What is the exact definition of Genetically Modified Organism, also known as GMO? The Medical Dictionary (2012) defines it as:
An organism whose genetic characteristics have been altered by the insertion of a modified gene or a gene from another organism using the techniques of genetic engineering.
GMOs have long been a subject for debate. Along the way, activist groups, such as Greenpeace, are very much against consuming GMOs and releasing them into the nature, as these actions may potentially have irreversible consequences for the environment, as well as for us, humans. They argue that:
These genetically modified organisms (GMOs) can spread through nature and interbreed with natural organisms, thereby contaminating non ‘GE’ environments and future generations in an unforeseeable and uncontrollable way. (Greenpeace, 2012)
Others, however, consider that the GMOs’ damaging effects have not been scientifically proven so far (thus being no need to worry in vain) and that they help keen millions of people alive, by conquering hunger. Through the enhancement of the different food properties, the scientists are able to increase their resistance to pests and unfavorable weather conditions, therefore reducing the risk of crop failures. (Food and Agriculture of the United Nations, 2003) The United Nations also argue that “genetic modification could produce salt-tolerant varieties.” In other words, the GMOs are environmentally-friendly and help farmers practice sustainable agriculture. This is becoming a much-needed requirement, as “large areas of croplands in the developing world have become saline.” This means that the plants do not receive enough water in order to grow, as it is retained in the soil.
This leads me to asking the following question: is it right to say that GMOs are detrimental to us and our health, when millions of people have been consuming them and they are still healthy? Maybe we will find about the negative consequences later on, but until then, I do not believe in advocating the negative effects of the GMOs. As a PR student, I have learnt that the value of research is priceless. By affirming a certain statement without relying on true facts, one may destroy a company’s reputation and be accused of libel, which is
“a publication without justification or lawful excuse which is calculated to injure the reputation of another by exposing him to hatred, contempt or ridicule.” (Parke, B. in Parmiter v. Coupland, 1840: 105-108)
Greenpeace is aware of this issue and they do not attack certain companies directly, but indirectly, by condoning the action, in itself, of genetically modifying the foods’ properties, in order to last longer. However, what they say do affect the attitudes and behaviours of some people. People talk and word of mouth has an important role in disseminating true or inaccurate facts. Albeit, science has not yet proved that consuming GM foods may lead to serious health issues, the vast majority of people consider that, in time, consuming GM foods will be detrimental to their health.
Nevertheless, the scientists from California University, in Los Angeles, have actually proven that genetically modified tomatoes do affect us, but in a beneficial way. They have genetically altered the tomatoes’ nutritional properties, so that they could obtain peptide, also known as 6F. This substance is intended to act as the Apo A-1, a substance produced by our body, commonly known as the “good cholesterol”. By administering a tomato powder containing the peptide to the mice after previously consuming high-fat diets, the scientists noticed that the cholesterol levels of the mice dropped. The risk of developing heart diseases and tumors was also minimised after the percentage of lysophosphatidic acid (which accelerates the rate of developing tumors) also dropped.
In an ideal world, people would not have to think about the nutritional properties of the food they are ingesting, or whether is it good or bad, ethical or unethical to consume a certain product. But this is not an ideal world and we still have to have a scientific foundation for what we say in order to confirm or infirm a certain opinion.
This brings me to my final question: is it ethical to make assumptions about the consequences of consuming GMO without first doing some ground research? I believe that taking a clear stance against GMO and disseminating information without relying on empirical evidences is wrong, regardless of the time, the topic or the people involved in the controversy.
What do you think?