Could GM Crops Kill Us?

The short answer is no. The long answer is essentially a critical review of the GM crop debate.

 

GM (genetically modified) crops often make appearances in the news, and there is a lot of controversy surrounding them. Many people seem to think that these mutant plants could signal the end of the world as we know it, or lead to a whole range of new and devastating diseases. Scientists are, on the whole, not fussed by the prospect. Rather, they are excited about the possibilities this new technology could bring to global agriculture.

GM crops are plants which have been altered using gene technology in order to have traits which they may otherwise have not had, or only a few individual plants had. The most common of these would be resistance to pests or herbicides. This is surely a good thing, for it means that there are larger yields of crops and so more to sell. The resistance gene is highly unlikely to affect any humans who eat it. The only problem would be that if pests managed to evolve to overcome the genetic modification, crops could be devastated. That would be a problem. But it wouldn’t technically kill us, like many seem to think.

One of the most useful aspects of GM crops is the fact that they can be grown in developing countries where harvests or diets may otherwise be poor. Possibly the most famous plant is Golden Rice, which is genetically modified to be richer in vitamin A than its natural form. This means that in developing countries where diets are short of vitamin A, less rice is needed to keep people healthy, and so more of it can be distributed to the people. Other GM crops in developing areas can reduce the need for otherwise expensive or health-damaging pesticides. Thus, the profits of farmers in these nations increase. I personally do not see this as a bad thing. GM crops are highly unlikely to cause us fatal damage, rather they are helping otherwise exploited people to live healthier and more productive lives. In more developed countries like ours we can afford to choose from a range of products to create our own balanced diet, whereas in some countries they do not have this luxury. GM crops are, if anything, helping them to live a little longer than they may have done.

Obviously, there is a huge danger surrounding the power scientific technology holds over genetically modified crops. There is the issue that it could become a whole business industry, driven for profits not purpose. This has happened with medicines and patents. People are understandably scared that this could lead to a reduction in quality control and all kinds of GM plants being grown. However, there are rules which must be adhered to. Organisations such as the British Medical Association (BMA) or World Health Organisation (WHO) advocate that all GM foods are tested thoroughly before they can be introduced into diet. Thus, it is highly unlikely we will die from them as the appropriate governing organisations aim to prevent that. However, one argument against this is that if other animals eat the crops whilst they are growing, there is no regulation on how far into the food chain this could get. We could end up inadvertently eating the meat of an animal which has eaten a GM crop. I personally am of the belief that this would be less dangerous than eating the meat of an animal which has eaten a plant covered in potentially toxic pesticide. But I guess that’s all down to individual opinion.

The whole prospect of manipulating plants using gene technology is one which seems to come from a late eighties sci-fi film. I understand how eating food we’ve manipulated ourselves seems really odd. But really, we’ve been doing it for hundreds of years already! Gardeners and farmers have selected plants with the biggest fruits or the tastiest crops to breed from, thus selecting the ones which have the best chances of survival and quality. In such a simple way we have been altering the course of evolution for these plants for our own means. You see this when you compare wild fruits to the ones you see in supermarkets or on farmer’s markets. Look at the size difference in strawberries! Genetically modifying foods using gene technology is only speeding up and making even more accurate the processes we have been using for years. So really, why is there so much hullabaloo over GM crops? We haven’t died yet from selecting the best crops to farm. If anything, we’ve overindulged in such luxuries. This just isn’t usually a fact which we consider when we see a new report on a GM crop, or read a magazine article criticising GM foods.

The debate surrounding GM crops is obviously complex and ongoing. I have most definitely not covered everything in this post. What I hope to have highlighted is the fact that it is incredibly unlikely that GM crops are the new poison, and we are succumbing to a certain death by plants if they dominate the shelves of our supermarkets. I’m not saying I am against good old organic food either. I’m all for growing your own fruit and veg to eat in your home cooking (if I were greener fingered I would surely attempt to grow more of my own too, but most of my attempts have been futile). I am of the mind-set that to mass produce food to help everyone, especially those in less fortunate countries than our own, we need to accept that genetically modified crops are an element of science that is able to solve a lot of problems. I would be more concerned if there wasn’t such rigorous testing surrounding GM crops, but I’m pretty comfortable thinking that I’m not going to die from eating them.

But what about you? Are you still concerned about the dangers of GM crops? Are you completely for them? Or do you just have some really top gardening tips? Keep the conversation going over on twitter – I’m always happy to see your views.

 

Edit: I would like to make it clear that this post is a little different to others on this blog because it is mainly my opinions on GM foods as a friend asked me where I stood on the debate. I realise there are risks and alternative farming methods across the world so stress that this is not the entire debate, merely a summary of my views surrounding GM crops.

Edit 2: It has come to my attention that not all countries have governing bodies which promote the rigorous testing of GM crops, and so different places will have massively varying experiences of just how safe the resulting foods are likely to be.

 

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