Genetically Engineered/ modified organisms are made with the intention of improving quality of life. Genetic modification or engineering refers to application of a special set of gene technology whose end result is alteration of genetic machinery or composition of organisms such as plants, animals or even microorganisms (Smith 27). The whole process entails combination of genes from varying organisms (recombinant DNA technology), with the resulting ‘product’ being defined as transgenic, genetically modified or genetically engineered.
The most common GMOs are plant species. These crops possess characteristics such as resistance to herbicides, insecticides, viruses as well as certain types of weeds. They come with increased nutritional value such as increased vitamin and iron content. Most of these plants are able to withstand extreme weather conditions. Interestingly, there are some like bananas that are able to produce vaccines for resistance against certain diseases such as Hepatitis B. with genetic engineering, trees and other plants that would otherwise take forever to grow mature faster.
Genetic engineering dates way back in the 1940s when scientists first discovered the possibility of transferring genes between living organisms. Over time, several DNA transfer mechanisms, all which occur naturally, were developed (Bittman 69). An antibiotic-resistant tobacco plant was the very first Genetically Engineered crop to come into existence in later years (1983). China became the first country to take Genetic modification to a commercial level by introducing tobacco that was virus resistant in 1990. Four years later, USA’s Food and Drug Administration showed its support for GMO by approving modification of tomatoes that delayed on ripening after picking; ‘Flavor Saver Tomato’. After this, many other crops including herbicide resisting cotton, virus-resistant squash, soybeans, potatoes, corn, strawberries, lettuce and carrots were able to get marketing endorsement (Ronald 16-32). With time, this GMO wave spread across continents.
The very first step into embracing GMO is considering its safety. Transgenic organisms are as a result of incorporating other species’ genes to their DNA. Although this is a process that cuts across organisms, it is more common in plants than animals. It does come with certain advantages that would otherwise be wishful thinking.
Genetic Modified foods come in really handy in preventing the occurrence of certain diseases. Through modification of the DNA composition in these plants, all allergy causing properties are successfully eliminated (Lantz 113-119). This way GMOs, can as control diseases to some extent.
Increased Food Production
Genetically engineered crops grow much faster than traditional ones leading to an increase in food production. With the ‘better’ DNA composition, these crops are able to grow even in places that experience droughts or areas whose soil does not support agricultural production. With genetic modification, such plants are able to survive unfavorable climatic conditions and actually thrive amidst all odds. Normally, plants thrive with seasons. However, transgenic crops do well all year round, eliminating the seasonal aspect.
Lower Cost of Production
With transgenic crops, the cost of production is considerably lower than that of traditional crops. Their natural resistance to insects and pests translates to a lower need for use of traditional herbicides and pesticides. Ultimately, this leads to lower exposure to harmful insecticides and pesticides, which makes Genetically Modified plants more environmentally safe and friendly.
Higher Nutritional Value
Genetically engineered crops have higher nutritional content than their traditionally grown counterparts. They are more palatable to the human taste, making them an absolute favorite among most.
Increased Shelf Life
Transgenic crops are known to spoil at a much slower rate than the traditionally grown ones. With tomatoes, for instance, they do come with a delayed ripening rate upon picking, making them less perishable than before (Smith 27).
As is the case with most technological advancements, genetically engineered crops are known to have their downside to the quality of human life.
Emergence of Certain Diseases
Most people believe that consumption of genetically modified crops can lead to diseases that are antibiotic resistant. The fact that they are a new invention could mean that not much is known about them, and therefore their long term side effects could be an area that is not well-known.
Most manufacturers of genetically modified foods rarely put this fact on their label for fear that it would hurt their business. Most people are still very unsure of their perception on genetically engineered food. As such, most manufacturers tend to leave this vital piece of information behind.
There exist certain cultural and religious groups that deem the whole ideal of GMO as unacceptable. They view it as defying the natural occurrence of things (Gordon 3). A defiance to Mother Nature. The whole notion of transferring plant genes to animals and vice versa seems misplaced to them. As such, they remain conventional and they had rather go with the traditional way of doing things.
There is the fear that with increased production of genetically modified foods, developed nations stand a better chance of taking advantage of less developed economies given their levels of technological advancement. As such, these less developed economies will always depend on the advanced nations for their food security. The fear that food production will be controlled by developed countries, robbing them of the chance to come out strong, is inevitable.
Genetically engineered crops are the new technology in agriculture. In as much as the merits outweigh the demerits, concerns of the entire process being a disruption to the natural occurrence of situations cannot be ignored. “There is not much data in regards to the long term effects of the entire process to the environment or even to the human existence”, according to Peterson, Garry et al. (11). Additionally, there are no boundaries that exist; how far can genetic transfer and interference of natural DNA composure go? What are the acceptable levels? Scientists are still left with the dilemma of providing a clear guideline when it comes to matters GMO. The only fact that is there to stay is that food insecurity remains an imminent threat given the rise in global population, and GMO seems to be the only viable solution that is taking care of the threat.