Browsing through Albertsons on Sunday mornings, I weave through the fruits and vegetables section, searching out exclusively organic products. I notice the non-GMO sticker displayed proudly on the avocados or the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “organic” sticker on tangerines, awarded for good soil management, the use of organic seeds and the absence of chemical pesticides or genetic engineering. Why do organizations such as the National Organic Program value farming that follows these practices, and why do selective shoppers like me look for these labels?
GMO stands for genetically modified organism — the scientific engineering of a product’s genetic makeup. Methods with terms like CRISPR and RNAi are used by some companies to not only treat diseases but to genetically alter certain crops and products, often simply to improve their appearance, consumer appeal or to remove an unsatisfactory quality of that crop. An example is the J.R. Simplot Co.’s Innate Potato, genetically engineered to be less prone to bruising and for reduced asparagine content. This “nonbruising” potato could pose a danger to consumers who no longer can distinguish between an edible potato and a rotting one.
Along with altering the basic appearance of crops, GMO usage is known to have negative impacts on the environment, increase the use of harmful herbicides needed for high-yield crops and cause pollution of aquatic ecosystems. Some may argue that GMOs are necessary because of the growing human population of the world and the possibility that we will reach a point where there are more people than there are resources to feed them.
In the United States, only 2 percent of the population are farmers, so it’s not surprising that researchers predict a lack of resources in the future for the growing population. However, according to a 2016 Guardian report, close to 50 percent of fresh produce in the United States is wasted and thus ends up occupying the largest portion of American landfills. So, is the problem about simply not producing enough, or is it about an inefficient method of distributing the food we do produce so that it isn’t wasted?
Regardless, my view is that GMOs, while breaking boundaries of science, might not be the best option for feeding the world’s hungry. What we need is a more efficient system of distributing the food we have, and greater participation from people across the world in agricultural careers to ensure we have enough food to meet the population’s needs.
Emma Lawrence is a junior at Santa Fe Prep. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.