[Image: These are cultivated carrots. Look at how orange they are. Wanna check wild carrots? Scroll down.]
Welcome back to another article of the What We Should Really Be Eating? series. I originally planned to do another focus on dairy, however, because March Against Myths About Modification (#MAMyths) is coming up on May 23d, I could delay no further!
Just up to a month ago, before I started the What We Should Really Be Eating? series, I had no particular opinion about genetically engineered foods. Should we eat GMOs, or not? That was not an issue that was occupying my mind. However, that doesn’t mean I was not prone to forces that were pushing their agenda on me.
In fact, there a game that was being played around me, yet I had no idea about it. And as a consumer, I still had to make choices about what to buy and what to eat.
A big fight I was only mildly aware of was about genetically engineered foods and GMOs. I’m now in total awe of how food technology can help us fight poverty, malnutrition, climate change, and much more.
All the things that we’ll be fighting against as a generation, and our kids we’ll be fighting against too – Well, biotechnology will be one of the tools to use to win this fight.
Yet there’s big misinformation that targets the very tool that can save thousands of lives along with the Earth and the environment as a whole.
So if you’re wondering whether you should really be eating GMOs or not, let me start with:
10 Reasons To Eat GMOs and Feel Grateful For It
1. I’m grateful for all food. And most, if not all, food is actually genetically modified.
Let’s take it from Neil deGrasse Tyson (wikipedia page here), a science popularizer:
“What most people don’t know but they should is that practically every food they buy in the store for consumption by humans is genetically modified food. There are no wild seedless watermelons. There’s no wild cows, there’s no long stem roses growing in the wild – even though we don’t eat roses. You list all the fruit and all the vegetables and ask yourself is there a wild counterpart to this? If there is it’s not as large it’s not as sweet it’s not as juicy and it has way more seeds in it.
We have systemically genetically modified all the foods, the vegetables, and animals that we have eaten ever since we cultivated. It’s called artificial selection. That’s how we genetically modify. Now we can do it in a lab and all of a sudden you’re gonna complain? If you’re the complainer type go back and eat the apples that grow in the wild.”
[wild apples are tight, and not sweet, unlike the ones we manufacture]
Neil is right. Did you know wild carrots are not actually orange? We’ve modified that. Wild bananas? So full of seeds you cannot actually eat them (click here for a pic, yay for selective breeding). We’ve changed and altered everything to make it match our taste and needs. That’s genetic modification known as artificial selection.
Only in the past, we could do artificial selection but had no control over what exactly would happen. Now, in the lab, we can actually be accurate and select the exact gene we want to transfer with genetic engineering.
It’s no wonder that the European Union’s biotech report states:
The main conclusion to be drawn from the efforts of more than 130 research projects, covering a period of more than 25 years of research, and involving more than 500 independent research groups, is that biotechnology, and in particular GMOs, are not per se more risky than e.g. conventional plant breeding technologies
But of course they’re equally safe! After all, if not all, most food is genetically modified!
So I’m grateful for all food. Because it keeps me and everyone else alive.
2. GMOs increase yield
It’s no secret that GMO crops can produce more with less. Talk about being efficient. So your acre will get you more fruit/veggies if it’s planted with genetically engineered seeds rather than with conventional ones. A UK report states:
Between 1996 and 2012, crop biotechnology was responsible for an additional 122 million tonnes of soybeans and 231 million tonnes of corn. The technology has also contributed an extra 18.2 million tonnes of cotton lint and 6.6 million tonnes of canola
And this large study from the National Academy of Sciences, has found that GMOs have significantly increased farm yields while decreasing pesticide use and soil erosion. Which brings me to my next point…
3. GMOs protect the Earth
Because GMOs increase yield, we get to save on land. Think about it: You need less land to produce the same amount of food.
A UK report states:
GM crops are allowing farmers to grow more without using additional land. If crop biotechnology had not been available to the (17.3 million) farmers using the technology in 2012, maintaining global production levels at the 2012 levels would have required additional plantings of 4.9 million ha of soybeans, 6.9 million ha of corn, 3.1 million ha of cotton and 0.2 million ha of canola. This total area requirement is equivalent to 9% of the arable land in the US, or 24% of the arable land in Brazil or 27% of the cereal area in the EU (28).
Especially now, with our population rising, this is more important than ever.
4. GMOs taste better
Juicy apples, sweeter fruits, yup some of them were genetically modified through artificial selection, what we humans have been doing since forever. Still that is genetic modification and it has resulted in better-tasting fruits and vegetables (or just easier to eat – like seedless bananas!).
Imagine the flavors once we use our new engineering methods to improve taste. Take this example of a modified tomato that produces geraniol, a rose-smelling compound found in fruits and flowers. In a blind taste test, 60 percent of 37 testers preferred the flavor of the GM tomato, according to a 2007 study published in Nature Biotechnology.
The world will be so full of flavors and textures! A foodie’s paradise.
5. GMOs use less pesticides
A 2015 study covering the years from 1996 to 2013 discovered that:
“The adoption of GM insect resistant and herbicide tolerant technology has reduced pesticide spraying by 553 million kg (-8.6%) and, as a result, decreased the environmental impact associated with herbicide and insecticide use on these crops (as measured by the indicator the Environmental Impact Quotient (EIQ)) by19.1%. “
A UK report states:
Crop biotechnology has reduced pesticide spraying (1996-2012) by 503 million kg (-8.8%). This is equal to the total amount of pesticide active ingredient applied to arable crops in the EU 27 for nearly two crop years. As a result, this has decreased the environmental impact associated with herbicide and insecticide use on the area planted to biotech crops by 18.7%.
If you too want less pesticide use, then genetically engineered crops are your best bet.
