperature band. As fossil fuels run out, these varieties will not longer be viable. We will have to back off to varieties closer to the original wild variants.

    Klebsiella planticola is a micro-organism found on the roots of every plant species on earth. It helps them absorb
    nutrients. A company in Oregon decided to genetically modify the organism to produce alcohol from plant waste for
    biofuel, then sell the remaining sludge as fertiliser. By happenstance, Michael Holmes, a student needing a project
    for his PhD thesis, decided to test the new lifeform for toxicity, and discovered that it killed any plant it
    touched by producing twenty times more alcohol on its roots than it could withstand. What looked like such a great
    green idea on paper turned out to be a bioweapon that could have killed all plant life on earth.

    The main drawback of GM has nothing to do with the technology, but with Monsanto, the most immoral corporation on the planet. Their goal it to take control of all of the planet’s food production by hook or by crook.

  4. You have been eating genetically modified food all your life. Admittedly the modifications have nearly always been by such means as cross pollination, selective breeding etc, rather than by chopping and changing genetic code as we are learning to do now.

    The slice and dice methods are so new we are going to have to learn what is, and is not, acceptable, both legally and morally, and probably a few more ‘ally’s as well. Personally I’m fairly optimistic, but I expect a few missteps along the way. Possibly expensive ones, and I don’t mean financially, except possibly peripherally.

    • In reply to #7 by SomersetJohn:

      You have been eating genetically modified food all your life. Admittedly the modifications have nearly always been by such means as cross pollination, selective breeding etc, rather than by chopping and changing genetic code as we are learning to do now.

      The slice and dice methods are so new we are…So you’re satisfied to have this technology in the control of corporations like Monsanto?

    1. GM crops are very likely safe. We have been eating them for decades now and there have been no bad side affects.
    2. Yes, any sort of intensive monoculture cultivation can impact native crops.
    3. Yes, we need them. If we gave up GM crops hundreds of millions, maybe billions, would starve to death.
    4. It varies greatly from plant to plant, but the basic idea is that you introduce a gene from a plant that does something you want, could be produce vitamin b, could be resist the herbicide round up,so that the plant your are engineering gains that trait. Can’t say I know the technical details of how that is done.
    • In reply to #9 by canadian_right:

      GM crops are very likely safe. We have been eating them for decades now and there have been no bad side affects.
      Yes, any sort of intensive monoculture cultivation can impact native crops.
      Yes, we need them. If we gave up GM crops hundreds of millions, maybe billions, would starve to death.
      It varie…You can’t say you know the details of how it’s done, and you can’t say where you got the evidence that millions or billions will starve without GMOs, because such evidence does not exist.

  5. I believe GM crops have been vilified by people who have put emotion before reason. I don’t believe I have knowledge that I would describe as ‘in-depth’, but I would like to thank you for asking about the topic in the first place. It’s refreshing to see someone trying to gather information instead of posting links which claim that one kernel of genetically modified corn will give you cancer of the everything.

    • In reply to #10 by Jason S:

      I believe GM crops have been vilified by people who have put emotion before reason.

      really? why? Do you really trust large corporations to be thinking in your best interests when they tamper with your food chain?

      Most of my objections are
      1. monsanto may not be the best judge of safety etc.
      2. GM allows new crops to be generated orders of magnitude faster than older breeding techniques.
      3. crossovers between widely separated clades is now possible

      these all indicate we need strong, independent and trustworthy regulatory regimes. I don’t think we have them.

      Various other issues to worry about
      1. seeds are sold sterile
      2. genes leak into the environment. Threatening native species. Giving weeds the same resistance as GM crops.

      We need the native crops as a genetic backup. Most agricultural crops are based on an incredibly narrow range of genes.

      I have to confess sometimes the antis amuse me. It was suspected that cattle had been fed on GM grain (if the came from America its practically a certainty). So a food testing lab was asked to test the meat for this. They were unable to do so (DNA isn’t going to survive the digestive process). But people were insistant there must be a difference. “School Kids Fed On Frankenstein Beef!”

