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GMOs in the Food Industry

Mississauga, ON

A diagram of a DNA strand with a picture of 3 corn cobs, grains of beans and cotton in the background
GMOs in the Food Industry

The acronym GMO stands for genetically modified organisms. GMOs are living beings whose genetic code has been modified in one way or another by transgenic technology, i.e genetic engineering. In the food industry, this process is done on crops. While conventional breeding refers to the crossing of two plants with specific characteristics in the hope of bringing out the desired combination of traits from the parents, genetic engineering differs. It’s much faster unlike conventional breeding which can take up to generations to bring out the desired traits.

In the laboratory, a gene is inserted into the DNA of the nucleus of an individual plant cell. The nucleus is where all the genetic material is contained. Only a small part of the DNA is occupied by the gene and the rest remains intact. A special treatment involving plant hormones will be performed to trigger plant growth and development. The cell will naturally divide to form new cells until they become a full-fledged plant. Since the dividing cells derive from the first cell with the inserted gene, they will also have it. The seeds produced by these plants will also inherit the new DNA.

In the United States, an estimated 80% of food sold in supermarkets contains ingredients from genetically modified crops. Although genetic engineering facilitates agriculture, it generates significant controversy ; but we cannot deny the many benefits it provides. Genes are inserted to promote growth, crop sustainability and ward off pests. An example of this is the Bt crop whose genetic engineering produces the Bt toxin. This toxin makes the crop resistant to pests without the need for pesticides. Genetically modified foods are also cheaper for the farmer to provide, which in turn makes them cheaper for the consumer. GMOs also improve the appearance, nutrients, and flavor of food.

Although GMOs have many benefits, safety and environmental concerns cannot be overlooked. Many claim that genetically modified foods cause allergic reactions due to the presence of foreign and unknown genes. Although this may be true, there have been no definite reports of allergic reactions. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), scientists who develop GMOs test them carefully to make sure allergens don't spread through food. The risk of cancer is also another growing concern with genetically modified foods. However, the American Cancer Society (ACS) further reassures that there's no evidence that consumption of genetically modified foods is linked to cancer. Many also worry about the effects GMOs have through an environmental lens. Environmentalists also believe GMOs pose a threat to insects and other species. Overcrossing is a potential danger when most genes of some GMOs end up in conventional crops or other wild species. Overall, many uncertainties arise from GMOs and many do not know whether or not to trust them.

There is a need for more research on this topic. Countless myths surround the consumption of GMOs, most of which are not supported by scientific evidence. More transparency is needed in the food industry. It is important to inform the public of the change in the foods they consume. The lack of long-term human studies also stresses the need for further research. We still have a long way to go regarding GMOs present in the food industry; the future may reserve a place for them.

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