Cancer-causing. Unnatural. Environmentally destructive. Ever since they’ve turned up in our grocery aisles and dinner tables, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have gotten somewhat of a bad rep as people voiced their skepticisms with the products.
However, this negative reputation is undeserved and—more importantly—unsupported. Most rumors regarding GMOs are, in fact, misconceptions. Moreover, there is actually a large amount of scientific evidence that shows that GMOs are beneficial for people, the economy and the environment.
The most common GMO myth is that their genetic modifications, which are geared toward product enhancement, are dangerous and capable of causing harm to the health of consumers. However, since GMOs were introduced into the market 15 years ago, there has been no recorded evidence or trend of health problems arising from their consumption. According to a 2016 study by the National Academies of Sciences (NAS), GMO products indicate no higher risk to well-being than their conventional counterparts and are not correlated to increases in allergies, cancer, obesity or other harmful side-effects.
With the safety of GMOs well established, it’s time to talk about the nutritional value of GMOs. Many believe that the health benefits of organic food, provided by living organisms, cannot be entirely replicated by inorganic processes necessary to creating GMOs.
However, this is not the case, and research actually suggests that some GMO crops can be healthier than their “natural” counterparts. For example, the NAS found that genetically modified rice contained increased amounts of beta-carotene, a molecule that prevents blindness-inducing vitamin A deficiencies. GMOs have also led to the development of a canola oil low in linoleic acid that carry reduced trans fat content, making it a healthier cooking oil.
Not only do GMOs make sense for our health, they also seem to make “cents” for our economy. GMO crops are found to have higher yield rates, meaning farmers are able to grow more with less land. According to the Genetic Literacy Project (GLP), insect resistance (IR) technology increased the United States’ corn yield by 13 percent in 2014, injecting $5.3 billion into the economy. The extra output is also lowering the cost of produce, improving food security and financial situations for low-income households and developing nations. Since 1996, farmers in these nations have earned $70 billion collectively from GMO products alone.
In addition to farmers making more profit, the integration of IR technology reduces the need for pesticides, meaning less runoff and a smaller footprint on surrounding ecosystems. And since farmers don’t make the trip for pesticides as often, less fuel is burned. Scientist Dr. Cecilia Chi-Ham from UC Davis estimates that these reductions in carbon dioxide emissions are equivalent to losing the pollution produced annually by six million cars.
While being cautious regarding new scientific developments is always important, the facts seem to show that GMOs have something for everyone, be it the health-aware, economic-minded or environmentally-conscious. It’s time for the world to cast aside its suspicions and recognize what GMOs have to offer.