1. The debate around genetically modified organisms (GMO) is huge and heated on either side. One of the major considerations when arguing against the use of GMO products is the potential for environmental harm. What exactly are the environmental risks to consider in regards to GMOs?
2. First of all, it is important to understand what a GMO is precisely. The World Heath Organization (WHO) defines them as organisms whose DNA has been altered in a non-natural way.
3. GM plants are usually changed to be insect resistant, virus resistant, or herbicide tolerant.
4. Furthermore, the long term effects of GMOs are not certain. Pests that are targeted by these agricultural methods can adapt to pesticides and herbicides, in addition to the DNA changes in GM plants to make them ¨resistant.¨ This means that they will not always be effective, but their toxic legacies will remain.
5. Cumulative effects of products such as GMOs are important to take into consideration. Evidence also suggests that small genetic changes in plants may produce even larger ecological shifts, meaning that there is potential for GMO´s to become persistent and weedy in agricultural conditions, since they are modified to be resistant to some modern agricultural techniques.
6. Finally, biodiversity, while it is critical in all ecosystems and to the sustainability of all species, is put at risk by GMOs. When GM crops are planted, generally in a monocrop fashion, many heritage seeds are no longer used. The nature of GMOs means fewer weed flowers and, therefore, less nectar for pollinators.
7. Toxins released into the soil through the plants´ routes mean fewer soil bacteria, which are integral to healthy soil for plants to grow without the use of chemical fertilizers. Toxic residues are left in the soil of GM crops. Nutrients are not returned to the soil in mono crops and from GMO foods, meaning that soil is becoming dry and void of all nutrients, generally integral to the growing process.
8. A cycle of dependence on GMO seeds and chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides is then created in order to grow a single crop. In addition to soil issues, the irrigation used to grow GM foods naturally carries all of these problems into water sources and into the air. This exposes different bacteria, insects, and animals to the same problems.
9. GMO´s DNA may end up in soil, compost, animal feed and byproducts, and other living organisms from insects to larger pests. Bees can transport pesticides, herbicides, and DNA through the air into the environment. Once a plant is introduced in an agricultural environment, it is reasonable to assume it will become part of a larger ecosystem, meaning the problem of environmental damage done by GMOs is much larger than simply potentially harming our health.
10. Aside from environmental issues, GMOs are the topic of social and ethical debates as well. It goes without saying that we live in an inter-connected world, where the way we interact with nature can cause a complex array of consequences. Being informed on the food we are consuming, and the way modern agricultural techniques are affecting the environment, is one effective way of consciously interacting with the natural world.
11. A genetically modified organism (GMO) has had its DNA decoded and manipulated to create something different than what has developed naturally. The technique used is called genetic engineering or recombinant DNA technology. Creating GMOs involves taking DNA molecules from inside the cells of different organisms and combining them into one molecule to create a new set of genes. These new genes are then inserted into the cells of a plant or animal to produce characteristics the recipient never had.
12. Why is this a problem worth our concern? We have no idea of where this may lead. Even the strongest supporters of genetic engineering admit there is great uncertainty concerning these processes and their consequences. As the reports of almost all research results in our popular media say, “Further research is needed.”
13. Besides the unknown consequences, many people are troubled by the ethical problems of “playing God.” When you decode the DNA of a living organism and manipulate it to create a new and unique being, an ethical debate is inevitable. Bioengineering has been called the final frontier. The scientists doing this work, however well intentioned, have been accused of tampering with the natural evolution of all living things on earth.