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What is so Controversial About Genetically Modified (GM) Food?

By S. Mithra
Updated Feb 24, 2024
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Genetically modified (GM) food has raised controversy among scientists, environmentalists, and economic activists. GM food is grown from plants whose genes have been engineered to alter their chemistry or biology for resistance to drought, insect infestation, disease, and make the resulting food rich in vitamins and minerals, larger, tastier, or have a longer shelf life.

Biotechnology of genetically modified foods is controversial to opponents who fear the effects on human health and the environment. For example, they wonder what it means to use genes from an inedible animal or plant species in an edible animal or plant species, even if that resultant food has higher amounts of vitamins or minerals and seems healthier. This is the primary difference between genetically modified food crops and crops that have been selectively bred, like corn or cattle, for taste, durability, or ease of maintenance. For example, a chemical in certain fish that allows them to dive deep in cold water now helps strawberry plants withstand mild frosts. The significance or long-term effects of bioengineering has not been completely evaluated, although as yet no risks have been detected.

Secondly, the farming of genetically modified foods is controversial to agriculturalists concerned that growers cannot keep pollen from transgenic plants that yield GM food from spreading and fertilizing wild, or nontransgenic, counterparts. These opponents call attention to the damage that could be done if strains of genetically modified species leak into the wild and compromise the natural balance of the plant ecosystem. Would the hybrid species no longer withstand a certain kind of infestation because they were engineered without a poison? Could they become incapable of reproduction? Bioengineers argue that cross-pollination poses a negligible risk because pollen must travel a long distance over "moats" constructed between genetically modified crops and other species, and no such leaks have occurred.

International economic concerns have caused controversial reactions among advocates for developing nations' economies. When a large corporation can manipulate food crops with a large research and development department, they secure fantastically successful genetically modified food. Some say this gives them an unfair advantage over traditional cropping methods of farmers, that in turn creates a long-term dependence on the corporation. For example, one company engineered rice with more vitamins, greater durability, and ease of growth. They sell seeds that will not self-propagate because the plants were infertile, which means farmers have to buy seeds every season. Some believe this creates an unnecessary dependence of developing countries upon a few giant corporations to furnish all seeds and herbicides year after year to reap the rewards of genetically modified food. Others see this as a natural extension of an international capitalist system that needs careful regulation but has no intrinsic problems.

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Discussion Comments

By honeysuckle — On May 01, 2011

I don't know about the rest of you, but I don't want to eat any GMO foods. I'm not super-up on the subject, but it just seems to me that if food has been genetically altered, it can not be good for you. Mother Nature made it the way it was for a reason, right?. Messing with the make up of a food has to alter its nutritional value as well.

I'm open to discussion though -- and I'd love to learn more about this subject. Are there any pro-GMO people out there who can tell me more about it?

By anon21998 — On Nov 25, 2008

A great documentary about the last paragraph is called "The World According to Monsanto". Check it out.

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