6. GMOs help small farmers
Producing more for less and needing to buy less pesticides genetically engineered crops? Genetically engineered crops help small farmers struggle less.
In fact, a study by the African Development Bank and the International Food Policy Research Institute in 2012 concluded that under ideal conditions, the use of GM crops grown by smallholder farmers could improve gross margins by 114 per cent, reduce pesticide costs by 60 to 90 per cent, and improve yields by 18 to 29 per cent.
The UK report states:
Crop biotechnology helps farmers earn reasonable incomes for their work. The net economic benefit at the farm level in 2012 was $18.8 billion, equal to an average increase in income of $117/hectare. For the 17 year period (1996-2012), the global farm income gain has been $116.6 billion.
7. GMOs can help us win the fight against climate change
A 2015 study that examined the environmental impacts of genetically modified crops from 1996 to 2013 found that:
“The technology has also facilitated important cuts in fuel use and tillage changes, resulting in a significant reduction in the release of greenhouse gas emissions from the GM cropping area. In 2013, this was equivalent to removing 12.4 million cars from the roads.”
But the non-GMO variety is likely to have lower yields and may require more herbicide or pesticide applications throughout the growing season. The GMO varieties offer higher yields and less applications of herbicide in the fields, which translates to less fuel, less wear and tear on equipment, and less time.
It makes sense. You need less land for the same amount of food, which means that agriculture equipment will need to “travel” less, hence require less fuel. One benefit after another. I love GMOs!
8. GMOs can fight malnutrition
A big example of a malnutrition problem is vitamin A deficiency. This alone is responsible for 250,000-500,000 children becoming blind every year, with half of them dying within 12 months of losing their sight.
That’s EVERY YEAR!
Now WHO is fighting this with supplementation yet this alone is not enough as its effects are time-limited. Instead food fortification works better and could help eradicate the problem. Let me repeat – that’s about half a million children EVERY YEAR.
Biofortification could end this problem. According to the Hellen Keller Institute:
“Biofortification differs from large-scale food fortification because it focuses on growing more nutritious plant food, as opposed to adding micronutrients to foods as they are commercially processed.”
Now we’ve already developed the first food that can help save the children. It’s known as golden rice. It’s a genetically engineered rice that is full of beta-carotene (hence the yellow color) and could be an effective intervention to save lives in areas where white rice is the staple food.
If children in the developing world ate golden rice instead of their conventional rice there would be no children getting blind; there would be no deaths. I’ll repeat one more time: that’s half a million kids a year. In 10 years time this number could be up to 5 million kids.
You know how many Jews did in World War II? 6 Million. That was just to give you context of the severity of the situation.
Unfortunately, golden rice is met by opposition and it hasn’t yet been introduced to the developing world, even though the science behind it is solid. This has been going on since 2002, which would give us up to 6.5 million children going blind, and about 3 million of them actually dying. I will agree with this author in Scientific American that Golden Rice opponents should be held accountable for their victims.
I’m really sad about this. This issue has become very dear to my heart (I have actually woken up in the middle of the night thinking about this), and I’m going to revisit it again.
9. GMOs help reduce world poverty
Higher yields, less pesticides, healthier people who are better-nourished, healthier soil – people in the developing world are among the first to reap benefits from this technology.
Unfortunately because of the GMO opposition we privileged Western people allow poverty to continue. Mark Lynas, a former GM opponent, and now GM advocate writes:
In Tanzania, for example, I met farmers whose families are going hungry because the key food security crop — cassava — has begun to fail under pressure from a new disease called Brown Streak Virus. This virus has already wreaked havoc in Uganda and Kenya.
Scientists have developed a virus-resistant crop, yet farmers may never get to actually use it as anti-GMO advocates hinder their progress. And that’s just one of the examples he offers. I will agree with his conclusion:
The problem with this technology is not that it has been scaled up too fast, but that it has been hampered from being able to fulfil its potential — whole continents, including Europe, Africa and much of Asia, continue to maintain de facto bans on GM crops and seeds without any scientific foundation.
10. GMOs give me faith in the future
The world population is rising. On top of that, global warming is here to make matters worse. Much worse. As Vox reports:
We recently passed 400 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere; the status quo will take us up to 1,000 ppm, raising global average temperature (from a pre-industrial baseline) between 3.2 and 5.4 degrees Celsius. That will mean, according to a 2012 World Bank report, “extreme heat-waves, declining global food stocks, loss of ecosystems and biodiversity, and life-threatening sea level rise,” the effects of which will be “tilted against many of the world’s poorest regions,” stalling or reversing decades of development work. “A 4°C warmer world can, and must be, avoided,” said the World Bank president.
Genetically engineered foods will be one of the tools to use to win the fight again climate change. I don’t have kids yet, but I know that climate change won’t stop at my generation. This is a fight my kids will have to tackle too.
So biotechnology gives me faith in the future. It’s not going to be the only tool used to win the fight, but it will certainly be one of the most effective ones. And that’s why I’m grateful.
So back to you. Are you excited about GMOs and genetically engineered food? Did you know they had all those benefits? Leave a comment below and let me know.
P.S. I started the article referring to #MAMyths? March Against Myths About Modification is the world’s biggest protest against the myths told about Genetically Engineered (GMO) crops and foods. The goal is to do the opposite of March Against Monsanto and flood social media and traditional media with actually scientific information about the safety of genetically engineered crops, not just conspiracy theories and pseudoscience.
How can you participate? Like the MAMyths page on Facebook. Talk to your friends and family and encourage them to look up scientific information about GMOs. Share this article. If you are more educated on the subject use the #MAMyths hashtag and tag along this week on social media in educating others about the value of GMOs.