GMO or GM No?

I recently watched Okja, a heart-warming and highly political film about concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO) and super-pigs, which were genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The movie focuses on one super-pig in particular, Okja, who was created to produce less waste, eat less food, and taste delicious. When Okja is taken from Mija, her keeper, Mija goes on a rescue mission. Along the way, viewers are exposed to the horrifying inner workings of a CAFO and to how big business drives the process.

GMOs* are organisms that have had their DNA artificially changed through genetic engineering in a laboratory, generally to give the organism a desired trait.

 

The extent of genetic modification

As far as animals go, geneticists have bred a variety of glow-in-the-dark animals, silk-spinning goats, and pigs with extra muscle, to name a few.

It doesn’t stop there – the biggest use of GMO technology is for agricultural crops. Potatoes have been made that don’t bruise, apples that don’t brown, and tomatoes that can withstand freezing temperatures.

The most well known GMO crops are soy, cotton, canola, corn and sugar beets. At least 90% of these GMO crops are sold in the United States and are mostly found in processed foods.

Why genetically modify in the first place?

Well, there are many reasons such as enhancing nutrition, improving environmental sustainability, or increasing resistance to disease or herbicides.

When crops are herbicide resistant, chemicals used kill weeds, but not crops. This means farmers don’t have to spend as much time ridding the soil of weeds, saving them money and reducing water evaporation. Another benefit is reduced sediment and herbicide run-off into waterways – one of the things damaging the Great Barrier Reef.

What about genetically engineering something just for the sake of it – what other purpose would a glow-in-the-dark mouse play?

But maybe the most important reason of all is money. The more you can grow, the more you can sell, right?

What about the costs?  

Sure we hear about how scientists bred an animal to glow-in-the-dark, but we often don’t hear about the unsuccessful experiments where animals die or suffer.

Also, because some crops are now herbicides resistant, this may encourage the use of spraying even more herbicides, like Roundup, whose main ingredient, glyphosate, is considered a ‘probable carcinogen’.

Yet, the health consequences of GMOs are largely unknown. Short-term tests show that GM foods could cause liver, reproduction and immune system problems. The bottom line is genetic modification combines genes that don’t normally work together, which can create new toxins, allergens and anti-nutrients.

These issues have promoted some to advocate for a production freeze until more is known or for production to halt altogether.

Protest against Monsanto, the world’s largest manufacturer of GMOs (Image via Flickr)

 Good news and bad news: the grey area

Perhaps creating crops that can withstand extreme temperatures and spoiling has some merit, but this should not come at the expense of health, safety or ethics.

There is clearly grey area and a lot of unknown within this field. Nonetheless, I can only imagine as the population increases, and the climate continues to change, conversations about GMOs will become more and more prominent.

For now, if you’re concerned about GMO products, just avoid cotton, canola, soy, and corn, and processed foods from unknown sources. Also, look for products that are labelled GMO free or just pick up some good ol’ fruit and veg*.

*GMOs should not be confused with cross-breeding, hybrid seeds, or cross-hybridization which is achieved through sexual reproduction.

*No fresh fruit and veg grown in Australia are GMO, but some packaged and imported foods may have GMO ingredients. See this link for more information: http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2012/11/15/factbox-gm-foods-australia.


9 Responses to “GMO or GM No?”

  1. Jennifer Feinstein says:

    Hey thanks for the comment. I did mention environmental sustainability as one of the reasons for producing GMO in the first place. The comment about the money was more so a stab at the big corporations who are taking advantage of what they can do with GMOs and also relating it back to the the movie Okja. Definitely agree with you though about your second comment re dangerous technologies.

  2. Jennifer Feinstein says:

    Thanks very much!

  3. Tharaka Kaluarachchi says:

    Going forward I think it is pretty safe to assume we will see more and more GMO products in our stores. With a growing population particularly in the developing world, with climate change, with globalisation and capitalism, GMOs are just one piece in the huge puzzle that is food security. Where our moral standpoint is really does depend on our privilege and how we interact with the world. One thing for sure though is that GMOs will continue to be a controversial and thoroughly discussed topic with the upcoming generations.
    Great post!

  4. jfink says:

    But maybe the most important reason of all is money. The more you can grow, the more you can sell, right?
    I have to disagree with you on this statement, I think that the main reason should be that with a growing global population, food security is becoming more of an issue and that using GMO products will allow us (humanity) to feed that population. My main argument is that being anti-GMO you is tantamount to saying that your food security is more important than other people.

    My second thoughts are that the argument that they are not safe and that we don’t know enough about them, (while correct) hasn’t stopped us from using potentially dangerous technologies before they were fully understood.

  5. Jennifer Feinstein says:

    Hey Jack,

    Thanks for the comment. My understanding is that GMO is more about genes manipulation in a lab, rather than cross-pollinating or cross-breeding, but to be honest I do not have a solid understanding of how it works and can definitely understand why it is hard to discern from GMO. I think you are right in assuming that there are similar risks, but I am not 100% sure!

  6. Jack Simkin says:

    Hey Jen, interesting article. How clear is the distinction between GMO and cross-breeding/hybrid species? I’ve always felt it’s a blurry line, and still has some similar risk issues as GMO options, particularly when considering genetic diversity and pest resistance.

  7. Jennifer Feinstein says:

    Thanks for the comment, Chris. I think it is possible for that to happen, but there is just so much unknown at this point.. there would need to be a lot of research on it before that point, in my opinion. Personally, I worry about excessive herbicide use for “herbicide resistant” crops. What are your thoughts?

  8. Chris says:

    Thanks for the post! I think GMOs are an interesting and often debated topic, and it’s great that you had a look at both sides.

    As technology develops and we’re able to grow bigger and stronger crops, vegetables and fruits which could reduce famine and costs of farming, do you think there’ll come a point where the benefits outweigh the costs?

  9. Heather Smillie says:

    Hi Jennifer, great article!
    I love that you used Okja as a hook. I haven’t seen it yet, but it’s on my list and it definitely caught my eye.
    Such a complicated topic, well done for tackling it!