GMO's: A World Wide Benefit

Genetically Modified: The Only Option for the Future of Food

Many Health Benefits

GM foods will leave traditional crops in the dust. They will have a longer shelf life. They will be better for us, with some products already in the works benefiting our waistlines and others bearing higher nutritional content. They will also be safer to eat. Farmers typically produce GM crops using fewer pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers.

GM foods will have even greater benefits for the world's poor, supporters state. In developing countries, malnutrition is a grave problem, because people often have to rely on a single staple, such as rice, that on its own doesn't supply sufficient nutrients. Food scientists hope to genetically modify crops to add vitamins and minerals. One of the most promising is "golden rice," which can stimulate our bodies to generate vitamin A.

Eventually GM plants will serve as environmentally friendly 'factories' that mass-produce useful substances such as pharmaceuticals. Scientists are hard at work, for instance, trying to genetically add vaccines to tomatoes or bananas. Traditional vaccines are costly to manufacture and require specialized storage not always available in developing countries. "Eatable vaccines," developers say, will be easier to ship, store, and administer.

Beenfits for Farmers

Insect pests cause stupendous crop losses every year, resulting in harsh financial setbacks for farmers. With crops genetically engineered to resist pests, GM proponents say, growers can avoid such losses and bring their produce to market at less cost. With, say, GM soybeans that are resistant to a single broad-spectrum herbicide, farmers only need to use a single weed killer rather than multiple kinds. GM crops will improve harvests, backers profess. Monsanto reports that yields from GM crops of corn, cotton, and soybeans in the U.S. have increased by between 5 and 8 percent. This compares to increases of 1 to 2 percent expected from new conventional varieties. Ultimately, some proponents warrant, biotech could triple crop yields without requiring any additional farmland.

Will Help the Environment

Pesticide residues linger on crops and in soil, find their way into the guts of wildlife that eat contaminated foliage, and leach into groundwater and wash into streams.

If a crop boasts its own ability to resist invertebrate predators, then farmers can use far fewer chemicals. Farmers in states raising significant amounts of cotton genetically modified to withstand pests sprayed 21 percent less insecticide.

Similarly, endorsers profess that farmers raising crops bearing herbicide resistance will use fewer chemicals in a season than they would while growing conventional soybeans.

Completely Natural

Genetic modification couldn't be more natural, geneticists say. Plants (and animals) genetically modify themselves all the time. That's the basis of evolution.

Our manipulation of a single mustard species has generated such diverse vegetables as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage. Modern GM methods are simply more precise, scientists stress. GM procedures are also much faster. In months or years, molecular scientists can accomplish the same degree of alteration that might have taken Nature millions of years to achieve.

Feed our Population

Innovation is the only way to meet the world's burgeoning needs for food and medicines in a rapidly shrinking and increasingly scarred natural environment. The result of this innovation will be GM crops that will offer our best chance to adequately address the challenge of feeding the estimated six billion people who, in as few as 50 years by some estimates, will join the six billion of us already here. GM crop farming holds out greater promise than conventional farming of boosting production on the same amount of ground, adherents say, and of raising crops where none could grow before. In increasing yields and making marginal lands productive, GM promoters insist, lie our only means of staving off widespread famine in developing countries in the coming decades.

Thoroughly Tested and Regulated

Biotech firms hold that every GM food crop is thoroughly tested for possible health effects. Scientists test for allergy-inducing potential by checking the chemistry of each new protein against those of about 500 known allergens. Industry spokespersons argue the testing system has worked well. When scientists realized a gene from Brazil nuts they were planning to splice into soybeans might sicken people harboring allergies to nuts, they discontinued the experiment. Biotech firms point out that not one but three U.S. government agencies have their say about each GM crop. The Department of Agriculture judges whether it is safe to grow. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) assesses whether it's safe for the environment. And the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) deems whether it's safe to eat.