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What is a GMO?
A GMO is a genetically modified organism, one that has been modified through the process of genetic engineering. According to this essay from Harvard, genetic engineering must involve scientists working directly on the genome of an organism. Therefore, selective breeding is out.
Selective breeding consists on choosing which animals or plants should mate in the hope that the wished features of the parents are inherited by the offspring. Gene modification by selective breeding is a shot in the dark. However, it has been a constant in human history. By breeding different species of animals together, like a donkey and a mare, we obtained new species; in this case, a mule.
The same goes down for the plant kingdom. The best crops were carefully selected every harvest to be used as the seeds for the following season: crops that were bigger, tasted better or were more resistant when faced with droughts, weeds and pests.
GMOs made in labs have great advantages over traditional breeding. You don’t need to wait generations to see the results and you can target specific genetic traits, allowing for the new organism to be the same plus one extra trait, not a whole new unforeseeable creature.
Yet it would be unfair not to remember that these improvements and overabundance in the food supply driven by selective breeding were game changers, real milestones in the evolution of human society. They fueled us towards industrialization. Will we allow GMOs to take us into the era that is about to start?
How are GMOs created?
Let’s watch the process followed by a simple seed that will soon become part of the GMO club.
First, a group of farmers in a heavenly tropical island face an agricultural need. Their pineapples are dying because there is a new pest that is decimating this scrumptious fruit. The once blooming pineapple exports are now in danger. Our gentle farmers are hopeless. Fear not noble farmers because genetic engineering comes to your rescue.
A team of brainy scientists start to look up in their files, then suss out their options, drink a lot of coffee and finally, one day, they find a similar plant that is resistant to this pest. They have just identified the genetic trait they want to implant into the ill pineapples. They don’t beat around the bush and get some seeds ready in a heartbeat.
After combining DNA from both plants, they wait for the hybrid baby to grow up. This new species of pineapple will be immune to the pest. Farmers will now be able to save their harvest and increase the production. The designers of this new super pineapple are praised and also pineapple prices drop, so anyone can enjoy it. Everybody is happy. It is a win win, right?
Well, not everybody is complaisant. GMO foes maintain that they haven’t been tested enough. It is not sufficient with the data from lab experiments. Before flooding the supply chain with modified products, some people must have aged first having GMOs regularly to learn about the long term effects on the human body.
Thousands of years of DNA tampering seem to have accustomed us to mules, all sorts of dog breeds, eerie tulips and other “mutants” of the like. We all wow before a photo depicting a cute baby mule and nobody has ever been heard complaining over cheaper bread.
So, why most people would turn their heads if presented with some of the techniques used in the food industry? Why do we feel so unwelcome just with the idea of looking at labels in our favourite food? In a nutshell: why are modern GMOs received with such an upheaval?
One could easily point a judgmental finger to many directions. The food industry is considered by some the new tobacco industry because of the practices, secrecy and uncooperative behaviour equally shown by both. It went horribly for the tobacco giants. Will the food industry reap what they are sawing?
The bad reputation often associated with the food industry comes straight from GMOs yet their food safety practices can also be accountable. Few people dare to undertake the eye-opening experience of tracing their food back to the origin. The image of the kind of farms where we raise cheap meat is simply too bitter to swallow.
GMOs popular unpopularity comes directly from the Petri dishes, needles and microscopes used to give birth to them. Nothing remotely connected to that level of chemistry is delicious or regarded as healthy. Your main contact with people working in labs and wearing white robs is at hospitals. Food and hospitals are the ulterior opposite in the health spectrum.
What is more, gene modification is known to be feasible on humans and real mutant and clone animals have been presented for the public. It almost seems they were conducting a test on us to learn how we feel about it. Anyway, this only makes GMOs creepier by association.
GMO advocates pray their past and future ability to feed humanity better and want us to see the whole picture under a new light. Science is good and helps us live longer and better. Science applied to animals and plants creates better, safer food. A simple mantra to try to bend the spectrum towards their views that is gaining supporters every day.
Despite all the debate, consumers find common ground on one thing: labelling. Every now and then, we see the news go frenzy over whether labelling GMOs as such should become the norm. In addition to a safety and health concern, our rights as customers are compromised. This is one of the points GMOs advocates find harder to shut down. If GMOs are so good and reliable, why all the fuss about getting people to know better and choose accordingly?
They also claim that GMOs will speed up the end of worldwide hunger. Obviously, they weight their words when discussing this point on their agenda but who could blame them for trying to make famines a thing of the past? Sadly, it is common knowledge that it will take more than just “more food” to end this tragedy.
Write an essay of 300 words about Food Safety & GMOs.
Prepare a 3 minutes’ exposition on Food Safety & GMOs.
Translate these sentences:
Los alimentos genéticamente modificados pueden ser muy beneficiosos para la humanidad pero quizás necesitamos investigar más sus efectos a largo plazo.
Si se han descubierto efectos secundarios en los seres humanos por el consumo de alimentos genéticamente modificados, la industria lo ha ocultado a la opinión pública o los ha rechazado diciendo que son cuentos chinos.
Nadie puede negar que, al menos, los alimentos obtenidos en un laboratorio generan malestar entre los consumidores. Deberíamos volver al punto de partida y rediseñar nuestra alimentación de acuerdo a mayores estándares.
La industria de la alimentación en EEUU se suele salir con la suya porque sostiene un fortísimo grupo de presión política en Washington.
Según la industria alimentaria, los alimentos genéticamente modificados son perfectamente sanos y cumplen todas las regulaciones. Entonces, ¿por qué no son más transparentes? ¿Por qué ocultan deliberadamente información a los consumidores? Claramente, los hechos hablan por si mismos.
Como padres, está clarísimo que es nuestra responsabilidad alimentar correctamente a nuestros hijos y enseñarles a hacerlo. Pero, ¿estamos hablando solo de comer verduras a diario o deberíamos inculcar a nuestros hijos algún tipo de ética alimentaria?
No hay que ser un genio para saber que somos lo que comemos y debería ser nuestro derecho como consumidores el poder decidir si queremos alimentar nuestras células con ADN modificado. Por esta razón debería ser obligatorio el etiquetado de los alimentados modificados.