So a few days ago, me and an aquaintance of mine got into a relatively heated discussion about Genetically Modified Organisms, or GMO's, and the potential health risks of GMO's as a food substance. Now this friend of mind is a very outspoken theist, and throughout the conversation some reoccuring themes in her position were that GMO's are "un-natural", "un-healthy", "un-ethical", and "driven by evil intentions". Any time ethics or morality come into and arguement with a theist, I will admit I become a little convinced that a religious belief may be behind the position. After several minutes of discussion, I had to admit I had never fully researched the subject.
Now trying to get information was a dissapointing endeavor. Very Little of what I was able to find on the subject was verifiable. The subject seems... to be highly opinionated with little verified evidence supporting either side or the other. So here are some mainline facts that I was able to discern with 100% accuracy actually occured. Only becasue both sides seem to admit to them.
The Monsanto corporation, who manufactures "Round-Up", a herbicide (chemicals to kill primarily weeds, but in a broad group it kills plants) produced a series of genetically modified plants including corn, soy, wheat, and potatoes (some say sweet potatoes, other reports regular) sometime in the early 1990's. The company used fragments of a bacterium's (Bacillus Thuringiensis or Bt for short) DNA inserted by a virus into the plants DNA, causing the plants to naturally manufacture a pesticide protein. Other reports claim a process of firing DNA strand particles at high velocity into the cell was used, this process is known as "Gene Gun Bombardment". The protein manufactered by the bacteria and the new plants is known as Bt-toxins as there are quite a few varieties, but in general they work by paralyzing an insects gastro-intestinal tract (stomache) which causes it to starve to death. There is popular consencus that, Bt-toxins were specially evolved for, and in most cases, only effect certain insects. However, in much higher doses, in excess of over 700 times the concentration needed for pest control, it was shown to cause adverse effects in lab rats.
As a secondary modification the plants were also injected with dna strands from weeds that had grown a resilience to the companies primary product, "Round-Up". This allowed the plants to grow in higher concentrations of herbicides. The main selling point of the plants was to use less pesticide while allowing the use of stronger (or more) herbicides. They patented their product in 1994, and by 1996 it entered into the US food sources unanounced.
Some No-GMO groups constantly accuse Monsanto of shady business practices. Their patent stops growers from utilizing their product without royalties. I'm somewhat split on this view, as I'm a firm believer in free trade. Companies do deserve opportunity to profit from developing products. But activists say they try to control the world food market, because the use of their herbicide and pesticide agents has produced an evolving complexity of wildlife that is now resilient to their products. In essence, they claim that the GMOs were the answer to a problem they produced. Specifically, it is claimed and proven, that the increase in herbicide use makes it difficult or impossible to grow non-GMOs in the vicinity of farm using stronger pesticides that GMOs can tolerate.
Also entering into the picture is theories that the plants are dangerous. I have a hard time trying to confirm or deny this one. Short term studies on the Bt toxins are, as I stated earlier, are in almost unanimous in the fact that small doses of Bt are not an immediate danger, but this really doesn't help that now there is a lot of claims that over long term it can be a carcinogenic. Also a arguing point is that the human body breaks down the plants DNA and that this can cause human cells to misfunction by absorbing the DNA strands into our own. Further complicating the matter is a lack of long term studies. The American Food and Drug Administration doesnt force GMO foods to go through long term testing. In fact, testing and verification is at the option of the companies producing them. Activists claim the reason that GMOs dont have to go through testing is that former Monsanto employees now corrupt the government. I think the lack of long term studies may be more of a money issue than anything else, as such an expansive study would be extremely costly (just think of all the animal population to be maintained, the amount of food to keep them alive, the testing on the animals and environment, controls studies...etc). For every GMO produced. They produced 8 varying plants before the turn of the century, but now there is in excess of 30 available by varying companies.
The Monsanto corporation also falsly claimed their products were engineered to produce higher yield higher quantities of food, but this was proven innacurate. There is no evidence that in similiar growing conditions GMO's produced a significant yield increase as oposed to non-GMOs.
So what do you guys think? Is GMO production something that mankind could possibly utilize? Or should we go the route of our European neighbors and ban them all together?
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