Technological advancements have heralded a new era in various spheres of human life. In each century, humans have progressively adopted technology in various sectors and in varying intensity with the primary objective of improving the quality of human life. Technology has been incorporated in different fields over the past few decades. Genetical engineering is an emerging and radically evolving field that has benefited greatly from technological advancements since they have enabled scientists to change the genetic makeup of plants and animals alike with the main goal of customizing the quality and quantity of their products or their abilities and characteristics, including growth. The resulting organisms are known as genetically modified organisms (GMOs). GMOs organisms have genes that have been changed through DNA recombination technology. Alternatively, geneticists can develop GMOs by naturally fusing together different sex cells that contain targeted or desired genes to come up with an offspring that has significantly altered genes.
GMOs have numerous benefits that have radically changed the quality of human life. However, they have elicited heated debates globally with many experts downplaying their benefits due to the numerous drawbacks that have been associated with them. Despite the controversies and heated debates, GMOs have radically improved human lives. They have refined human health, ensured societies around the world are food secure and facilitated resource preservation and conservation.
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs): A Historical Background
The move towards developing designer organisms can be traced to early centuries when humans began domesticating plants and animals. Humans systematically engaged in deliberate selective breeding practices that ensured that their plants and animals had the characteristics that they desired to achieve designer organisms. Such practices were based on the artificial or natural selection. However, with the advancement of technology, humans began to artificially re-engineer the genes of plants and animals to generate organisms designed according to their desires. The alteration of animal and plant DNA can be traced to early 1970. Additionally, truly transgenic organisms capable of passing on their recombinant DNA to their offspring existed in the 1980s. The technology was mainstreamed in the 1990s following its commercialization and adoption, especially in the field of agriculture (Barrows et al. 100; Robinson et al. 59; Zohary, Hopf and Weiss 23; Sateesh 456).
Despite the existence of breakthrough agricultural technologies that could be applied in other fields, controversy and heated debates have continued to beleaguer genetic engineering and the resultant GMOs (Barrows et al. 100; Robinson et al. 59). Following commercialization, genetic engineering radically improved food production and consequently food security across societies. Organisms with recombinant DNA that have been designed to have specific desirable characteristics, such as increased growth rate and drought and disease resistance have also fundamentally augmented environmental conservation efforts globally. The nutrition content of foods has also improved significantly because of DNA recombination technology. Moreover, high yields and drought and disease resistance in designer plants and animals have significantly improved the economic outputs of agricultural and commercial gains. Families can now access highly nutritious foods at relatively low prices due to genetic engineering. Important nutrients such as vitamin A can be incorporated into GMOs and used to easily and safely feed populations that are in need (Cho n.p).
Despite the huge potential of GMOs, their adoption has been slow. One of the leading causes of the lag in their adoption rate is the lack of long-term scientific studies that can offer credible insights into the how the GMOs impact human health. Much of the discourses of how GMOs affect consumer lives are based on opinions, which lack scientific grounding (Van Acker et al. 2; Robinson et al. 110). In some cases, divergent and hardline political opinions fueled by emotions and misguided purpose to please the masses without providing scientific facts. However, these contentions and lack of credible long-term scientific research do not disapprove of the fact that GMOs have tremendously improved the quality of human lives in multiple ways.
Importance of GMOs in Improving Food Security
Unpredictable and extreme weather conditions, such as unusually prolonged droughts and devastating heaving rainfalls, many communities face food insecurity. Global warming and the resulting change in climate have led to unusually heavy rainfall that causes flash floods that sweep and damage crops that communities depend on for survival. The unpredictable weather is characterized by unusually prolonged droughts that damage crops or hinder planting of food crops. Therefore, individuals continually face food insecurity. Food insecurity is associated with civil wars and health problems such as nutrition-based diseases and other social, economic, and political problems (IFPRI n.p). The growing global population has exacerbated these issues.
GMOs have the potential of ensuring that the at-risk communities are food secure because they can help the world’s population meet it nutritional requirements in different ways. GMOs are not only nutritious but also designed to withstand extreme weather conditions (Cho n.p). The scientists can develop designer plants and animals that can survive extremely dry climatic conditions while also ensuring that they have the nutrients that needy communities require for their sustenance. The modifications also ensure that the designer plants and animals can only deliver higher yields but also be resistant to the diseases that devastate crops and contribute to food insecurity.
The huge potential of these GMOs has been watered by the opaque manner in which information pertaining to it is handled and disseminated. Organizations such as Monsanto, which have a huge influence on GMO uptake, have ineffectively disseminated information on the toxicity levels of chemicals found in the designer plants and animals. With opaque reports, such corporations have continued to fuel the global speculation surrounding the safety and suitability of GMOs for human consumption (Robinson et al. 75). The lack of independent scientific studies that can verify important facts about GMOs without the influence of big corporations with the huge financial power to influence opinions and laws governing GMOs has contributed to the problem. The public finds it difficult to effectively evaluate important information on GMO because of the absence of studies regarding them (Robinson et al. 89). Undoubtedly, GMOs are shrouded in mysteries that affect their uptake, especially by communities that are faced with food insecurity and nutritional needs.
