AG HISTORY: A LITTLE ON GMOs

I have a very limited background in agriculture and I am always learning more because it is a complex topic to understand completely. I mean, I can barely wrap my head around what has changed in the last few decades, let along everything has occurred since its instigation over 10,000 years ago. Things are a whole lot more complicated these days, more people to feed, less natural resources and more advanced technology, so I am only going to talk about one topic today… GMOs.

For those of you that don’t know, GMOs, also known as genetically modified organisms, have caused quite a controversy and are an interesting topic to look into. Some argue that this development is a symbol of progress while others argue that they have harmful effects on the environment and people.

Biotechnology, the larger concept that encompasses GMOs, in theory, has been around as long as agriculture has been. Very basically, it is the changes made in the processes for growing plants and animals, of which people have been adapting over time. One of the newer developments, GMOs, is a process where engineers combine DNA from different species to create new organisms with particular genes. This modification of genetics has allowed for the development of crops that can tolerate herbicides or insecticides (controls for weeds or pests, respectively) making the growth of the crop more efficient. This efficiency either makes weed control easier or makes it less necessary to use synthetic pesticides to control for pests. In addition, the development of drought resistant crops have allowed for a more secure survival of crops, especially during recent drought conditions. Since crops do not need to be monitored as often, their use has increased over time, to about 46% of corn, 76% of cotton, and 85% for soybeans as of results in 2004. The apparent success of these items has lead to further development of GMOs.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other regulators of GMOs, there are a few benefits and safety concerns of biotechnology used for the purposes of agriculture. Biotechnology in the form of these GMOs has allowed researchers to increase their knowledge of the biology of living organisms, improve efficiencies (mentioned earlier) which has made agriculture a more lucrative business, and it is also argued they help solve issues of food security or hunger.

Safety concerns include the posed risk to the environment and to consumers. For example, it has been noticed that bugs have become more resistant to pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, as a result of the prominence of these GMOs. This, in theory, would require more pesticide use. Furthermore, it is argued that high levels of pesticide use as the result of application on conventionally grown and GMO crops have been known to cause harm to human health and the environment. At the same time, these pesticide levels are monitored by the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) for human safety, all pesticides are regulated and are only applied at approved levels by professionals. Therefore, concerns can be difficult to determine. Other safety concerns include ethics and labeling. The latter has been particularly controversial, labeling is required in a number of countries and increased labeling is being asked for in California.

From just this brief introduction, it may have become apparent that there are a number of benefits and potential risks with GMOs. Until anything is proven, their use will most likely continue to increase because of the perceived benefits for agriculture. Nevertheless, the push for accurate labeling shows that there is a resistance to this technology. I know I plan on keeping with current events and following what happens.

Jennifer Long
Illinois Wesleyian University student

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