Modifying genetics of crops

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Column by Andrew T. Edwards

By The Staff

Why are so many people against GMOs?

I am a student at the University of Florida, and for the first time I have learned about GMOs, which stands for genetically modified organisms. At first this sounds scary, but the main premise of this is to alter genetics in an organism, such as a plant.

By doing so, the scientist can take a desired trait from one organism and splice it into another organism. A perfect example is BT corn. BT corn is a corn plant that has a gene from a soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis spliced into it. The reason for this, the gene from the bacterium “BT” produces a protein that kills larvae from the European corn borer. In return farmers don’t have to spray as many pesticides. A decrease in pesticide use would benefit everyone and the environment.

One argument about BT corn is the concern of the monarch butterfly that lays its eggs on milkweed near corn fields. There is some research and belief that BT corn pollen could be detrimental to the butterfly larvae.

I am not disputing that the BT may have bad effects, but I am taking into consideration that if corn is grown without the BT gene there will be many more pesticides sprayed from crop dusters. I think that the increased pesticides would be worse for the butterflies and may toxify more area then BT pollen blown around on a windy day.

Many opponents of GM crops are arguing that they could be dangerous to our health. The claim is, “that they are too new,” and not enough research has been done to confirm whether they are safe enough for human consumption. I completely respect this opinion; I myself agree with this theory. How will we know?

At the same time, there have been no definite human health concerns found yet.

There are some positive health benefits to a GM crop: 1) fewer pesticides as I mentioned above and 2) the possibility of helping developing countries.

I recently watched a PBS documentary about GMOs. One thing scientists have accomplished with these GM crops is to help farmers in Kenya. Scientists have genetically modified a sweet potato to grow more vigorous plants that produce larger potatoes, and more of them. With this type of results, there may be help on the way for countries suffering from hunger.

Those who oppose the GM crops argue that developing countries cannot afford to purchase these seeds. This may be true, but I don’t think it is a valid argument to cease further research and propagation of these crops. After all, the United States gives help to developing countries and has for many years, so I believe that it would be possible to help farmers in poor developing countries obtain seeds.

There are many other genetically modified crops such as soybeans, golden rice and papaya. I believe that GM crops are a great discovery and that they may be the food of the future.

I think that this is an interesting discussion to which I am quite new, and by no means qualified or informed enough to say who is right or wrong in the debate of genetically modified crops. I just think that people should give this new technology a chance. I think that consumers should be informed if a vegetable is a GM crop and should have a choice to refrain from buying or eating it if they choose.

Some people already know about GM crops, and have formed their own opinion about them. Likewise, GM crops seem well known in school and around the agriculture community. There are many people who are unaware of GM crops, and have no idea what they are or even if they have eaten the modified products.

Most of the people I talk with outside of school have no idea of what these products are, or that there are even scientific breakthroughs like this that are taking place.

I hope this column will provide information to those who are uninformed, and possibly give them a better understanding. The reader’s interest may be sparked enough that he or she will read about these crops, so that they may form their own opinions regarding this technology.