What’s a GMO? This is the question Jimmy Kimmel recently asked those shopping in a farmer’s market during his ask the public segment.
Most of the interviewed stumbled over the acronym unsure what it stood for, making for a comic segment. Despite not knowing what a GMO was, everyone interviewed felt certain they were bad for you. This response is sad because it is so far from the truth.
GMO’s or Genetically Modified Organisms are organisms whose genomes have been altered by the techniques of genetic engineering so that its DNA contains one or more genes not normally found there.
GMOs are commonly used in agriculture to modify crops. For example, strawberry seeds can be engineered to be more tolerant to frost with the insertion of an arctic fish gene. Other seeds can be manufactured to be drought resistant, produce more yields for the same amount of input, increase the amount of nutrients in a plant, among other things.
All of these modifications will help agriculture evolve in the way it must to feed the worlds growing population. By 2050 global population is projected to reach 9.6 billion, which is 2.5 billion more people than inhabit the world currently. GMO’s will allow farmers to grow more food on less land, which is exactly what we will need in the future.
Approvals by multiple food safety organizations like the FDA have confirmed GMO crops on the market are safe for eating. Many of the crops we eat today are genetically modified and no cases of harmful side effects have been reported. However, the question of if GMO’s are actually safe remains highly controversial.
This is partly because large GMO corporations like Monsanto have hurt the GMO image. Monsanto is a huge figure in the GMO market. They produce 80% of GMO corn and 90% of GMO soy in the United States. Therefore, the actions of Monsanto play a large role influencing public opinion on GMOs.
When Monsanto’s executive vice president and chief technology officer spoke at Georgetown last week he said the public’s misunderstanding of GMOs was the result of a lack of education on the topic. Dr. Fraley said that Monsanto is taking this issue very seriously and just launched a new television campaign to make people aware of the benefits of GMOs.
I do not think this campaign will be much a success. If Monsanto wants to improve the image of GMO’s they have to take criticism of the technology seriously. Instead Dr. Fraley quickly dismissed all criticisms of GMOs as “internet myths” we should ignore. He was even distributed flash drives loaded with academic studies that support Monsanto and GMOs, so we would not be led astray by anything “false” online. These actions gave the audience the impression Monsanto had something to hide. Instead Monsanto should take criticism of their products seriously, and work with outside agencies to ensure their products are safe. Hiding behind scripted statements is not going to make the public trust GMOs any more.
A more transparent image of GMOs needs to become available to the public since they are the future of agriculture. Every step should be taken to ensure people are comfortable with the increasing use of GMOs in agriculture. As the world evolves we must evolve with it. Increased use of GMOs in agriculture is really just the next natural step in our evolution.
Lauren Gros is a freshman in the School of Foreign Service. The Modern Lens appears every other Thursday at thehoya.com