The Gillings Sustainable Agriculture Project: A Gillings Innovative Laboratory

The Plight of Genetically Modified Organisms

The Plight of Genetically Modified Organisms

Genetically Modified Organisms, or GMOs, were introduced in the early 1990s and have endured criticism and disdain while simultaneously being used to battle the world hunger epidemic

WHAT is a Genetically Modified Organism?

  • A genetically modified organism is any organism whose genome has been altered, through introduction or deletion of certain genes, to produce an organism with novel traits 1
  • Plants are the most often genetically modified organism, mainly to introduce disease resistance, increase transportability, and increase nutritive contents 2


WHERE are GMOs being produced?

Regions of the world currently producing GMOs; darker regions indicate

greater production (source:

  • Currently, the United States produces the largest amount of GMOs of any nation, nearly 165 million acres 3
  • Across the globe, nearly 2.47 billion acres are dedicated to GMO cultivation, which accounts for approximately 10% of the globe’s arable land 3

What are the RISKS associated with GMOs?

  • Some studies have shown the GMOs can produce “toxic effects such as hepatic, pancreatic, renal, or reproductive” problems 4, and may have long-term and multigenerational effects 5
  • Environmental impact includes introduction of new viral strains, new genetic information may increase the presence of “weeds” (a broad term used to identify unwanted plant growth), and harm to animals – besides humans – that feed on the genetically modified foods 6
  • Altering genetic material may increase allerginicity of some products, inducing allergic reactions to previously harmless foods 7
  • Potentially harmful effects of GMOs have caused many people to disapprove of their use; consequently, some bans have been placed on their production and trade 8

What are the BENEFITS of genetically modified organisms?

  • GMOs are able to produce nutrient-dense foods that are able alleviate nutrient deficiencies, especially in developing countries, which may help decrease morbidity rates across the globe 9
  • Turning on certain genes can allow for a longer shelf-life of the product, while simultaneously increasing the amount of vitamins, such as the most recognizable GMO “golden rice” 9

  • Normal crops require large amounts of pesticides to prevent disease production and pests from destroying the crop, GMOs can be altered to increase their pest resistance, which in turn decreases the amount of pesticide use and, therefore, its environmental impact 10
  • Disease and pest resistance create a larger crop yield, which allows for crops to be sold at a lower price.  This increases availability of food to poorer regions, specifically in developing countries 10,11

with no genetic alterations and the effects of a pest infestation.

Where to next: The future of Genetically Modified Organisms

In reality, genetically modified foods are part of everyone’s diet.  They have been in production for over 15 years and comprise ingredients of nearly every processed food; it’s almost impossible to avoid their consumption.  More importantly, GMOs provide developing countries with necessary means to increase their crop yield as well as the nutritive contents of their products, which decrease their need for import while increasing the health of their communities 12.

As previously mentioned, the majority of consumers disapprove of the use of genetically modified foods, most likely developing from a misunderstanding of how they are produced and the potential side effects of their production.  Genetic alterations are meant to induce minor changes that have profound effects, such as increased disease resistance or vitamin production.  These alterations are highly controlled and adverse effects typically do not arise.  The continued use of GMOs will help feed the increasing global population – and decreasing food supply – to allow for every person to enjoy the most basic right: the right to feed.


1 – Hopes and fears related to genetically modified organisms.  Mazur et al.  2011.

2 – Genetically modified foodstuffs and health: benefits and hazards.  Nowicka, G.  2002.

3 – Feast your eyes: The atlas of Genetically Modified Crops.  Good Lifestyle.  2011.

4 – Health risks of genetically modified foods.  Dona, A.  Department of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology, University of Athens.  2009

5 – Do genetically modified crops affect animal reproduction?  Zhang, W.  Laboratory of Animal Reproduction, College of Animal Science and Technology.  2011.

6 – Environmental Effects of Genetically Modified Food Crops.  Mellon et al.

7 – In silico assessment of the potential allerginicity of transgenes used for the development of GM food crops.  Mishra et al.  CSIR, Delhi, India.  2012.

8 – Approval of GMO crops.  GMO Compass.  2008.

9 – Biofortified rice as a contribution to the alleviation of life-threatening micronutrient deficiencies in developing countries.

10 – Advantages and Disadvantages of GMOs.  Csanad.

11 – Genetically modified crops: hope for developing countries? 2001.

12 – Feed the Future…with GMOs?  2011.

Csanad.  “Advantages and Disadvantages of Genetically Modified Crops”. <>

This webpage discusses advantages and disadvantages associated with genetically modified crops.  It begins by giving a brief description of what a GMO is and how they are produced.  Included in the advantages are decreased reliance on pesticides, increased nutrients, increased transportability, and increased crop yield.  The disadvantages described include the harm to other species, geopolitical conflicts, and increased corporative influence on GMO production and regulation.

Dona, A; Arvanitoyannis, IS.  “Health risks of genetically modified foods”.  Depart of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology, University of Athens, Greece.  Critical Review: Food, Science, and Nutrition.  Feb 2009.  165-175.

            In this meta-analysis, the authors combine research from various studies to reveal the potential health risks of consuming GMOs.  Some risks include infections and loss of function of various organs along the gastrointestinal tract.  Although this is not a conclusive study, the purpose of the study was to shed some light on these potentially harmful side effects.  Admittedly, further research must be conducted to provide more substantial evidence to these claims.