      I don’t believe I have knowledge that I would describe as ‘in-depth’, but I would like to thank you for asking about the topic in the first place. It’s refreshing to see someone trying to gather information instead of posting links which claim that one kernel of genetically modified corn will give you cancer of the everything.

  6. Sorry if the questions sound suspicious. But I genuinely wanted to know the answers to these questions. There is a huge campaig against GM crops going on as of now, and as a responsible citizen wanted to know more about it. So thought of asking my much clever ape cousins.
    In reply to #8 by maria melo:

    I see such kind of questions suspicious, so, I would prefer not to answer.

  7. In reply to #8 by maria melo:

    I see such kind of questions suspicious, so, I would prefer not to answer.

    They are perfectly good questions, Maria, and your refusing to respond to them seems a little irresponsible. Why would one want to remain in ignorance about something as big as this?
    As I see it, there are several categories of questions, however:

    1. The biological question. What are the implications for the foods themselves. Will they be better or worse for the consumer?

    2. The global chemical effect. How will GMO products affect other crops in the long run? What are the evolutionary implications, both for competing non GMO crops and for weeds?

    3. The political/economic question. What will the effects of patented GMO crops be on the world marketplace. Is a global ownership of a given crop possible? Desirable?

    Wouldn’t you like to know those things, Maria? Or at least hear some reasoned discussion about them? (And surely there IS reasoned discussion, amidst the shouting.) Or do you prefer to buy what’s available in your local market and never ask questions?

  8. If you’d like to have a view from multiple angles, I suggest you take a look at the website of the world’s GMO giant: Monsanto. Read the official site’s statements and goals (half a dag should do) and I suggest you watch online “The World According to Monsanto”, from a more critical point of view.

    About the necessity; I don’t believe they’re necessary, for there are more than enough still unexplored natural crops or crop combinations that yield highly in the most arid or harsh environment.

  9. If you’d like to have a view from multiple angles, I suggest you take a look at the website of the world’s GMO giant: Monsanto. Read the official site’s statements and goals (half a dag should do) and I suggest you watch online “The World According to Monsanto”, from a more critical point of view.

    About the necessity; I don’t believe they’re necessary, for there are more than enough still unexplored natural crops or crop combinations that yield highly in the most arid or harsh environment.

  10. I suspect a lot of the opposition to GM food is the result of ideological rather than scientific concerns. Check out Brian Dunning’s episode of the Skeptoid podcast on GM foods for a ten minute summary of the subject. He appears to me to take a reasonable view of the subject.

  11. It depends on which side of the fence you sit on. The reality is that all modern food has been genetically modified using natural processes such as cross breeding or cross fertilisation to get the desired change.

    Those that favour GM foods state that GM is just a quicker way of doing this, while the other side of the fence use emotive words such as ‘frankenstien-foods’ etc.

    In the end its a personal and Ethical decision on the part of the individual. I personally have no problems with eating GM food, HOWEVER, I do have reservations about it being out in the “wild” and its full impact on the environment which yet remains to be seen, as the environment has evolved in a symbiotic way and GM foods may throw a big spanner in the works, or it may not we simply dont know for certain which way it will go.

  12. The technology itself is neutral, which means it can yield desirable as well as undesirable effects. Unfortunately the opposition is often misinformed or badly educated about the issue, resulting in legitimate criticism being rejected because it often comes in a package with unscientific and irrational claims.

    My primary concern is an economic one: The crops will not only be designed to perform better, they will be designed to maximise profit. This means for example that farmers will have to buy fresh seeds every year because the plants will be designed not to reproduce effectively. Where this strategy is not feasible the GM companies will rely on the ever expanding “intellectual property rights”, which puts any farmer who has GM plants on his field in danger of getting sued. Since those GM plants have already been shown to migrate to neighbouring fields, it opens up a legal battlefield that due to the costs will favor the companies. Farmers who want to sell organic and GM-free to meet consumer demand won’t be able to prevent GM plants to spread to their fields, so their product might well disappear. On a more speculative note I expect to see GM plants deliberately designed to poison the fields for other variants in the future to establish a vendor lock-in. Sooner or later unexpected adverse effects of certain variants will happen and the companies responsible will, given their track record regarding transparency (fighting against GM-free-labels on products for example), will keep such a case secret as long as possible, increasing the harm done.

