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The Environmental Impact of GMOs

The Environmental Impact of GMOs

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?

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. GM plants are usually changed to be insect resistant, virus resistant, or herbicide tolerant. With these changes come some potentially problematic environmental challenges.

Firstly, toxicity is a huge issue surrounding chemical pesticides and herbicides, used commonly with GMOs, in addition to the toxicity inherent to these plants. GMOs may be toxic to non-target organisms, bees and butterflies being the most talked-about examples currently. Bees are hugely important in the pollination of many food crops, but are unfortunately extremely endangered by modern agricultural techniques, such as GM crops. Monarch butterflies are specifically at risk from GMO maize plants. In addition to bees and butterflies, birds are also at risk from pesticides, and work as biological control agents and pollinators, again, like bees.

Furthermore, the longterm 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.

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. This can also mean being invasive in natural settings, where GMOs, of course, do not occur naturally. It is not impossible for new, human modified, plants to become invasive species in delicate, natural ecosystems.

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. 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. 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.

All of these impacts must be taken into consideration in the larger picture; 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.

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.

Image Source: James Jordan/Flickr

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One comment on “The Environmental Impact of GMOs”

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different person
1 Months Ago

j is a dumby head and a really bad liarrrrr!!!!!!1111!!!!11! go to sleep j

1 Months Ago


1 Months Ago

plants don\'t have DNA because they are not alive

1 Months Ago

my life is a lie and so are gmos

3 Months Ago

GM foods possess huge benefits to Australia and Indonesia. Australia is basically one big desert. Our average rainfall is around 400 mm a year and in some places under 25mm. The prospect of making drought resistant food is extremely valuable to Australia. Australia has the means and technology to make these foods but SA has laws against growing GM foods. GM foods have potential benefits for other countries that suffer from drought like Africa. Gm foods are on the market and have passed many safety tests ensuring that the product is not dangerous. Trials are being run to increase yield from crops and increase durability. GM foods are a potential problem solver for the growing population and food demand.  The things we could do to change the plants and make them better are practically limitless. Take fruit for example, by making their shelf life longer we have dramatically reduced fruit waste.  Genetically modified food have been around longer than one might think. In the early 1990s, Hawaii’s papaya industry was facing disaster because of the deadly papaya ringspot virus. Its single-handed savior was a breed engineered to be resistant to the virus. Without GM foods the world would have suffered worse and more frequent famine. Instead of wasting water on cotton and rice crops Australia should increase profit by distributing high yielding GM crops to farmers.  
Gm foods take years to make and are made in a laboratory with plant breeders that have a degree and know what they are doing.  this concept of gm foods being new and dangerous is a lie. Gm foods have been around for centuries! An example is when William Farrer bred wheat together to make a rust resistant strand in 1882. Many people look at gm foods in a negative way but people have been breeding wheats for years and the prosses of using GM is like using google chrome over internet explorer. It just speeds things up. now do you think the people that study and work there whole lives are just throwing in whatever plant genes they want and crossing their fingers and hoping for a good outcome? Of course not! Just like in 1882 scientist\'s are targeting the good parts of plants to increase yield and production. For ages farmers have chosen the best yielding/ best tasting fruit and grains from last years harvest to use for the next years crop. This form of selection led to slow improvement of crops over time. (internet explorer) In the 20th century scientists made laboratory crosses between the same species to combine desirable traits into the same plant. This enabled plant breeders to improve the yield, drought resistance, taste, plant structure, disease resistance and shelf life.  
By the year 2003 after Australians had been breeding wheat for 100 years the improvement was drastic! The wheat Australia produced was now resistant to disease, had excellent milling quality\'s and was well adapted to harsher/ rougher climates. But this took allot of time. If we had the gm technology back then the prosses that once took 100 years of careful breeding would be reduced to 10 years of careful gene splicing. GMO\'s don\'t cause disease and is not harmful its like getting an Oreo but you don\'t like the cream center so you swap that out for a better tasting Australian Tim tam center.  just like if you get wheat that doesn\'t taste nice. It still has good attributes like yield and disease resistance but isn\'t suited for the Australian climate. So you take an Australian wheat that doesn\'t taste that good and has low disease tolerance but can handle the harsh climate. so you take the great resistant outside and combine it with taste and yield of the other wheat on the inside. Now the hybrid wheat is still wheat but now just has the best quality\'s it could possess.  
 Task 4 

31 Oct 2017

ok so yes there are a lot of pros and cons with the use of gmos but one thang is for sure NO ONE knows the lasting effets of useing gmos!

3 Months Ago

I tots agree about the Biodiversity

bill deal
4 Months Ago

Just say no to GMO, EASY , once its out there its out there to stay..

Victoria Jacques
6 Months Ago

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Alex Hall
8 Months Ago

I\'m Alex Hall and your watching Disney channel

12 May 2017

You used the wrong your........ it\'s you\'re*******

9 Months Ago

I don\'t know who wrote this but it is terrible. It has zero scientific backup and is the muddled writings of a fool that listens to what is on the mainstream media regardless of facts. Since when do plants release toxins through their "routes"? Humans have been altering the genome of countless organisms through selective breeding, GMO is basically a faster method by splicing the target genes into and out of particular organisms. Fucking vegans...

05 Jan 2018

yes! xD

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