GMO-Compass.  “Approval of GMO crops: US and EU seek agreement”. Feb 2008. <>

In response to the large disapproval of GMO usage, the European Union thought it best to ban importation of genetically modified organisms from the USA.  The World Trade Organization, acting as the mediator, deemed the trade illegal and disallowed any further transactions.  As a result, the USA lost millions in total revenue and the EU feared they would fall behind in the agricultural race.  Although the ban has since been lifted, it was only a few years ago that it was enacted and portrays the obstacles GMOs have faced recently and will continue to face.

The Gold Rice Project.  “Biofortified rice as a contribution to the alleviation of life-threatening micronutrient deficiencies in developing countries”. July 2009.

            In an effort to inform consumers about the benefits of GMOs, in this case golden rice, a website,, was started to provide information involving the use of genetically modified organisms.  In this article, information is presented that focuses on golden rice’s increased micronutrient composition as well as its transportability.  It makes the point that golden rice is able to provide proper nutrients to otherwise malnourished individuals, even more so it is able to do this at no extra cost considering the technology has already been found it only needs to be implemented.

Herrera-Estrella, L; Alvarez-Morales, A.  “Genetically modified crops: hope for developing countries?”  EMBO reports.  Jan 2001.  256-258. 

            In this short paper, the authors point out critics’ viewpoints on GMOs and argue that they often overlook the more important facts of GMOs, such that they are capable of providing nutrients to large populations without drastically increased costs.  They argue that GMO production should not be political, but rather focus on the humanitarian side and those that they can help.  They also make the point the GMOs can have a profound economic effect for countries that install GMO programs through decreased importation costs as well as increased purchasing power within their national economies.

M. Mazur et al.  “Hopes and fears related to genetically modified organisms”.   Food Hygiene National Veterinary Institute.  Feb 2011.  814-817.

            This article discusses the effects of genetically modified organisms and touches on the benefits as well as the associated fears of GMOs.  It consists mainly of reviews of previous research studies as well as questionnaires of the local community to determine the sentiment towards GMOs.  The most focused on GMOs included largely commercial products such as corn, potatoes, and rice, which would help increase awareness of the most commonly used GMOs.

Mellon, M; Rissler, J.  “Environmental Effects of Genetically Modified Food Crops — Recent Experiences”.  Union of Concerned Scientists.   June 2003.

            Dr. Mellon’s paper focuses on the environmental impact of GMOs since their inception.  Specifically, she discusses the near destruction of Monarch butterfly populations as a result of GMO and explains the possibility of such effects extending to other species.  She also focuses on commercial development and regulatory laws placed on GMO production and assesses their successes as well as flaws.

Mishra, A et al.  “In silico assessment of the potential allerginicity of transgenes used for the development of GM food crops”.  Food Chemical Toxicology.  CSIR, Delhi, India.  Feb 2012, 1334-1339.

            This research study takes a biological approach to the allerginicity of GMOs and their potential dangers.  By comparing proteins produced by GMOs with proteins of known allergens, the researchers were able to determine possible effects of the newly formed proteins.  Some of the proteins studied showed similar properties to known allergens, and they believed that these new proteins may induce similar allergic responses in people already allergic to known allergens.

Nowicka, G.  “Genetically modified foodstuffs and health: benefits and hazards”.  Warsaw Institute of Food and Nutrition.  2002.  187-195.

            In this short journal article, Nowicka describes the benefits of the most often genetically modified organisms: plants.  He discusses exactly what traits are altered within various species and the phenotypic alterations that accompany the genotypic changes.  He introduces the fact that GMOs do not radically change the organism, but rather increase certain characteristics, such as disease resistance and transportability, to increase the crop’s value.

Redi, O.  “Feed the Future…with GMOs?”.  US Department of State Foreign Press Center.  Nov 2011.  <>

Explaining that food is the most basic need and every individual has the right to eat, this article explains the benefits of using GMOs to provide nutrients to malnourished individuals across the globe.  With an ever expanding world population, new resources must be produced to provide food for future generations, and it is argued that GMOs are the answer to this problem.  There are comparisons of crop yield between nations who implement GMOs versus those who do not, and show that those that do are capable of producing a near 10-fold higher yield.  It also points to the US and President Obama’s plan to “Feed the Future” as a front runner to attacking the world hunger problem.

Twilley, N.  “Feast Your Eyes: The Atlas of Genetically Modified Crops”.  Good Lifestyle.  Feb 2011.  <>

            Twilley provides the reader with facts regarding the prevalence of GMO production across the globe.  It appears that GMO production is actually omnipresent and is increasing at an exponential rate.  She points out that developing countries are focusing more of its resources on GMOs than are first world countries, which may be due to their ability to decrease hunger and increase nutrition uptake.  The general point of the article is that GMOs are produced in many nations and that their production may be much higher than people would initially believe.

Zhang, W; Shi, F.  “Do genetically modified crops affect animal reproduction? A review of the ongoing debate”.  Animal.  Laboratory of Animal Reproduction, College of Animal Science and Technology, Nanjing Agricultural University.  May 2011.  1048-1059.

            Considering the recent development of GMOs (early 1990s), long-term effects of GMOs have yet to be established.  In this review, the authors focus on previous studies and hope to determine possible chemical and biological explanations behind any adverse effects of GMOs, specifically on animal reproduction.  They hope such studies continue so as to follow the process in humans (as opposed to lab animals) to determine possible detrimental reproductive effects.


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