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  • On a crisp day in early August, 50 activists  tore down a fence. They stormed through the  

  • barricade in the Bicol Region of the Philippines  and ran towards the rice field beyond it. Then,  

  • to the shock of onlookers, the group began to  tear out the rice plants by the handful. They  

  • did this not because they were hungry or had any  desire to eat the grain, in fact their motive  

  • was the opposite. The activists sought to destroy  the crops because the plants were part of a field  

  • test of the genetically modified plant golden  rice. A strain that scientists claimed would help  

  • cure blindness in young children by  supplying them with needed vitamin  

  • A. If this genetically modified golden rice  was so beneficial why then was that group of  

  • protestors in the Philippines angry enough to rip  it from the ground? Today we're not only going to  

  • figure out exactly why genetically modified  organisms like golden rice have inspired such  

  • hatred and have devolved into polarized debates  like this: but we're also going to dig down  

  • underneath this debate to understand the real  consequences of GMOs in our modern food system.

  • What is a GMO?

  • GMO or genetically modified organisms can refer  to a lot of things, but in the case of food,  

  • it refers to crops that have had their genes  specifically altered to express a certain trait.  

  • In very simple terms this means taking a certain  gene from one organism likerepelling insects”  

  • and transferring that trait into a plant's  DNA sequence so that the plant expresses an  

  • insect-repelling trait as it growsWhile genetic modification of crops has  

  • existed since the birth of agriculturethis new form of genetic engineering  

  • is a bit different. In the past, if a farmer  wanted to create a sweeter apple, for example,  

  • they would need to breed two apple trees with  sweet traits and hope the next generation might  

  • produce even sweeter fruits. The process  requires luck and years of persistence.  

  • Gene editing on the other hand is much more  precise. It uses specific genes from one  

  • organism to modify the genetic code of anotherYou know exactly what trait will be expressed.  

  • But the process of gene editing in organisms is  not new, in fact, it's been honed and tested for  

  • more than 40 years, and over those years genetic  modification has become easier and more precise  

  • as the technology advances. So, then why has  genetically modified food become so controversial?

  • The debate, quickly recapped

  • That conversation on the Indian news network NDTV  epitomizes the GMO debate. Full of passion and at  

  • times, hyperbole. Often, it seems like there  is very little common ground in the genetic  

  • modification debate. Indeed in 2015, a Pew  research poll found that in just the U.S.  

  • only 37% of adults believed that GMOs were safe to  eat. A percentage which stands in stark opposition  

  • to 88% of scientists from the American Association  for the Advancement of Science who believe GMOs  

  • are safe. How does a gap like this happen? In  part misinformation, and politicization. But,  

  • also, as we'll see a little later on, fear of GMOs  can also be fears of a much larger problem. First,  

  • though, let's quickly look at the general  outlines of the GMO debate. On the anti-GMO  

  • side of the conversation lies those who view  Genetically modified food as mutated Franken-food.  

  • Poisonous crops that will harm humans if we eat  them. While on the other side, GMO advocates  

  • claim that genetically modified foods can help  solve world hunger, mitigate climate change,  

  • create more durable, drought-resistant plantsand increase yields. These are extreme cases  

  • of a more nuanced conversation but they are some  of the core through-lines of the conversation.  

  • Some of these claims though are just falseFor one, GMOs are not bad for your health,  

  • and they are not mutated Frankenfood. A  meta-analysis of 698 studies found that all  

  • of the research concluded that in terms of health  there have been no observable differences between  

  • genetically engineered and conventional foods. And  yes, while genetic engineering might help create  

  • more durable crops or drought-resistant varieties  they are by no means a panacea for world hunger  

  • or climate change. There are only a handful of  drought-resistant crops on the market right now,  

  • and most, like Bayer's DT crops, only  perform a couple of percentage points  

  • better than conventional crops, and that's only  in specific drought scenarios. Also, as a whole,  

  • most GM crops in the U.S. are commodity  crops--used to create ethanol, to feed cows,  

  • or as base ingredients for products like  high-fructose corn syrup. So, most of these crops  

  • are not solving a food shortage problem, instead  they're adding unneeded products to the market  

  • like corn syrups. And considering that  we wasteof food produced every year,  

  • world hunger is not an issue of more or better  food, it's about infrastructure and logistics.  

