Having dealt with the fundamentals of GMOs in our previous seven articles, now it’s inevitable to focus on some of the most common myths on GMOs and we have provided convincing solutions to the same, thus establishing the safety of genetically engineered plants.
Myth 1: 👿
Cultivation of GMOs is a serious threat to biodiversity.
Agriculture i.e. domestication of crops is by itself cultivation of narrowly selected plants/varieties possessing traits of interest such as high yield, stress tolerance (biotic & abiotic) etc. Therefore, following the logic of the above argument, agriculture is itself possessing the risk for loss of biodiversity. Hence, in conclusion, tagging GMOs with loss of biodiversity is completely meaningless.
Myth 2: 👿
Consuming foreign protein from GMOs is hazardous to health
Let’s a have closer look into the food that we consume every day. Most likely they are by products of rice, wheat, milk, meat etc. They too possess genome and without doubt their proteins are foreign to our body. The human digestive system has the capacity to digest protein into amino acids and assimilate the needed ones and the rest is excreted. The same process holds good for the GMOs that have been approved by GEAC upon establishing substantial equivalence.
Myth 3: 👿
Risk of horizontal gene transfer, i.e. transfer of antibiotic resistance gene from the GMO into gut microbes, resulting in tolerance of the microbes to antibiotics.
- It is to be noted that the food that we consume is mostly cooked and in that process the DNA is completely destroyed.
- Let’s assume that the DNA stays intact even after cooking. Upon consumption, due to the pH, enzymes and digestive juice the DNA from the GMO will be destroyed.
- Even if the DNA of the GMO escapes all these, the possibility for horizontal gene transfer is unlikely predominantly due to the unfavorable conditions of the digestive system. To appreciate this, consider the following scenario, The efficiency (success) of the carefully monitored genetic transformation experiment under favorable conditions in laboratory is a mere 2-5% on an average. Without a doubt, expecting a horizontal gene transfer under unfavorable conditions in human digestive system is highly unlikely.
- Moreover, the development of new robust CRISPR-Cas9 has enabled the commercialization of GMOs without any antibiotic resistance genes, thus completely clearing the above myth.
Myth 4: 👿
Planting biotech crops harms the environment.
Biotech crops that are designed to be pests and herbicide resistant will significantly reduce the use of pesticides and herbicides, thus reducing the risk to the environment and to human health. Since 1996, biotech crops have reduced the amount of pesticides used by 497 million kilograms. In 2013 alone, fewer insecticide and herbicide sprays reduced CO2 emissions by 28 million tonnes, equivalent to taking 12.4 million cars off the road for a year and there are many more examples to substantiate this claim (ISAAA Brief, 2014). Furthermore, planting herbicide-tolerant versions of crops reduce the need for mechanical removal of weeds; this can damage crops and result in environmental damage. Moreover, reducing mechanical tillage lowers fuel consumption and helps conserve soils prone to erosion and compaction.
Myth 5: 👿
Seed companies control the sale and use of biotech seeds. Farmers are forced to buy expensive seeds which make them poorer and seed companies richer.
More than 90% of the biotech crops are grown by small, resource-poor farmers in the developing countries. Most farmers enjoy the sustainable, economic and environmental benefits by growing biotech crops and this has been testified by farmers all over the world who grow biotech crops. In any case farmers are the final decision makers on which seeds to buy. Moreover, the high prices for seeds set by the private seed companies can be regulated by the government and subsidize the price of biotech seeds. For instance, in India, the government research organizations are also working on biotech plants which can offer seeds at subsidized prices. Moreover, most of the farmers in India adopting GM cotton has been also linked to increased calorie consumption and reduced undernourishment in families. This indirectly denotes the improvement in lively hood of small scale farmers who have been benefitted by the technology.
(Ask us your fears and doubts about GMO technology or Bt Crops in the ‘Comment Box‘ below. We will try to help you with convincing scientific answers. You can also mail us to firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Authors: Nandhakumar Shanmugaraj, MSc. Biotechnology; Godwin James, MSc. Biotechnology; Ramsankar, MSc. Biotechnology; Veera Ranjani Rajagopalan, PhD. Biotechnology; Ragavendran Abbai, MS Biotechnology)