What Is the Purpose of GMOs?

By Kristin Mortensen

According to the World Health Organization, or WHO, genetically modified foods were introduced to the market in the mid-1990s with herbicide-resistant soybeans. The most common genetically modified foods are corn, canola, soybean and cotton, which is used to make cottonseed oil. Scientists create genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, by altering a plant’s DNA, making a new species that might contain more nutrients, resist insects or diseases, or require less water so it grows in drought-stricken areas.

Crop Durability and Food Security

Scientists developed genetically modified, or GM, plants by introducing genes that kill insects or weeds or protect against viruses. Some GM plants require less water so they can be grown in areas of the world where water is scarce or during times of drought. As farmers lose fewer crops to diseases, insects, weeds or drought, more food is available to sell on the market, keeping up with the demand of a growing world population.

Economic and Environmental Benefits

Some GMOs grow and ripen faster, allowing farmers to grow more crops throughout the year, increasing their income while keeping prices lower for consumers. An article published in June 2014 in "PLOS Biology" reports that plants could be engineered to make more of their own nitrogen, requiring less fertilizer. This would reduce the cost to grow food and reduce damage to the soil caused by fertilizers.

Improved Nutrition

Helen Keller International is working with the University of California, Davis researching whether rice can safely be genetically altered to contain vitamin A, a product called Golden Rice. If this food is found effective and safe, it could save some of the 500,000 children worldwide who go blind from vitamin A deficiency. A study published in 2013 in the “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition” found that a genetically modified type of broccoli reduced cardiovascular and cancer risk factors in participants by increasing the amount of a specific nutrient already found naturally in broccoli.

Safety Concerns

Some concerns regarding the safety of GMOs include increased risk of allergens, toxins, mixing GM crops with regular crops and risking wiping out the original species, or simply unknown side effects. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration's goal is to make sure foods available on the market today have undergone testing to ensure they're safe for you to eat.

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