The Pros and Cons of Consuming Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO)

Nowadays people become more and more conscious about healthy eating and the use of genetically modified organisms has long been the subject of the heated discussions. Let's try to look into the issue and find out what are the advantages and disadvantages of GMO and whether they are extremely harmful for the consumers.

Genetically Modified Organisms

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are called a wide range of plants, animals, and bacteria that have been engineered to be applied in agriculture or scientific research. Most of the concern about the use of GMOs relates to their possible negative impact on the human health and the environment. GMOs that can directly influence human health are food products. In the USA only genetically modified plants have been approved for human consumption up to now. All they are considered to be as safe as their traditional counterparts. But, some potential health hazards that could result from the use of GMOs include food allergy, decreased nutrition, increased toxicity, and antibiotic resistance.

Food Allergy

About 5% of children and 2% of adults suffer from food allergy in the U.S. Even though there has been no confirmation of allergic reactions to GM food by consumers, in vitro experiments prove that some GM products could cause an allergic reaction. This fact was one of the primary reasons why many biotechnology companies shut down.

Increased Toxicity

Most of the plants consumed by humans produce toxins but their levels are so low that they do not harm human health. However, after inserting a new gene into a plant it could start produce toxins at much higher levels and as a result could be hazardous to humans. These effects have been observed through conventional breeding methods and create a safety concern for GM plants. For instance, potatoes conventionally bred to enhance disease resistance have been known to produce higher levels of glycoalkaloids.

Decreased Nutritional Value

There is a belief that a genetically modified plant could lack nutritional quality compared to its traditional counterpart. For example, genetically modified soybean produces less phytoestrogen compounds that prevent heart disease and cancer, than traditional soybeans.

Antibiotic resistance

Recently there has been the increasing number of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. This happens when antibiotic resistance genes are created through natural mutation. Antibiotic resistance genes are widely used by biotechnologists as selectable markers. Although it is not clear what hazard the possibility of increasing antibiotic resistance to bacteria presents the FDA recommends biotechnologists to stop using antibiotic resistance genes.

However, biotechnology and genetic engineering is a developing science and a number of companies use agricultural biotechnology to develop a range of new plant seeds that possess the desirable characteristics. For example, using biotechnology scientists have managed to create plants that can resist severe weather conditions or certain insects.

Such companies work with genetically modified crops (GE crops) or biotech crops which include one or more genes from another organism, usually another plant or a bacterium or microbe. As a result GM plants add such beneficial characteristics as the ability to withstand harsh weather conditions such as drought or cold winter or have higher level of insect and herbicide resistance. Also newly acquired properties of the GM crops can contribute to better dieting, for example, soybeans that produce fatty acids responsible for better nutrition. Nowadays the term GMO refers to GM plants and the food or its ingredients from GM plants.

A number of governmental regulatory agencies as well as leading health and scientific organizations worldwide tested GMOs and consider the food grown from GM crops safe to eat. The British Royal Society, the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, and others have tested plants and crops with GM traits and share the opinion that eating foods with ingredients derived from GM crops is safe.

Instead, the benefits of using GM crops are evident. These plants enable farmers to increase harvests, decrease pesticide applications and thus minimize the use of fossil fuels, as well as reduce tillage and protect soil and water resources in the long run. In addition, some GM crops may ensure nutritional benefits. For example, some GM crops are very rich in high oleic soybean oils that can help replace solid fat consumed by people, decreasing the amount of saturated fat intake. Stearidonic acid (SDA)-containing soybeans produce nutritious long chain omega-3 fatty acids.

Farmers started growing biotech crops in 1996, and since then many studies have been conducted to assess long-term health impact of GM crops. So far there has been no reliable evidence that GMOs are harmful to humans or animals. The report published by the European Commission in 2010 provided the results of numerous research projects that studied the safety of GMOs for the human health as well as for the environment. With the budget of Ä200 million from the EU, the projects continued a 25-year long research addressing GMOs and the results prove that GM plants and their non-GM counterparts have the same nutritional properties and are safe to be used in food and feed.