Some communities are marginalized. Thus they find it difficult to access vital information not only on the availability of GMOs but also important facts, including their toxicity, safety, and nutritional value. The situation is exacerbated by the negative discourse that has continued to surround GMOs even though leading organizations, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA), have lent their support to the use of GMOs to tackle food and nutrition problems (Cho n.p).
GMOs and Environmental Conservation
GMOs have a huge prospective of augmenting environmental conservation around the world. Natural resources can be conserved using GMOs that have re-engineered characteristics to meet the environmental conditions. GMOs can also help in reducing the carbon footprint that farming causes. Carbon emissions from farming activities contribute significantly to environmental pollution. With GMOs, farmers can increase their productivity and at the same time reduce carbon footprint (Barrows et al. 103). The said objective can be achieved by developing organisms that consume less food but grow faster than the average ones. For example, scientists have developed a genetically modified salmon that can conserve the natural fish stocks and reduce the carbon footprint associated with fishing by consuming less food and growing faster than the typical salmon (Cho, n.p). Herbicides and fertilizers also pollute the environment. However, with GMOs, farmers can keep animals and grow plants that consume less of the inputs that cause pollution. The reduced inputs translate to environmental conservation and greater benefits for farmers (Cho n.d; Barrows et al. 105). In countries such as India and Burkina Faso, small-holder farmers enjoy increased yields and income by opting to plant GMOs instead of ordinary plants (Barrows et al. 107).
Humans use technology to improve their lives tremendously. However, it is imperative that such ideas are effectively communicated to the masses to avoid controversies. In this modern era, marked by technology, genetically modified organizations (GMOs) developed by genetically manipulating the genes of organisms to meet the desired characteristics is one of the most important technological developments and it has far-reaching implications. It is marked by developing designer plants and animals that have unique characteristics, such as high productivity and drought resistance. Such characteristics can be customized to meet the environmental conditions of a given area or purpose. GMOs have courted controversies for several decades since the commercialization of the underlying technology in the 1990s. In this information age marked by numerous research platforms, resources and platforms, there is significant opacity when it comes to the evaluation of vital information regarding GMOs, including their toxicity and long-term effects on human health. The problem has been fuelled by many leading corporations who fuel the controversies by failing to divulging important scientific information concerning the organisms. Undoubtedly, GMOs have numerous benefits that are crucial in solving the food insecurity puzzle that has continued to plague many communities. The designer plants and animals are highly nutritious, growth fast and help economically and agriculturally marginalized communities to find a cheaper and easy to access source of food. They are characterized by high yields, which come in handy in the face of growing global warming and climate change. They play a vital role in environmental conservation by reducing the carbon footprint and the increasing income of farmers through high yields and reduced cost of inputs. There is need for concerned bodies to carry out scientific studies to ascertain whether the genetically modifies organisms have significant negative effects on human beings. The results of such studies ought to be made public so that the public can access and read them. With enough knowledge concerning the genetically modified organisms individuals can make informed decisions regarding their use. If it is proved that these organisms are life-threatening, then they should not be used. However, if they are safe, then they should be encouraged to help the communities that are in dire need for food security.
Barrows, Geoffrey, Steven Sexton, and David Zilberman. “Agricultural biotechnology: the promise and prospects of genetically modified crops.” Journal of Economic Perspectives vol. 28, no.1, 2014, 99-120.
Cho, Renee. “The Intensifying Debate Over Genetically Modified Foods.” State of The Planet, 2013, http://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2013/07/30/the-intensifying-debate-over-genetically-modified-foods/. Accessed 13 June 2018.
IFPRI. Conflict and food security. International Food Policy Research Institute, 2018. Available from: http://www.ifpri.org/topic/conflict-and-food-security
Robinson, Claire, Michael Antoniou, and John Fagan. GMO Myths and Truths: A Citizen’s Guide to the Evidence on the Safety and Efficacy of Genetically Modified Crops and Foods. Chelsea Green Publishing, 2015.
Sateesh, M. K. Bioethics, and Biosafety. New Delhi, Delhi: I. K. International Pvt Ltd, 2008.
Van Acker, Rene, Motior Rahman, and S. Zahra H. Cici. “Pros and Cons of GMO Crop Farming.” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Environmental Science. 2017-10-26. Oxford University Press. Date of access 13 Jun. 2018, http://environmentalscience.oxfordre.com/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780199389414.001.0001/acrefore-9780199389414-e-217
Zohary, Daniel, Hopf, Maria and Weiss, Ehud. Domestication of Plants in the Old World: The Origin and Spread of Plants in the Old World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.