Genetic Engineering Has Helped to Save Crops and Benefit Farmers and Consumers
Genetic engineering in agriculture was developed by scientists in the 1970s and from those modifications came changes to some of the foods we eat today. The process of creating a crop with genetically modified organisms (GMO) traditionally involves four steps. First, scientists identify a trait that they want a plant to have. It can be a resistance to insects or another trait. After finding an organism that already has that trait, they copy the gene. Next, they use tools to insert that gene into a plant’s DNA, which doesn’t change other traits, but adds the new one. Finally, they grow the new plant in a laboratory and monitor it. It goes through reviews and tests before it can then be sold to farmers. After a GMO plant is developed, it may be several years before it hits the market.
The introduction of GMO crops has helped prevent crop loss for farmers as the three most common traits are resistance to insect damage, tolerance to herbicides, and resistance to plant viruses. They have also helped foods become more accessible and affordable for consumers. Some examples of GMO products that benefit both farmer and consumer are GMO soybeans that are used to create healthier oils and GMO apples that do not brown when cut and reduce food waste. With genetic engineering, scientists can change crops more quickly and easily.
Papaya is a fruit that was facing extinction before a new breed of tree was created via genetic engineering. A papaya ringspot virus had long been a threat to crops with leaf hopper bugs spreading this virus that infected trees that would die and have to be cut down. Pesticides alone were not able to stop or control the disease and the problem grew worse over time. Once the new tree breed started producing fruit, it was less susceptible to diseases, stronger, and produced a more consistent supply.
Only a few types of GMO crops are grown in the United States, but some of the GMOs make up a large percentage of the crop grown. In 2018, 94% of all soybeans and cotton planted were GMO crops and 92% of all corn planted was GMO corn. Other GMO crops include potatoes, summer squash, papaya, canola, alfalfa, apples, and sugar beets.
Three federal agencies within the U.S. government regulate most GMOs: the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). These agencies ensure that GMOs are safe for human, plant, and animal health and they monitor the impact of GMOs on the environment. To learn more about GMOs, visit fda.gov.
Carrie Steinweg is a freelance writer, author, blogger and photographer living in Chicago’s south suburbs with her husband and five sons. Her work has appeared in dozens of print and online publications, and she is the author of seven books. A passionate foodie, Carrie thoroughly enjoys traveling and visiting new restaurants and craft breweries, attending food festivals and trying out new recipes and kitchen gadgets. She writes about her food experiences at ChicagoFoodieSisters.com.