by Angela Hu
As I indulged in an evening snack of papaya, my parents were discussing the food they had just purchased from the supermarket. “It’s all organic! No nasty chemicals or GMOs.” But how bad are GMO foods, really?
GMOs are foods that have been genetically altered to produce more desirable traits. These can include resistance to certain diseases, making the crops easier to grow, or an increase in the nutritional value.
79% of respondents in a representative survey conducted by the National Science Foundation find GMOs dangerous, and there have been many articles, such as this one by CNN, that provide readers tips on how to eat GMO-free. A study by the Pew Research Center has found that people who have low amounts of scientific knowledge are more likely than those with high amounts of knowledge to distrust GM foods. Naturally, the average person may have a desire to avoid food that seems “unnatural” or unusual. As it turns out, this fear is due to a lack of knowledge about GMOs.
For starters, genetically modified foods have been around for ages – even before humans knew genes existed. Ancient farmers changed the genes of the teosinte plant to develop corn into what we have today.
There has been a large number of tests on genetically modified plants and crops with no credible evidence of harm to us. Organizations and agencies such as the World Health Organization and the American Medical Association have all found that GM crops are no riskier than foods that have undergone standard plant improvement techniques such as plant breeding. In addition, a report by the European Commission summarized 50 research projects and concluded that there is no scientific evidence that GMOs produce higher risks than conventional plants.
The very papaya I was eating? Genetically modified, virus-resistant papaya saved the papaya industry. In the 1990s, nearly half the papaya trees in Hawaii were plagued by the ringspot virus. A few years later, scientists developed a genetically engineered version of the papaya that was resistant to this virus. Now, 77% of papayas in Hawaii are genetically engineered. GM crops can increase yields, provide additional nutritional benefits, and use less natural resources, which is why I believe it is even more important that negative attitudes surrounding it are dispelled. In developing countries and with changing climates, we need to make sure food continues to grow, and enough continues to grow.