GMOs: Past or Future?
Did you know that the first Genetically Modified (GM) crop was not made in a multimillion dollar company by highly paid scientists or in a small room by a mad scientist!? It was mother nature that introduced us to GM crops about 8,000 years ago. Sweet potatoes, once just roots of a plant, with the help of soil bacteria became swollen, edible roots. Agrobacterium is a naturally occurring soil bacteria that acted as a messenger in picking up a foreign DNA and delivering it into sweet potatoes. This process is known as genetic modification. So even if every item in your pantry says “organic”, you have been consuming GMO’s all your life. In fact, almost every food we eat has been modified since the domestication of crops.
Natural or not, GM crops are essential to us. Let me explain why, with the example of Bt Eggplant (or, Melanzana - if you are from Italy; or, Aubergine - if you are from France; or Brinjal - if you are from South Asia). Farmers around the world growing eggplants, lose 50-90% of their crop to a pest called the fruit and shoot borer. As the name suggests, the pest ‘bores’ into the fruit and stem of the plant and thus escape the effect of pesticides. As a result, farmers resort to spraying pesticides 3-5 times a week, sometimes twice a day and often on the day of the harvest. Just imagine the amount of toxins we consume from such fruits. The case remains the same with organic eggplant too, which uses USDA-approved pesticide - Bacillus thuringiensis. To fight this massive crop loss, scientists used the same Bacillus thuringiensis, isolated a protein gene from it and used the aforementioned Agrobacterium to do its messenger job of delivering the gene into the eggplant. The plant created out of this process is called Bt Eggplant (Bt being short for Bacillus thuringiensis), which now has the ability to protect itself against the pest from within. Think of this like being vaccinated (Bt inside the plant) - you will not be infected by the disease (pest attack) because you now have the power to fight it within you.
Your next question might be, “Well, we are consuming this! Isn’t it dangerous for us?”. The answer is no! For the gene to be activated, it requires two factors called pH and receptors. pH is the potential of hydrogen measured on a scale of 0-14; lower the number, higher the acidity. Humans have a gut ph of 1.5 to 3.5 and the gene here activates only above 9.5. Receptors are basically like lock and key; every design is unique and only one key can open one lock. Since we don't have either of them, we are more than safe.
All this theory is backed by scientific data too, measured over a period of 3 years. Use of Bt eggplant brought down average shoot damage and average fruit damage from 2.5% to 0.3% and 58% to 25%, respectively.
Everybody sitting at the luxuries of their home, school, or office, reading this article, do not realize that tens of thousands of miles from you, there are countries where death is always by their side. Children die every day due to malnutrition. GM crops can help them; we can create more nutritional, better quality, higher yielding drought resistant and pest and disease resistant crops. When YOU say no to such technologies, you are taking away food from THEIR plate.
Making GM crops is expensive, time-consuming and labor extensive. No one would choose to do it if they didn't think it was worth all their effort. So I request each one of you to put your faith in scientists and trust in the government agencies like USDA, EPA, and FDA. These agencies act like a gate and do not open unless there has been enough experiments and proof that the crops are completely safe for humans, animals, birds, other plants, etc. There have been cases where the agencies have rejected GM crops because of concerns. All in all, if you trust them with their “organic” label, you should trust them with everything else too, don't you think!!
Well then, you now have two options:
a) you can either choose to tell your future generations that there was once a technology called GMO which we banned, or
b) you can adopt the technology and help us banish malnutrition and also, feed the growing world population.
Hope you think of this article next time you go grocery shopping!!