GMOs: Fixing America, One Problem at a Time

This essay is FOR genetically modified organisms; it received a score of 85%. GMOs are great because of its flexibility for low-income farmers and potential to mutate for biological necessities. I know that farmers who use Monsanto seeds may spray excessive amounts of RoundUp on their crops, which does harm consumers, but this is a problem that does not come directly from GMOs but from the effects of farming them. Also, not all GMOs have to cater pesticide resistance. Another fear organic enthusiasts have is crossbreeding between GMOs and organic plants. I think hybrids are actually helpful and necessary rather than harmful.
High prices, malnutrition, drought, and pollution are all concerns for agriculture in America. Minimum wage earners can barely afford to eat healthy, let alone pay for fast food. Farmers constantly look for ways to conserve water and other resources to reduce their expenses which in turn lowers the price of food in general. Plants and animals can naturally evolve to account for these changes in environment, but variations often take years, even multiple life times. Through genetic engineering and biotechnology, humans can speed the process of evolution in genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Organic food enthusiasts fear the potential health and economic problems that may come from this technology, but fear often stems from a lack of knowledge and precedes life changing innovation, similar to the revolution of computers. Although the only problems risen from GMOs so far come from the business practices and patent usage of one company in particular, Monsanto, and no health issues have occurred, the crucial benefits of GMOs should not be discounted as other companies research and develop their own seeds. Genetically modified organisms should be celebrated for their flexible potential to account for limited resources, tough climates, and harmful pollution.

For farmers whose time and money are of the essence, crops that consume less resources alleviate many financial worries. Upcoming farmers in India planted Monsanto cotton seeds modified with Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a bacterium that kills common cotton pests, which gave the chance to these farming families “to grow or buy more food, and… less likely to be classified as ‘food insecure,’” a condition where one consumes less calories than considered safe by the World Health Organization (Kaplan). GMO seeds tend to cost more than organic seeds, but “previous studies have found that farms using Bt crops earned more money — they get higher yields while spending less money on chemical pesticides” which gives beginning farmers a helping hand (Kaplan). Another Monsanto innovation in biotechnology is the glyphosate-resistant sugar beet which survives in the presence of the pesticide RoundUp. When asked if they supported genetically modified sugar beets, six unnamed farmers representing Boulder, Colorado agriculture argued the beets “will increase their yields and reduce their labor costs,” compared to sugar cane (Snider). Sugar beets and sugar cane are not the same kind of plant, but their primary use is sugar. Sugar is found in many popular foods, such as cereal, bread, and ice cream, so the price and availability of sugar controls much of the food market. If genetically modified cotton and sugar beets can ease the cost on the wallets of farmers and consumers, then biotechnology can provide the same results with other crops.

California is facing a huge water crisis that affects water usage for all of its citizens, but agriculture continues to drain a large quantity of its resources. Currently, “agriculture uses about 80 percent of California’s developed water supply”, which is no small factor at all (“Agricultural Water Conservation and Efficiency Potential in California”). Thanks to researchers from the University of California, Riverside and the Medical College of Wisconsin, there is recent progress on utilizing plants’ natural resistance to hinder the consumption of water. The process begins when the plants “naturally produce abscisic acid (ABA), a stress hormone that inhibits plant growth and diminishes water consumption” where it goes through changes such as closing the stomata to prevent water loss (“New Genetically Modified Plants Have Better Drought Tolerance”). The genetic scientists of this research team aim to control this biological system by rewiring the ABA receptors to activate by mandipropamid, a popular agrochemical cultivated to control crop disease (“New Genetically Modified Plants Have Better Drought Tolerance”). The scientists experiment with this technology on tomatoes and Arabidopsis, a plant commonly used for botanical research (“New Genetically Modified Plants Have Better Drought Tolerance”). If this method is a success, it will be possible to implement it in many crops grown in places where drought is a major issue, especially the highly populated, dry state of California.

