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COLUMN: Genetically Modified Foods: Are they really so bad?



For thousands of years, humans and scientists have selectively bred animals and plants in order to emphasize a particular trait.

For instance, crops like corn and tobacco barely resemble their historical counterparts, which were bred for their respective 
characteristics.

In the past few decades, scientists have taken to gene splicing or extracting a specific desired trait from one organism and placing it in another. These modern techniques have led to Genetically Modified Organisms, or GMOs, which have become an incredibly inflammatory topic of conversation for the vocal minority who oppose them in any way, shape or form.

The United States Food and Drug Administration recently approved AquAdvantage Salmon, genetically modified salmon created by AquaBounty Technologies, a Massachusetts-based biotechnology firm, according to Newsweek. These salmon will be able to mature in half the time of normal farm-raised salmon, which the company believes will allow them to decrease the resources needed to raise each fish.

However, critics argue if these salmon are somehow released into the wild, they will become an invasive species and wreak havoc on the Canadian environment (the salmon are being cultivated on Canadian soil in tanks). As the fish are all bred to be female and infertile, this concern seems a bit overstated by critics, similar to the critiques of the health effects of GMOs. But as Jeff Goldblum said in “Jurassic Park,” “Life finds a way” — which is to say it is impossible to ensure each fish is infertile and that the worst-case scenario doesn’t happen.

To quote a metanalysis of the research about the safety to humans of GMO crops, “The scientific research conducted so far has not detected any significant hazards directly connected with the use of (genetically engineered) crops; however, the debate is still intense.” After looking at the research, it’s reasonable to conclude that GMOs are safe to eat, but that there is a need for more research to be done on their environmental effects.

GMOs offer huge possibilities for agriculture that would be inhumane to ignore. A farmer in Canada, for example, has developed the Arctic Apple, named so because it doesn’t brown. Apples that don’t brown will likely reduce the amount of apples that are wasted each year due to browning. GMOs such as this offer solutions to the 
worldwide crisis of food waste.

Though it seems the hate of those who oppose GMOs often stems from a mistrust of large biotech firms and fear mongering by critics, there is value in considering the human, as well as environmental, effects of a product.

Most people don’t care enough about what they eat on a day-to-day basis, which has led to many of the health, waste and animal abuse issues of today.

Even though I often don’t agree with many GMO critics, it’s important that this vocal minority continues to push others to challenge their assumptions and possibly arrive at a different conclusion.

GMOs aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean that biotech companies can or should get away with poisoning their customers or the Earth.

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