Genetically Modified Organisms, or GMO’s, are plants, animals or other living organisms that have had their genes, chromosomes, or DNA altered in order to add or remove certain characteristics. This could include adding a gene to apples that gives it immunity to a certain disease, or a strand of DNA to a cow that increases muscle density. Now not many people know this, but no fresh produce (fruit, vegetables, meat or milk) produced in New Zealand is genetically modified. Some processed foods, however, are permitted to contain genetically modified ingredients sourced from overseas (eg, soy or corn flour). These ingredients must be assessed for safety by Food Standards Australia New Zealand, before they can be used in New Zealand, and the final food product must comply with the labelling laws. If the ingredients abide to these laws, they do not have to be labeled as containing genetically modified ingredients: if it is a flavouring in the food and makes up less than 0.1 percent of that food, or if an ingredient unintentionally contains genetically modified material at levels of less than 1 percent of that ingredient.
GMO’s are a very controversial topic, with strong arguments for and against, both with equally valid claims and concerns. The largest problem, however, is that just a few men could, in theory, control the majority of the world food supply. With the amount of research into GMO’s increasing every year, and their benefits over our current methods of food production becoming more evident, it won’t take long for large corporations to start vying for the position as the world’s number one supplier. In this piece, I will talk about the positives, negatives, effects and potential of GMO’s, as well as why their production and distribution should not be controlled by a few individuals.
Humans have been genetically modifying organisms for over 30,000 years using selective breeding. This was done by breeding two organisms which shared desirable traits, like dogs which were especially fast, or blueberries which contained more berries per bush. More recently, scientists discovered how to take a desirable trait from one organism, and directly insert it into another organism through genetic engineering. This allowed for previously impossible traits to be implemented, such as pesticide resilience, or unnaturally large muscle growth. With a technology like this at our disposal, most would think our daily lives can only be improved. However, large corporations, such as the French GMO giant Monsanto, have shown increasing interest in limiting the availability and distribution of GMO’s, even to the point where they wish to be the only corporation capable of manufacturing, supplying and distributing GMO’s. This is not right. Monsanto think they should be able to be the sole provider of GMO’s, when GMO’s and the technology behind them are so valuable to mankind, and this is wrong, plain and simple. Just think, with the technology behind GMO’s, we have created a means of improving farming without the need for extra space, we have created crops with the ability to produce toxins harmful only to specific animals, and have the potential to create so much more. In the future, the humans could become GMO’s, using genetic engineering to give their babies increased strength, stronger bones, higher levels of intellect, better eyesight, hearing and smell, the list is almost endless. If Monsanto and other corporations like them somehow manage to become the only sources of GMO’s and the research into their advancement, the progress we will make towards improving the world will decrease to almost nothing.
Now, as stated earlier, GMO’s are a very controversial topic, with both the potential benefits and risks being supported by hard fact. While adding a certain gene to, for example corn, may increase its yield per year, it may have an unintended side effect of being increasingly toxic, or may cause more allergic reactions. So while humans may be able to create trees that act as CO2 magnets, or the potential to intensify farming rather than expanding it, we could also unintentionally create strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria simply by having them feed on pesticide-resistant GMO’s. In the US, the Monarch Butterfly population has been reduced by over 50% through the destruction of their habitat for the growth of GM crops, as well as the GM crops being toxic to the butterfly’s due to their herbicide resistance. Just think if instead of a butterfly, we were at risk of extinction because we created a plant toxic enough to kill us, and that spreads so fast we don’t have a way to do anything about it. However GMO’s have yet to show any detrimental side effects, and events like this are about as likely than humanity being wiped out by dinosaurs tomorrow, but as stated, if corporations like Monsanto manage to get a hold of the rights for the development of GMO’s, the main reason for the development, the betterment of humanity, may be destroyed by the hunger for wealth and power of just a few men.