November 6, 2013: “Voters Reject Labels for Genetically Engineered Food in Washington State Today” - The New York Times. June 4, 2013: “Monsanto Sued Over Genetically Modified Wheat” - USA Today. November 4, 2013: “Washington Voters Weigh The Ethics of Genetically Modified Foods” - The Washington Post.
If you read the paper or watch the news, you’re undoubtedly aware of the debate raging over genetically modified food. Is it bad or is it good? Between the feuding sides, you might find yourself a little lost and wondering which side is right. Answers to seemingly simple questions have been blurred or exaggerated by both sides. On one side genetically modified food is more sustainable, safe, cheaper, easier to grow and has the potential of creating disease-fighting foods. Although this is positive and good intentioned, there may be unintended consequences that we have been quick to overlook. Those opposing genetically modified food clam that it is dangerous, harms the environment, increases health risks, and causes infertility and weight gain. Even things like the declining bee population may have closer ties to modified food than previously thought. We must look to science for answers. By studying genetically modified organisms (GMOs) we can guide our decision about whether we want to be consuming them.
GMOs are created by inserting DNA from bacteria, viruses or other plants and animals into a "target species" to create desirable traits. Most food today is modified to be resilient against pesticides and/or herbicides like Roundup. The first and only genetically modified food approved by the FDA for human consumption was the Flavr Savr tomato, which was slipped on grocery store shelves in 1994. Scientists at Calgene Inc. altered DNA within the tomato to slow the ripening process, resulting in a tomato that stayed firm longer, so it could have more time to ripen on the vine and not go bad during transportation. All of this eliminated the need for ethylene treatment, which gives tomatoes a ripe red color, but not the full flavor of vine-ripened tomatoes. Although demand for the Flavr Savr was high, it was unprofitable because production and transportation were costly. In 1997, production ceased because of mounting costs and Calgene Inc. was bought by Monsanto Co., which is now the world’s largest producer of genetically modified food and herbicides, but why is the world’s largest producer of herbicide also producing our food?
Roundup is a non-selective herbicide introduced to the market by Monsanto in 1974. Although it was an outstanding weed killer, it also killed crops. To combat this, Monsanto developed “Roundup Ready” crops through means of genetic modification. They created super crops that were able to withstand high levels of herbicides, particularly glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup. Glyphosate works by immobilizing nutrients, so they’re not available for an organism to use. Crops immune to Roundup were easier to grow and now...