Contributors: April Campbell, Claire Crossgrove, Becky Golus, and Shannon Ronhovde
The fascinating notion that something can be seen as both a monster and scientific masterpiece is mind blowing. Genetic Modification (GM) can be seen everywhere and in everything we consume or come in contact with, from the different brands of apples, dogs or even roses. Regardless of whether GM is a scientific masterpiece or a monster creation, it still has an effect on our lives; therefore, we must understand why it was created, what regulations are placed on them, and what science tells us.
Centuries ago, when farmers started settling in one location, they chose crops that were successful, and cross bred with other crops to generate better yields (1). This changed the genetic formation of the crop, meaning it was the beginning of using GM to improve production. Today the process is more complex, taking place in the labs and altering the genes to be as successful as possible at increasing yields. Monsanto was one of the first companies to start testing their genetically modified crops. From the beginning Monsanto has been a powerhouse with trying to create the most insect, weather and even pesticide resistant crops (2). The stronger the crop the less likely it will die to any unknown factor. The question then becomes, when is the line crossed? Is this putting humans at risk for health complications just to produce the best quality of crops or is the risk slim-to-none resulting in irrelevance?
As consumers, awareness of what is getting put into our bodies is crucial; not only for individual survival but also for survival of humans as a species. The regulation of GMOs is governed by three agencies; the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Each agency is tasked with a different job to ensure the safety of these foods. The FDA treats GMOs similar to non-GMOs because they do not differ much in structure, however when the gene structure has been altered significantly they require premarket approval, which is mandatory to guarantee the safety for consumers (3). Critics of this structure say that these agencies ultimately leave the responsibility up to the producers, which means that there is no third party scientific research guaranteeing the safety. Furthermore, they argue that the FDA is tasked with contradictory jobs. They have to regulate foods for the safety of consumers, but promote biotechnology at the same time. Critics fear that because of this support, the effects of GMOs are being overlooked (4).
If the FDA, EPA, and USDA are not overly concerned with GMOs, then what is causing people to fear them? Peer reviewed articles conducted by scientists state that there is no consensus on the safety or danger of
GMOs. Meaning that there is viable support on both sides of the debate depending on the gene and the crop. The Center for Food Safety states that just because consumption of GMOs has not caused surmountable illnesses, does not mean that it is safe, and therefore needs to be proven either safe or harmful (5). An article by the University of Minnesota stated that it depends on “if you prefer proof of safety or proof of harm” in this instance (6). Both would agree that further research needs to be done on a product by product basis.
GMO the monster or the scientific masterpiece? The argument that all GMOs are safe or unsafe is irrelevant because the science is split. GMOs may be both the monster and the masterpiece; as consumers we should be aware of current research on the topic rather than being fearful.