Genetically Modified Organisms

A Complex Issue

In a Nutshell

Martin Werner

July 22nd, 2017

Photo: The Honest Company

For thousands of years, humans have selectively bred organisms. However, in recent history, we have figured out how to directly alter an organism’s genes in our favor. This new process has led to a rising controversy over the benefits and drawbacks of the products, named as genetically modified organisms, or “GMOs."


GMOs are used to improve and intensify modern agriculture. They could potentially solve hunger and global warming—but they also create problems and a stormy debate.


The concept of genetically modifying organisms goes back to 1973, when a graduate student at Stanford University Medical School decided to experiment with man-made DNA. Their use soon exploded within the agricultural industry, hitting shelves in 1983. In 2017, you most likely eat genetically modified food every day: 75% of conventional foods contain GMOs.


When it comes to agriculture, GMOs can be a dream come true. Current pesticides often negatively affect the plants they protect, and genetically modified plants remain unaffected.  These plants are modified to resist diseases threatening to wipe out an entire species. For example, in the 1990s, a genetic modification to papayas in Hawaii saved the papaya industry from the daunting Ringspot virus. In an attempt to help to reverse climate change, plants have been modified to absorb more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. For reasons like these, many fight for the use of GMOs.


However, GMOs, like many things, have side effects. The potential of GMOs to mix with wild or otherwise natural crops is one concern. In one case, hybridization with GM crops caused wild plants, like rapeseed, to have modified genes as well. Terminator seeds and buffer zones have been created to solve the problem, but these are not guaranteed to work and controversial as well. Even scientific sources debate over whether or not GMOs are harmful to consumers. Unfortunately, GMOs absorbed by unintended consumers, such as animals, are definitely harmful. For instance, dogs might face death after consuming chocolate, yet humans remain unaffected. The risk coming with GMOs is of the same fashion.


An effect often unnoticed is how GMOs support the pesticide/herbicide industry. With more plants unaffected by pesticides, the more farmers can use them to keep off bugs and diseases. The pesticide industry itself is controversial, so this could be a benefit to some and a drawback to others.


All in all, genetically modified organisms could be the answer to some problems, but they inevitably create problems of their own. In short, it’s complicated. Next week, a side-by-side article arguing over the use of GMOs in more detail will be uploaded.