In supermarkets, foods are often labelled, determined by how they were grown. There are ‘organic’ foods that are sold at higher prices, advertised as a healthier option while other foods that may be ‘genetically modified organisms’ (GMOs) are sold at lower prices and often looked down upon or even antagonized for being harmful or just not healthy. In reality, genetically modified (GM) foods and GMO technology could be useful for more than just selling cheaper foods, and the idea that organic foods are healthier can be questioned. Overall, the benefits and affordability of GM foods and GMO technology outweigh the benefits of organic foods.
GM foods are foods that have been genetically modified in a lab. Most foods have been modified genetically through selective breeding, which humans have been doing for around 10,000 years. This is when foods with specific traits are bred to produce more foods with those traits, and can be seen in fruits like grapes, cherries, and watermelons that are grown seedless. The difference with GMOs are that they are instead made in labs, their genes being edited by humans for the perfect phenotypes, or physical traits. An article by Sara LaJeunesse of Penn State college of Agricultural Sciences says “Newer techniques for creating GMOs allow scientists to more precisely change the sequence of genes to introduce the desired trait. Known as ‘genome editing,’ the techniques involve removing, inserting, or editing a fragment of DNA using bacterial enzymes that are like ‘molecular scissors.’” (LaJeunesse 2015). Scientists isolate a gene that they want to modify, cut it out using bacterial enzymes, then insert a new gene, one that represents the desired trait. The gene could be inserted in multiple different ways, such as using bacteria as a carrier for plasmids that then infect the cells of the seed of the food, or using a ‘gene gun’ that shoots DNA coated metal particles into the seed of the food.
Organic foods are non-GMO foods that are determined by how they are grown. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) says “Produce can be called organic if it’s certified to have grown on soil that had no prohibited substances applied for three years prior to harvest. Prohibited substances include most synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. In instances when a grower has to use a synthetic substance to achieve a specific purpose, the substance must first be approved according to criteria that examine its effects on human health and the environment” (McEvoy 2012). Organic foods are classified as produce being grown on soil that had no synthetic fertilizers and pesticides applied to it for three years prior to harvest. This is why they are sold as healthier options and are also more expensive, as the restriction of usage of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides does make the process of growing the foods more difficult or less efficient, but also makes the food healthier, or at least gives it the appearance of being healthier, as no artificial chemicals were used on them.
GM foods are useful as they can be genetically modified to exhibit any characteristic the creator wants them to. With better genes, and therefore better traits, the foods could be modified to survive in normally unlikely conditions, or could be modified to yield more in a harvest, or to simply be bigger, providing more food. This allows GMOs to be sold more and for cheaper, which in itself is beneficial. This means lower income families could be more likely to afford food like fresh fruits and vegetables. This may make it seem that because they are being sold for cheaper and are grown differently than organic foods, they must be less nutritious, or they could scare some people who look at GM foods as weird science experiments, but the truth is that GM foods are heavily tested before being put out into the market. As Dr. Lemaux of the University of California, Berkeley says, “Foods that have been genetically modified undergo testing for safety, health and nutrient value. The nutritional value of GMO foods is tested and compared against non-GMO foods. Numerous studies have shown no nutritional differences between commercially available GMO and non-GMO foods. In fact, genetic modification can improve the nutritional content of some foods, for example, low linoleic acid canola oil that can reduce trans-fat content,” (“GMOs and Human Health” 2018). GM foods are always tested for safety, health and nutritional value before being put on the market, and are proven to not have any major nutritional differences between GMO and non-GMO products. If anything, the ability to modify these foods means they could have improved nutritional value, and some already do.
Looking at organic foods, they also don’t have a major nutritional difference compared to other products. According to an article by the Mayo Clinic, “Studies have shown small to moderate increases in some nutrients in organic produce. The best evidence of a significant increase is in certain types of flavonoids, which have antioxidant properties. … Toxic metal: Cadmium is a toxic chemical naturally found in soils and absorbed by plants. Studies have shown significantly lower cadmium levels in organic grains, but not fruits and vegetables, when compared with conventionally grown crops. The lower cadmium levels in organic grains may be related to the ban on synthetic fertilizers in organic farming. Pesticide residue: Compared with conventionally grown produce, organically grown produce has lower detectable levels of pesticide residue. Organic produce may have residue because of pesticides approved for organic farming or because of airborne pesticides from conventional farms. The difference in health outcomes is unclear because of safety regulations for maximum levels of residue allowed on conventional produce,” (“Are Organic Foods Worth the Price?” 2018). Organic foods have very little to moderate nutritional benefits, which could be attributed to the way they are grown, as they do not use synthetic fertilizers or pesticides in growth. So the common belief that organic foods are healthier than non-organic or GM foods is technically true, but with growing advancements in GMO technology, that may not be the case for long.
In conclusion, the general negative view towards GM foods is irrational, and the benefits of GMOs, such as affordability and more ‘perfected’ modified foods, outweigh the minor health benefits of organic foods. Especially since GMO technology is still relatively new, meaning there is much more that could be built upon and improved when it comes to GM foods. This also gives opportunities for other uses of GMO technology, such as genetic engineering. Genetic engineering is the process of altering the DNA in an organism’s genome (“What is Genetic Engineering?” 2017). This technology is not only used on GM foods, but also on other organisms. This could be beneficial for humans, not only in food production, but in other areas like the medical field. One instance is using GM mosquitoes to fight the spread of malaria- “Scientists are also exploring the use of GMOs to fight diseases such as malaria and dengue fever, which are transmitted by parasite-carrying mosquitoes. … If mosquitoes could be genetically modified to be immune to malaria, the cycle of transmission could be broken.” (Smith 2009). This shows that GM technology could have many more uses than just feeding people, it could save lives in many other ways, and is still being enhanced, so only time can tell what could be done using this technology.
- “Are Organic Foods Worth the Price?” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 4 Apr. 2018, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/organic-food/at-20043880.
- “GMOs and Human Health.” Best Food Facts, 18 Apr. 2018, www.bestfoodfacts.org/gmo-human-health/.
- LaJeunesse, Sara. “The Science of GMOs.” The Science of GMOs (Penn State Ag Science Magazine), 12 May 2015, agsci.psu.edu/magazine/articles/2015/spring-summer/the-science-of-gmos.
- McEvoy, Miles. “Organic 101: What the USDA Organic Label Means.” USDA, 22 Mar. 2012, www.usda.gov/media/blog/2012/03/22/organic-101-what-usda-organic-label-means.
- Powell, Chelsea. “How to Make a GMO.” Science in the News, 11 Aug. 2015, sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2015/how-to-make-a-gmo/.
- Smith, Caitlin. “GMO Technology: A Research Tool Becomes An Ethical Debate.” Biocompare, 26 Oct. 2009, www.biocompare.com/Editorial-Articles/41679-GMO-Technology-A-Research-Tool-Becomes-An-Ethical-Debate/.
- “What Is Genetic Engineering?” Stories, The Public Engagement Team at the Wellcome Genome Campus, 17 Feb. 2017, www.yourgenome.org/facts/what-is-genetic-engineering.