Since agriculture began over 10,000 years ago, humans have selected certain traits in crops as desirable and bred those traits into the next generations of foods. The latest advancement in this history of trait development is “biotechnology” or “genetic improvement,” pioneered by agricultural scientists looking to increase crop yields and make staple foods more nutritious.
Using laboratory methods, seed genes are changed to create controlled, desirable traits. Certain kinds of genetically improved foods, or GIFs, offer farmers in the developing world the opportunity to combat malnutrition, hunger, and disease, including up to 500,000 cases of child blindness caused by Vitamin A deficiency each year. Crops produced using these methods have been commonly consumed in the United States since the 1990s.
Despite the promise of GIFs for reducing pesticide use, fighting malnutrition, and improving food security, many activist groups oppose their use and demand they bear “GMO labels.” Scientific evidence however is clear: There is nothing inherently unsafe about GIFs, and many authorities find so-called GMO labeling misleading to consumers.
Benefits of GIFs
Genetically improved foods provide farmers and consumers with many benefits. For farmers, GIFs offer the opportunity to reduce pesticide use and protect their crops against diseases. Consumers benefit from genetically improved foods as well: Trans-fat-free frying oil can be produced using a genetically improved soybean crop.
Overseas, genetically improved crops offer the prospect of fighting childhood blindness. Vitamin A deficiency causes up to 500,000 cases of childhood blindness and 250,000 deaths every year, according to the World Health Organization. Golden Rice, a genetically improved rice crop being developed by a nonprofit consortium, produces beta carotene, which the human body turns into Vitamin A. Researchers are also studying and conducting experiments on the viability of cassava and sorghum plants enriched with nutrients through genetic improvement.
Genetically improved foods also provide hope to combat world hunger amidst a growing population and climactic changes. Corn that has been improved to resist drought and hold its yield shows promise for assisting farmers in various African countries.
A strong scientific consensus has formed that genetically improved foods are safe for human consumption. Among the numerous scientific authorities supporting the consensus are:
- The World Health Organization
- The U.S. National Academy of Sciences
- The American Association for the Advancement of Science
- The American Medical Association
- The Royal Society of London
Unfortunately, activist groups like Greenpeace, Food and Water Watch, and the Environmental Working Group threaten these promising scientific achievements. They deny the overwhelming scientific consensus when it suits them and propose unscientific “GMO labels” on genetically improved foods that serve the organic food industry.