As seen in the Dec. 16 print edition
Mabel Kabani, print editor-in-chief
Danny Licht, print editor-in-chief
In 1983, scientists developed the first genetically modified plant, an antibiotic-resistant tobacco plant. Eleven years later, the first commercially available genetically modified organism (GMO), a tomato engineered to delay its ripening, was approved by Food and Drug Administration to be sold in the US. Today, approximately 90 percent of all American corn and soy are genetically engineered (GE), meaning that genes are extracted from one organism and inserted via viral injection into another.
Organisms are modified for various reasons. The most discussed GMO product relates to food production: fish and pigs and corn are genetically modified to resist disease and to grow larger and faster, which could potentially ease global hunger. Some GMOs are used to research diseases, where animals are modified to have human traits, while others are used to produce fibers and cloths. Additionally, some cats and dogs are modified to be compatible with people who would otherwise be allergic.
However, GMOs do indeed have adverse effects. Some animal studies have shown GMOs to cause organ damage, gastrointestinal and immune system disorders, accelerated aging and infertility. In humans, other studies have shown genetically modified foods to leave behind material, such as various viruses and bacteria, though the effects of this are as of yet unknown. In addition, genetically modified plants are often less nutritious than their organically grown counterparts. Since GMOs’ introduction into the consumer market, the number of Americans with three or more chronic illnesses has increased from 7 to 13 percent; the American Academy of Environmental Medicine believes there to be a causal relationship. For these reasons, the organization recommends that doctors prescribe non-GMO, or organic, diets for all patients.
This unknowing is the primary issue for people like senior Da Eun Lee.
“I think the major problem with GMOs is that nobody knows enough about it to take a position,”
Lee said. “We don’t really know if it has a long-term impact on the health of individuals or why companies are against the labeling of GMOs if it isn’t bad for people.”
“Organic” in the context of food does not simply mean carbon-based, as biology students learn. Organic agriculture, as per USDA guidelines, is a method of production that relies on renewable resources and the conservation of both soil and water. This differs from the now-common industrial-type farming techniques which rely on products such as Monsanto’s Roundup pesticide, which kills just about all living things, in cooperation with the same company’s Roundup-resistant seeds. Research shows, however, that this relationship causes a pesticide treadmill, and as the pesticides get stronger and stronger, the pests do as well, leading to an unending race to immunity. To keep up, pesticides of increasing potency becomes requisite. A famous example of this occurred with the boll weevil, a beetle that feeds on cotton buds. The beetle was originally controlled by Monsanto’s DDT insecticide, but the boll weevil quickly developed resistance against it.
For reasons such as these, Media Director Romeo Carey calls Monsanto “the most diabolical thing that we know,” while noting that the benefits of genetically engineered organisms don’t actually exist.
“Students are being corrupted by the media and public school education into believing the GMOs are not at all detrimental to the quality of the world,” Carey said.
There is some resistance in America to the use of GMOs, but again, they’re nearly everywhere. A movement has been growing, though, to get the things labeled, as they are in all other developed countries. Organizations such as Just Label It (whose slogan is “We Have a Right to Know If Our Food Has Been Genetically Engineered”) cites studies that have shown more than 90 percent of Americans to be in support of mandatory labeling of GE foods. Some of the anti-GE groups claim that the products have adverse effects on humans, though no study has yet proven this, most simply want to know what they are eating.