  • Genetically engineered crops have been used to do  good, however, like in the case of the Hawaiian  

  • papaya. From the 1950s to the 1990s Hawaiian  papaya farms suffered a 50% drop in production  

  • as a result of the ringspot virus. Farms were  decimated and their owners were reeling. But in  

  • 1998, a new breed of papaya genetically modified  to withstand the virus hit the market. Called the  

  • Rainbow papaya, it began to replace conventional  papaya plants for its durability in the face of  

  • the disease, and after a decade of use accounted  for 75% of all Hawaiian papaya production.

  • The real problem with GMOs

  • So we know that GMOs are safe to use and, in some  instances, can be applied in beneficial ways.  

  • Then what's the issue? The real problem with  GMOs is not actually GMOs themselves, but the  

  • industrial farming system behind them. We're using  GM foods to bolster an unsustainable system. One  

  • of the more popular GM varieties of crops in the  U.S., Monsanto's Roundup Ready seed, exemplifies  

  • this interwoven nature of GMOs and industrial  agriculture. From corn to soybeans to sugarbeats,  

  • the Roundup Ready plants are resistant to the  herbicide glyphosate, which is commonly referred  

  • to as Roundup. This resistance means that farmers  can indiscriminately spray over their fields  

  • without worrying about damaging their crops. Asresult, glyphosate use has skyrocketed in the U.S.  

  • toxic runoff from overspraying is causing dead  zones throughout U.S. waterways, and Monsanto,  

  • which is now owned by the German company Bayernot only profits off of their roundup ready seeds,  

  • but receive bumper profits from the additional  increase in glyphosate demand. To top it off,  

  • companies like Bayer patent and restrict seed  saving claiming that the research and development  

  • of these seeds takes time and money. This means  that not only are the seeds more expensive  

  • because one company has a monopoly on them, but  also once a farmer has bought seed, they're not  

  • allowed to practice seed saving to cut costs  in the next year. The problem with GMOs then,  

  • is that it allows for a system in which  just a few companies hold immense power  

  • over our food supply. Through that power  these companies perpetuate a food system  

  • wherein highly toxic chemical sprays are the  only solution to pests and weeds, just a few  

  • perfectanduniformcrops trump a variety of  diverse plants, and size is valued over taste.

  • Real solutions or how we  can actually feed the world

  • At the end of the day, GMOs are just a technologyThey're not a food system. So GMOs, like most  

  • technologies, can do good when used in a justethical, and sustainable manner. But unfortunately  

  • in our modern agricultural system the history of  GMOs is fraught with unsustainable applications,  

  • and they most often fall into the wrong handsJust four companies control 60% of the seed market  

  • and thus, can influence what food is grown. GMOshowever, might be able to help us tackle issues  

  • like climate change by transferring traits  from the American chestnut, a carbon storage  

  • powerhouse, into other plants to crops, but  they are a small part of a much larger needed  

  • overhaul of our food system. GMOs are not  a silver bullet to climate change, hunger,  

  • or drought. And while it is important to  continue exploring genetic engineering,  

  • it's equally essential to relearn and foster  a more ethical relationship with our land and  

  • food. In fact for many of the problems GMOs seek  to solve, we already have solutions. Agroforestry,  

  • integrated weed and pest management systemsno-till, and polycultural systems represent  

  • just a few of the diverse paths forward, and not  only are these techniques sustainable but they can  

  • also increase yields, create more durable cropsand suck carbon from the air. Within these systems  

  • GMOs might have a place, but not until they are  produced as public goods untethered from the bonds  

  • of patents and large multinational corporationsGenetically engineered plants should be seen as  

  • just one small addition to the collection of  thousands of other rich varieties of crops in  

  • the world. It is a technology that can be used to  perpetuate a destructive and extractivist system,  

  • but it also has the potential to do better, it  has the potential to create crops that can work  

  • in conjunction with a sustainable food system  that produces nutritious, diverse and tasty food.

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B2 US gmos genetically genetically modified modified papaya food system

The real problem with GMO Food

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    joey joey posted on 2021/06/22
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