Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are plants, animals, or microorganisms whose DNA has been altered in a way that is not natural. Genetically modified animals are usually used for research purposes, while genetically modified plants are designed for food purposes.
The plants altered using genetic engineering are considered tougher, more nutritious, and have a more extraordinary taste. However, the topic of GMO foods has been debatable in various countries, including Kenya, which is on its way to commercializing genetically modified crops. Let’s take a deeper look into the pros and cons of GMO foods.
Pros of GMO Foods
Bigger Crop Yields
One of the main advantages of GMOs is that they help increase crops’ production rate. This is especially helpful in countries that struggle with food shortages caused by drought. More crops also mean reducing cases of malnutrition.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), GMOs help produce larger yields by altering a plant’s gene to resist diseases. This means less usage of pesticides.
Prevent Food Wastage
GMO crops often yield foods with a longer shelf life compared to crops grown naturally. This allows people to keep food for a more extended period of time, therefore, reducing food wastage, especially during this time when there is a food shortage.
Reduces Harmful Ingredients in Foods
The modification process of food makes it possible for scientists to remove certain traits that can harm people’s health. The aim is to decrease potentially harmful chemicals and deal with allergens. However, more research is being done to determine whether this is possible.
GMOs are designed to amplify nutrients in foods. In 2000, scientists developed a crop called Golden Rice which was meant to help decrease Vitamin A deficiencies. It was also created to boost the health of people with little food access. 6 Health Benefits Of Vitamin A And Food Sources
Cons of GMO Foods
In as much as GMO foods have several benefits for your health, they also have the potential to affect you negatively.
Loss to Farmers
GM seeds are patented, meaning farmers cannot save the seeds to plant them later. For them to grow patented crops, they must sign a contract stating that they will not save any seeds for later. Instead, they must buy seeds directly from biotech companies instead of other farmers or local seed companies. Therefore, the growth of GM crops could easily land farmers in intellectual property disputes with GM multinationals due to the lack of knowledge.
Large seed companies have been known to push GM innovations on significant crops such as maize and potatoes worldwide, with their main intention being profits. The leading staple food in Kenya is maize. The domination of such companies will end up affecting the livelihoods of farmers responsible for producing millions of bags of maize annually. In the long run, farmers will compete against imported GM maize from countries whose main focus is expanding their exports in Kenya.
In terms of imports and exports, the commercialization of GMO seeds will also affect Kenya’s neighbouring countries like Tanzania and Uganda, which export their produce to Kenya. The loss of market will lead to farmers losing interest in farming and abandoning their land. This will lead people to move from rural to urban areas in search of alternative livelihoods. With their lands free, this will open doors for multinationals who seek to grow commercial crops for profits.
GMOs Have A Negative Effect On The Environment
GMOs have been known to be good for the environment since they reduce the use of excess pesticides. However, some GMO plants have become resistant to herbicides over the years. This leads to the growth of herbicide-resistant weeds, making it harder for farmers to grow their crops effectively. Since GMOs can move from one crop area to another, they can also pass their modified genes to other natural plants. This could lead to the loss of indigenous varieties of crops such as millet, sorghum, and spider plant ( sagaa). The death of indigenous crops then forces farmers to keep buying seeds from multinationals that create seeds that cannot be replanted.
They Can Cause Allergic Reactions
According to a study conducted in Annals of Agriculture and Environmental Medicine, GMO foods can end up triggering unknown allergic reactions. The transfer of genes from one organism to another means the organism contains new proteins. These proteins could cause an allergic reaction even if you were not allergic to the vegetable or fruit you are consuming. So, if you weren’t allergic to a tomato before, you could end up experiencing a reaction. 10 First Aid Tips for An Allergic Reaction
However, this can only happen if the alteration of the genes triggers the production of allergens. The good thing is the chances of this happening are very slim since the World Health Organization (WHO) discourages the use of DNA from allergens.
Negatively Effect On Animals
One of the ethical issues around GMOs is the harm they cause to animals and other organisms in the environment. Excess use of pesticides could lead to animals getting sick or dying if they consume the crop. This disrupts the ecosystem.
They Can Increase Antibiotic Resistance
Some GMO foods contain an additional gene that makes the modified cells resistant to antibiotics. When the food is consumed, these genes enter the body and can end up causing severe illnesses like staph infections and other super bacteria. Once these issues have been detected, it is harder for them to be treated with regular antibiotics. However, not all scientists agree on this. Some argue that the likelihood of this happening is minimal.
GMOs have been termed as the only sustainable solution to food insecurity; however, that may not entirely be the case. In an article published by Claire Nasike, the project lead of food is sovereign, she stated that the best way to deal with food insecurity is to address the issue of water availability, infrastructure, and storage.
In Kenya today, most freshwater lakes are contaminated by fertilizers and chemicals. If the government prioritizes safeguarding these lakes from contamination, then Kenyan farmers can easily access clean water. Food sovereignty also lies in farmers’ ability to control and breed their own seeds and access to proper storage areas and infrastructure.
The debate on whether GMOs are the best for consumption is mainly tied to health concerns and food security. However, there is no science-based evidence linking biotech to health issues. Anything not grown naturally can easily make you question whether it is the best option for human consumption. Based on the article, do you think that GMOs are safe and the best way to ensure food security?
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