    From a purely scientific perspective GM plants do seem to have a huge potential to improve farming, but from a business perspective they might well lead to accelerated monopolization of agriculture, which might be economically undesirable for society.

    My secondary concern is about safety. I think unknowable side-effects of GM can not easily be brushed away. Although many of the common fears (like genes getting digested by humans) are misinformed, it is impossible to say that a certain manipulation is safe. Not only does “a gene for x” not really exist, it is very difficult to predict and to measure what that gene will actually do in its new genetic environment, yet current GM technology does exactly that: Put a “gene for x” into a target organism and see if x now occurs there – if it does we are basically happy. Furthermore, even if the GM organism actually turns out great and safe on its own, it is still unclear how it affects its environment on the field. Pesticide-producing variants spread and might actually outcompete other variants, which means that ecosystems that depend on that plant not containing pesticides might suffer or even get destroyed.

    The argument that traditional cultivation and crossing techniques also in a way manipulate the genes in unforseeable ways has some merit, although it has important weaknesses. For example, arguably, much of what is achieved by traditional techniques already is “in the genes”, it just gets emphasized, existing genetic switches get turned on or off or new traits are acquired gradually – even cross breeding tends to introduce only genes from more or less closely related species. Since the wild variant likely occupied a local maximum in the genetic performance-landscape, derived variants will, due to the gradual changes, tend to occupy a non-optimal point in the vicinity of that local maximum, so that they won’t be able to outcompete the wild variant outside of cultivated areas. GM variants get genes from unrelated organisms that could not have occured through traditional techniques (or would have been extremely unlikely, or would have taken very long to evolve). This means the GM variant is more likely to occupy a maximum of its own, potentially outcompeting the wild variant. Another consequence is that, since the traits that are emphasized or switched on with traditional techniques may well have occured in the recent evolutionary history of that organism, ways to deal with such traits will have occured in the recent evolutionary history of the surrounding ecosystem, which means adaptation to the new situation might also only be a few genetic switches away. GM introduces completely new and unprecedented (in the evolutionary history) traits, to which an ecosystem might not be able to adapt.

  13. I have no problem with GMOs per se – any scientific advance that will improve human existence is to be welcomed.
    I do have problems with the fact that GMOs are being developed under the system known as capitalism. Inevitably such crops will only be produced and sold where there is a profit to be made, which will result in food for some, but not for others (and often not for those in most need of it), and will be rushed into production and distribution without proper testing (including of long-term effects), which could result in huge public health problems, either immediate or in the future.

    Moreover, the farmers will become little more than sharecroppers, since the seed will be ‘owned’ by private companies, and will be producing crops, not for themselves, but for distant consumers. There is nothing inherently wrong with this – in a socialist society, it will equally apply. The differences are that in the latter, the farmers will be receiving reciprocal benefits in technology, expertise and goods and services from other areas of the planned and centralized economy and that need will be the motive engine for production and distribution rather than lining the pockets of individual capitalists and groups of shareholders.

    Added to this, capitalism is notoriously prone to cyclical crises (from the good old overproduction/underconsumption roundabout to credit squeezes to artificially induced shortages and price manipulation) and you have a recipe for disaster.

    IMO, much of the shock/horror about ‘frankenfoods’ (and scientific progress in general) results from the frustrated ‘liberal’ accepting Maggot Thatcher’s TINA acronym and seeing no way out of the capitalist dilemma except a version of Malthusian pessimism that shades into crypto-mysto primitivism.

Leave a Reply