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Adefolake Adekola: The Pros and Cons of Genetically Modifying Crops

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Genetical Modification (GM) is “a special set of gene technology that alters the genetic machinery of living organisms (animals, plants or microorganisms).”  It can also be called Genetically Engineered (GE) or Genetical Modification Organism (GMO). GM copies a gene or genes from an organism with a desired trait, adds the gene(s) to a single plant cell in a laboratory and a new plant is generated from the plant cell containing the added DNA.  Maize, potato, banana, sugar, tomatoes, soybean, rice, cotton, peas, apples, pineapples, and so on, are just a few of the crops known to be currently genetically modified in various countries. Their studies shows that GM crops are grown in over 160 million hectares in 29 countries and imported by other countries.

According to the United State’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA), traditional modification methods like selective breeding and crossbreeding to breed plants and animals with more desirable traits have been used for thousands of years and most of the foods we eat are as a result of these breeding. However, scientists were interested in making the same changes within a short period of time and a lot less susceptible to diseases.

We have conflicting research as to when exactly the first GM crops or animals was approved but we know for a fact that they have been present for quite a few decades now. In 1982, FDA approved the first consumer GM product developed through genetic engineering: human insulin to treat diabetes. Since then, we have lived in a world with GM crops and animals. Further studies have shown that the DNA from GMO animal food does not make it into the meat, eggs, or milk from the animal. So, for those who have concerns about eating animals that have consumed GM crops, you have nothing to worry about, however, some companies do not mention on their label if the food product is genetically modified or not, especially if the food meets the necessary requirements. That makes it more difficult to detect if one is consuming organic food or GM food.

 PROs

  • GM foods are useful in controlling the occurrence of certain diseases like the ring spot virus in Hawaiian Papaya.
  • By modifying the DNA system of these foods, the properties causing allergies are eliminated successfully.
  • These foods grow faster than the foods that are grown traditionally.
  • In places with drought or poor soil for agriculture, GM crops cans till grow under unfavourable climatic conditions.
  • Their cost of production is reported to be less than that of the traditional crops due to the natural resistance towards pests and insects. This reduces the necessity of exposing GM crops to harmful pesticides and insecticides, making these foods free from chemicals.
  • Genetically modified foods are reported to be high in nutrients and contain more minerals and vitamins than those found in traditionally grown foods.
  • They have an increased shelf life and, hence, there is less fear of foods getting spoiled quickly.
  • They are of better quality and serve for medical benefits.
  • Help to alleviate world hunger.

CONs

  • GM foods may or may not have harmful effects on the human body, there are uncertainties around this subject as scientists and health practitioners are still unclear.
  • Consumption of these genetically engineered foods may cause the development of diseases, which will be immune to antibiotics.
  • Cross-pollination method in GM can cause damage to other organisms that thrive in the environment.
  • It is possible that viral resistance can lead to the formation of new viruses and therefore new diseases.
  • Challenges in many areas such as safety testing, regulation, policies, and food labelling.
  • Another concern associated with GMOs is that private companies will claim ownership of the organisms they create and not share them at a reasonable cost with the public.
  •  Some people believe that tampering with nature is wrong, and others maintain that inserting plant genes in animals, or vice versa, is immoral.
  • There are concerns that GMOs may cause inadvertent losses in biodiversity.

Science keeps evolving and new research keeps coming out. Now we have genome editing which includes several new techniques in which scientists precisely modify genome sequences. Personally, I am more interested in the possible long-term effects, research is still ongoing.

Still, the real question is, is GM safe?

Adefolake Ayotunde-Salami is an Environmental and Social Development Specialist. She is currently the Social Safeguard Consultant on a World Bank Assisted Project (SFTAS) across all 36 states and the FCT. Her experience spans across different sectors as she has worked both in the Public and Private sector. She has a Masters’ degree in Environmental Assessment and Management and hold numerous certifications. She is also an Independent Consultant for top companies in Nigeria and has work experience in Nigeria and the United Kingdom. She is the author of a book titled “Functioning in the knowledge of who you are” and a website where she and a few others talk about everything and anything www.adefolakeadekola.com. She loves to watch series when she is less busy and write articles based on extensive research.



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