What You Should Know About Genetically Modified Organisms

By Romaric Moncrieffe

Genetically modified organisms. Just the name itself sounds scary. Something with a title that long can’t possibly be good for you. It’s too unwieldy, too science-y, and too unnatural to be beneficial. “Organic” on the other hand… that just rolls off the tongue. Everyone knows that organic foods are awesome right?


What If I said genetically modified foods are actually better for you than most of their organic counterparts? Would you believe me?

Probably not.

But I swear to you, it’s the truth. However, before you can understand why, you must first understand what a GMO really is and why the media purposely chooses to portray it in a negative fashion.

A GMO is an organism who’s DNA has been modified an exhibit a particular trait. Usually this is done in laboratories and it takes only a few hours to extract the target DNA. However, farmers have been doing this for generations by selecting their best crops and breeding only these crops together. There are currently seven billion people on the planet. We simply do not have the resources to keep farming in the traditional fashion[i]. Genetic Modification increases the efficiency of what we plant, enabling us to gain more from less. Nothing about the process is malicious, and there are no negative effects from consuming a genetically modified organism. In fact, many foods, such as rice or soybeans become better for us as a result of the process. Rice, the most commonly consumed food on the planet, is naturally unable to provide Vitamin A. Golden Rice, the genetically modified version of white rice, is infused with the gene that produces Vitamin A. This enables those populations suffering from extreme poverty to obtain their daily necessary nutrients through only one food source.

However, even though there are dozens[ii] of studies[iii] emphasizing the safety of GMOs, the public opinion in developed countries is still one of apprehension. This apprehension is caused by a mix of three factors: the media, large monopolies and consumer apprehension[iv].

The media is a huge factor in public opinion. It is a large factor in our everyday decisions, from what we wear to who we elect. Genetic modification, from the media’s prospective, is a tough sell. The phrase already has such a strong negative connotation attached to it that selling the idea to the public would be a lot harder than selling the idea of something which already has a positive connotation to it such as “organic.” The word organic, unlike the phrase “genetic modification,” leaves a very positive impression in your mind. When I think of organic, I think of hippies growing animals in a loving farm of happiness. Even though the reality is that organic crops and genetically modified crops are often grown on the exact same farms[v], I am still loathe to lose my positive impression of the organic growing process. The media chooses to exploit this consumer ignorance in order gain more sales. Companies often just have to mention the word “organic” in their commercials in order enhance sales of their product. This ensures that the cycle of organic sponsoring continues and keeps the cash flowing, thereby decreasing the appeal of intrusions into the market.

The only way around this cycle is government intervention. While smaller, independent companies do not wield the influence necessary to sway government interest, large companies such as Monsanto are able to successfully lobby for funding. However, these monopolies have a tendency to use underhanded and immoral methods to explore their research, and because of their influence they are unable to be prosecuted for these methods. This serves to keep the negative connotation associated with genetic modification alive and also limits the research of it to select corporations.

So what are your take-home messages?

  1. Genetic Modification is a highly beneficial process that enables us to maximize crop and nutrient output across the globe. There are millions of people who are able to survive as a direct result of genetic modification, as they are able to obtain a wide variety of nutrients from a single resource.
  2. It has been supported through intensive scientific research that eating a GMO has no negative side effects on an individual. Any ill effect associated with eating a GMO has no scientific evidence behind it and is based purely on hearsay. In fact, research also suggests that “eating organic” and eating GMOs both have the same effect.
  3. Genetic modification isn’t the problem. The problem is large monopolies such as Monsanto which dominate the market and destroy any competition because of their immense political influence.

Articles for further reading:

Battle Brewing Over Labeling of Genetically Modified Food

Monsanto Protection Act


[i] Black, Robert E., Lindsay H. Allen, Zulfiqar A. Bhutta, Laura E. Caulfield, Mercedes De Onis, Majid Ezzati, Colin Mathers, and Juan Rivera. “Maternal and child undernutrition: Global and regional exposures and health consequences.” The Lancet 371 (2008): 243-60.

[ii] Eede, G. “The relevance of gene transfer to the safety of food and feed derived from genetically modified (GM) plants.” Food and Chemical Toxicology 42 (2004): 1127-156.

[iii] Pusztai, Arpad. “Genetically Modified Foods: Are They a Risk to Human/Animal Health?” (ActionBioscience). 3 Apr. 2013 http://www.actionbioscience.org/biotech/pusztai.html

[iv] Paarlberg, R. “The real threat to GM crops in poor countries: Consumer and policy resistance to GM foods in rich countries.” Food Policy 27 (2002): 247-50.

[v]  Thottam, Jyoti. “When Organic Isn’t Really Organic.” Time 14 Mar. 2007. 2 Apr. 2013 <http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1599110,00.html>.


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About Romaric

romaricA student of George Mason University, Romaric is a somewhat easily distracted, slightly eccentric fellow followed by an aura of luck. Let’s just say he is as likely to get lost following a butterfly as he is winning at the lottery. A Biology and Ecology major, he takes this eccentric attitude and puts it to work studying the mysteries of life. Romaric has an intense fascination with science and random articles found on the internet. As a matter of fact, the random article he recommends for today is this.


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View Comments (5)
  • I think there is more than a solid argument for the other side of this discussion. And I have a hard time believing GMO meat/fish is okay/better for you/just as good. Thanks for the post, though – I’ll read into this.

  • People who write this type of article are either extremely misinformed about the negative affects of GMOs or are getting some type of benefit from advocating GMOs. There’s definitely a more solid argument for non-GMO usage. I don’t know how deep you’ve looked into GMO’s, but there seem to be far more cons than there are pros.

    Personally, I’m more concerned about the health issues, and I’ve seen several articles about studies that have linked them to different health problems. Look into GMOs and gluten sensitivity. There’s a lot out there about it and it’s starting to become clear to me why there’s been so many more cases of gluten sensitivity/intolerance in the recent years. I also hate the idea that GMO’s will lead to monoculture, threatening the biological diversity of our food supply. I could go on, but it’s late and I’d rather just attach an infographic…

  • Coming from a farming background this article makes me appalled. Even trying to provide an argument that GMO products are better than natural products is absurd. First of all famers have not been doing this for years. Farmers have created hybrids of plants but they do not change the physiology of the plant itself. GMO are bio tech injected plants that cause more harm for not only people but for the land itself. When you continuously plant GMO products into the earth it destroys the nutrients in the land. Because GMO plants are not part of the natural order they need more resources from the land than the regular or even a hybrid plant. Which basically means next year when you need to plant something else there is going to be less nutrients and eventually you deplete the land completely.

    Also you can’t claim your product to be organic when it is near or planted in the same field as a GMO product because of cross contamination.

    Monsanto and Cargill do have most of the market and are the ones that created all of the bio-tech seed. The average small farmer initially worked with these companies because of the promises that were made to them. At the time they thought they would be able to increase their bushels per year which would not only increase profit for them but also it would help feed more people. The promises of how great their product would be to help people around the world. The consequences were not researched enough and these farmers got screwed over in the end. It takes a long tim to recover from that. As a family that doesn’t farm anything GMO we are still trying to get the land that we own and rent back to its regular natural balance to be able to have the best product that we can. It isn’t a one year process it can take up to 10 years depending on how bad the land is.

    Next time you try to write an article- talk to people who make this their livelihood. I can promise you they would disagree with you.

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