A GMO, or genetically modified organism, is a plant or animal that has been genetically engineered to create a specific set of traits including size, shelf life and color vibrancy. While this bio-technology is still in a relatively early stage of development, there are already concerns regarding the potential dangers it poses.
Most concerns about genetically modified foods fall into one of three categories: environmental hazards, economic concerns and human health risks. This article will outline the environmental hazards of GMOs.
Environmental Hazards of GMOs
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there is a very real risk of out-crossing, which refers to the transfer of engineered genes (transgenes) from genetically modified crops to conventional, cultivated plants or to related crop species in the wild. This may happen by means of wind, insect pollination, or other transfer.
The foreign genes can cross with and contaminate these other species, resulting in a hybridization of the genetically modified crop plant with a non-GMO plant. This could radically alter entire ecosystems if the hybrid plants thrived.
Out-crossing can also have an indirect effect on food safety and security, as the contaminated species make their way into the food chain. In a September 2010 paper, for example, the World Health Organization reports an incident in which traces of a GM variety of corn that was only approved for use as livestock feed was found in corn products intended for human consumption in the U.S. market.
Increased Use of Herbicides and Pesticides
Scientists estimate that crops that are genetically modified to be herbicide-resistant tend to greatly increase the herbicide use. Knowing that their crops are more herbicide tolerant, farmers are more likely to use these often-toxic chemicals more liberally.
Many genetically modified crops are engineered to produce their own pesticides and may even be classified as pesticides by the EPA. This strategy, in turn, adds even more pesticides into our fields and food than ever before.
Unintended harm to Non-target Organisms
A 1999 laboratory study published in Nature showed that pollen from B.t. corn, a variety of GM corn, resulted in high mortality rates among monarch butterfly caterpillars. Even though these caterpillars feed on milkweed plants, not on corn, there is a concern that if pollen from the B.t. corn is blown into a neighboring field with milkweed plants, the caterpillars would consume it and perish. The potential risk posed to non-target organisms remains the subject of acrimonious debate.
by Author: John Dill