GMOs: Feeding the future through selective breeding


In the 1980s, genetically modified organisms were introduced into the human food chain. Although GMOs have been around for almost 25 years, many consumers are skeptical about the risk factors associated with them.

The term GMO refers to breeding using genetic engineering. Plant breeders are allowed the use of technology to take desirable traits such as a resistance towards drought, insects, weeds or disease from one plant or organism and transfer it to another plant to produce a more efficient crop.

Many consumers are scared of GMOs but do not understand their importance in the industry. Molly Soyez, freshman in environmental design, said what she thinks most others think when it comes to understanding GMOs.

“Many consumers don’t know much about GMOs,” Soyez said. “If you are not in an agricultural surrounding, GMOs don’t get brought up very often, and if they do, the information just seems a little scary and scientific so people tend to tune it out. If it doesn’t directly relate to them, they are more likely to show no interest.”

According to FDA, scientists find certain traits that will produce a better crop and then evaluate if they need to add or remove other traits to continue to make the crop more efficient. Genetically engineering is often used with traditional breeding to produce a variety of different plants that you will see at your local grocery store.

Farmers have been changing the process of natural selection for several generations to produce the most efficient crop that can with stand high stress conditions and produce higher yields.

Today several of the top GMO crops include cotton, corn and soybeans. The FDA states that in 2012, genetically engineered soybeans made up a total of 93 percent of all soybeans planted, and genetically engineered corn made up 88 percent of the corn produced.

“Genetic modification has really improved scientifically that past couple decades,” Kyler Langvardt, junior in agricultural communications and journalism, said. “Without selective breeding, we wouldn’t have fruits like strawberries. Starting in the 20th century, we’ve slowly started to see a wide acceptance of genetic modification via gene editing from the scientific community. However, in our consumer base, we have been misinformed by fear marketing and common misinformation.”

Other major plants that are genetically engineered are foods you would use to produce other food products such as corn starch, syrup, and oil and sugar from sugar beets.

According to the Illinois Soybean Association, GMOs are regulated by the FDA, USDA and EPA. It takes about 13 years for a crop to be released to the market and costs around $136 million to test it. The product starts with the FDA, where they check to see if produce is safe to eat. It then is sent to the EPA, where they test for side effects. Finally, it goes to USDA, where they regulate if it is safe to grow or not.

After several investigations of the safety of GMOs, the U.S. National Academies of Science states “GMOs are good for farmers and good for the environment. The foods are safe for both animals and humans.”

“I think providing clear and concise information about GMO’s is the best way to educate people about the issue,” Lauren Obermeyer, senior in secondary education, said. “If it is unbiased information that just presents the facts, then people have room to decide how they feel. I think the overarching idea of what GMO manufacturers/engineers are trying to do could be beneficial, especially if it means increased food security and positive environmental impacts.”

NBC News stated in a recent article that before 2016, when Congress passed a GMO food labeling bill, there had been no previous regulations on what should be labeled. Many consumers felt they would like to know where their food was coming from, leading to Congress forming regulations in regards to labeling.

GMOs have objective benefits. As the population continues to grow, GMOs have been a large portion of alleviating hunger and malnutrition around the world. By 2050 the population is expected to be at 9 billion people. This results in farmers having to increase production agriculture by almost 70 percent to continue to feed the world.

“If they are going to create bigger and better crops, then obviously it would in turn be capable of feeding more people, so I definitely think that is a plus, especially considering the amount of people around the world who do not have much food available to them,” Soyez said.

According to Commonground, GMO crops have helped to improve soil and water quality by reducing soil erosion, herbicide runoff and carbon emissions. Soil erosion decreased by 93 percent, CO2 decreased by 23 billion Kg3, herbicide runoff decreased by almost 70 percent, which is equivalent to removing 12.4 million cars from the road for one year.

Overall, sustainable agriculture requires the use of best technologies and genetic engineering to establish a safe and effective way to generate new traits, faster and more flexibility than traditional breeding.