Genetically Engineered Food: Agricultural Renaissance Or Terrible Mistake?

There's been lots of talk about genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, in the news lately.  One can't go to the grocery store without seeing products on the shelves proudly claiming to be "GMO free."  Genetically engineered materials have gained a rather unfavorable reputation among some, but is it deserved?  We'll examine some of the advantages and disadvantages of this growing trend, but first, let's begin with an overview of the practice itself.

What is genetic engineering?

Simply put, genetic engineering is the process of altering the genetic material, or DNA, of an organism.  This may be achieved through gathering the DNA of another organism, be it plant, animal or otherwise, and artificially introducing it to the genetic material of another plant, which is then considered to be genetically modified.  

This process was put into practice for a number of reasons, and has produced some beneficial results.  Let's consider some of the advantages of this practice.

The good

One of the benefits of GMO food is that scientists can engineer it to be pest-repellent.  This quality negates the need for pesticides, which many health-conscious people do their best to avoid.  Eschewing harmful chemicals from one's diet is certainly a positive thing!

Another asset of the GMO process is the ability to introduce nutrients that don't naturally occur in the food being modified.  In today's world of highly processed and sugar-rich food choices, it can be difficult to keep up with recommended nutritional standards.  By adding additional vitamins and minerals to foods, scientists make it easier to nourish our bodies and promote overall health.

Finally, the process of genetic engineering can produce bigger fruits and vegetables and a more substantial yield, which is not only good for farmers, but good for the consumer.  An increased abundance of food naturally results in lower prices for shoppers.  

The bad

Despite the benefits of genetic modification, many people have come out in opposition of the practice.  There are concerns about both the environmental sustainability as well as the health aspects of the GMO approach to agriculture.

For example, the pest-resistant nature of the crops can cut down on the number of weeds that promote natural pollination, therefore reducing the ability of the local wild environment to thrive.  It can also reduce the level of helpful bacteria in the soil, microorganisms that are paramount to soil health.

In addition to environmental concerns, medical professionals have conducted studies that suggest a possible link between the consumption of GMOs and health problems such as gastrointestinal difficulties, an increased risk of stroke, and even cancer.

The solution

There is no denying the benefits of genetic engineering, but it's hard to ignore the many critics.  The truth is that they just haven't been around long enough to be absolutely sure of long-term effects, good or bad.  For shoppers concerned about possible negative ramifications, the best route is to opt for USDA certified organic items, which are guaranteed to be GMO-free.  

Time will tell whether genetic modification is agriculture's greatest innovation, or whether nature had it right to begin with.  In the meantime, it is up to each of us to stay informed and use the current knowledge to make the right choices for our families.

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