GMOs can shrink the amount of pollution, such as phosphorus and methane, emitted from food. Pollution is associated with global climate change, a major problem for everyone all over the entire Earth. Non-GMO pigs release a lot of phosphorus “that can make its way from spread manure into streams, rivers and lakes, where it can” destroy entire ecosystems (Hall). With the invention of the mouse-related enviropig, pigs can process this mineral more efficiently by producing an enzyme called phytase, which breaks it down and decreases the amount of phosphorus excreted by 30 to 60 percent (Hall). Protecting the streams, rivers, and lakes permits humans to continue using some of the assets of their ecosystems- water, fish, seaweed, and coral. There is more available food and water for consumption that would otherwise be tainted. Another GMO in progress is a grass with less lignin, an organic polymer (“Lignin”). When cows digest lignin, they “secrete a methane-producing enzyme” that produces the heat releasing gas (McWilliams 352). If a grass, modified to produce less lignin, becomes a common crop for bovine farmers, the human race will be one step closer to slowing global warming. Many Americans indulge in pork and beef, so any progress the agricultural industry makes toward lowering the environmental consequences of these animals is good news. Genetically modified organisms can reverse the effects of pollution by lowering the amounts of harmful minerals and chemicals introduced into the environment.

Organic farmers fear a lack of diversity from genetically modified seeds because they are produced nearly identical to one another. Without biodiversity, entire crops can easily terminate by a single disease due to the lack of variations and mutations that allow them to thrive. Prior to the 1950s, the United States primarily sold the Gros Michel banana in markets (Boboltz). Banana farmers reproduce their crops by replanting portions of roots, resulting in genetically identical fruits that are sterile (Boboltz). Entire American crops of the Gros Michel banana died after they were exposed to a disease called Race 1, for none of the bananas’ genes had the opportunity to mutate and form a resistance to this malady (Boboltz). This is a major concern for Vandana Shiva, a leader in organic farming and head of the Navdanya, a movement dedicated to organic seed keepers and farmers in India. She blames “green revolution technologies and strategies… [for destroying] biodiversity” (356). In fact, she claims genetic mutations, unaltered by genetic engineers, have allowed crops to evolve and develop the desirable characteristics they have today. However, there is still a huge disadvantage to letting nature take its course. As mentioned previously, depending on Mother Nature to cultivate a sugar beet with high yields, a grass with less lignin, or tomatoes that tolerate drought can take a relatively long period of time. The effects of drought and global warming will not wait to detriment human survival, so it is vital that these revolutionary crops and animals are researched and advanced as soon as possible, without omitting the time needed to grow them and check for potential errors in their effects on the environment. The technology to genetically modify organisms gives humans the opportunity to hasten the arrival of those traits, so to utilize this technology to the best advantage, these GMOs should be encouraged to procreate with organic seeds and produce generations of hybrid seeds that carry the human intervened traits along with inevitable mutations that increase its probability of survival. Jonathan Foley, who investigates global land use, agriculture, and climate, supports this idea and proposes to “create new hybrid solutions that boost production, conserve resources and build a more sustainable and scalable agriculture” by using this method (Foley 358). Unless an organism is created to be sterile, it will be possible for modified grass with less lignin to reproduce with a grass that grows three inches per day, and an enviropig hybrid can provide the best quality meat with less phosphorous. Although many people against GMOs fear breeding between organic and modified livestock and crops, this contamination should be encouraged for its ability to conjoin the best of both worlds.

Genetically modified organisms are the key to a brighter America. Novice farmers can provide money for their families and more food for their country with crops that require less maintenance. Agriculture can lower its enormous water footprint with crops engineered to consume less water and rescue the state from its drought. Americans can take a step toward slowing the effects of global climate change by growing GMOs that pollute less. Imagine applying this technology that cuts costs and resources to other crops across the country, such as romaine lettuce and roma tomatoes. Low-income families could afford fresh vegetables and contribute to a healthier American future. The variety of cheap produce ensures the security of a full stomach and vital nutrients and minerals to the working class and their children. Obesity would not occur as frequently in the United States because its citizens can stop buying junk and fast food which do not provide all of the nutrients needed to grow and thrive. The healthier American future will have the clarity and resources to improve in school and give back to America by producing their own technology. Perhaps the invention of controlling the weather over a large area such as California will come from an Indian child whose parents are GMO cotton farmers or an American child from an underrepresented, low income family. Let genetically modified organisms have the chance to reverse the progress of Earth’s most fatal natural disasters and bring hope to the hearts of the future.

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