The term "genetically modified" or GM, refers to crops that have been modified in a laboratory to enhance their desired traits. The modification occurs through the plant's DNA. Unlike hybrid breeding, which is a natural way to enhance and strengthen a plant breed, genetic modifications can create altered plants quickly and accurately in the lab. Genetically modifying food is a contentious topic with a great deal of public concern since there have been unintended negative consequences on the environment as a result of bio-engineered crops.
One of the most common arguments in favour of genetically modified food is that it allows scientists to alter crops to increase the levels of nutrients in the plants. Adding additional nutritive values to crops offers a tremendous benefit to impoverished communities across the world. For instance, in some third world countries, many poor people subsist on rice as a main staple of their diet. By genetically modifying rice to increase the amount of beta-carotene and iron, scientists can potentially reduce the levels of malnutrition in these poverty-stricken areas.
Higher Crop Yields
Another potential benefit of genetically modified foods is that farmers can increase their crop yield. As the population continues to rise, ensuring that an adequate food supply is available will be a major concern for governments. Because crops can be genetically modified to resist cold temperatures and drought, previously unworkable land is made available to grow crops. Additionally, since the genetically modified crops are disease-resistent and pest resistent, more crops survive to harvest.
A major criticism of planting genetically modified crops is that there can be unintended harm to the environment. For example, after crops of genetically modified corn were planted, there was a significant increase in the mortality rate of monarch butterflies. While the butterflies don't eat the corn plant, they feed on milkweed. Pollen from the corn plants blew in the wind and landed on neighbouring milkweed plants. When the butterflies consumed the pollen, they died. There is currently no way of accurately predicting the environmental consequences of planting genetically modified crops.
Environmentalists and health practitioners have expressed a growing concern that genetically modified crops could negatively impact human health. For instance, individuals with nut allergies might have a negative reaction to genetically modified crops in which a nut gene has been introduced. Additionally, genetically modified crops will eventually cross-pollinate with non-modified crops, making it impossible for humans to make the choice to avoid such crops. Until the long-term effects of consuming genetically modified crops have been studied, it will be difficult to discern whether the plants cause harm to humans.
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