GMOs and sustainable agriculture

What are GMOs?

The GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) technology is based on the modification of genes through genetic engineering of non-human species; it is mainly used with plants and food

These organisms are well known for their perfect aesthetical aspect (products are all similar between each other and more or less the same weight). Other than that, GMOs are specially shaped to resist external agents such as insects and viruses, or to withstand environmental conditions that are different from their original ecosystem; for example drought, heat, cold, humidity, etc.

GMOs and Organic agriculture

GMO farming is different from organic (bio) farming:

Organic agriculture works in local ecosystems and makes use of traditional farming methods such as rotation and biological control using certain insects to eliminate pests. This type of agriculture is safe, does not use synthetic chemicals, but is more inefficient in harvesting.

The other one instead makes use of genetic engineering and if poorly controlled can cause environmental and health damage; however, it increases productivity, uses cultivated land more efficiently and does not need pesticides harmful to biodiversity.

It should also be noted that GMOs cannot be certified as organic.

Are GMOs actually bad for us?

Because they are not organic, many people think that GMOs can harm their health since they associate the word “artificial” with something automatically harmful. However, this is simply an unfounded belief; it is well known that the process carried out by genetic engineering today to modify species is meticulous and precise:

A genetically modified organism could contain millions of copies of about 25,000 different genes; if it were transgenic (GMO) it would contain two or three more genes that would be digested in our stomachs in the same way and in a completely harmless manner.

Today, all GMO foods on the market are controlled and approved for the market, and do not contain any allergens other than the known ones. Therefore, there are no health effects as one would think.

Are GMOs ethically good?

The ethical correctness is also very questioned; In some cases, treatments of dysfunctions and malformations in the bodies of humans and animals would be actually solvable by genetic engineering, even though many times these practices encounter obstacles, especially religious ones. Furthermore, this technology could actually save lives in poorer countries precisely because they have adaptability to different climates as a characteristic.

GMOs would therefore seem to be geologically and ethically fairer.

Does GMO damage the environment?

On the environmental issue, GMOs are a controversial topic.

They would appear to be nothing new as they are simply an acceleration of the process of natural selection that humans and other species have already been carrying out for centuries.

To give an example, the tomato was yellowish and not red when it was discovered (in South America), and survived only in equatorial climates.

Now the tomato is widely cultivated in Europe and in much colder climates, as well as having changed colour. The first red tomatoes were seen as far back as 1572; certainly no genetic engineering existed. This means that a simple selection process was carried out, that is to say a kind of 'slow GMO'

There are also well-founded theories that GMOs can become invasive and contaminate adjacent plants. This is certainly an important point; one must take into account and find a way to respect certain ecosystems before putting any transgenic species into production.

Nevertheless, it must be considered that this scientific technology can play a role in the elimination of other types of air pollution:

If species could be adapted to survive in a climate that is not their native one, this would eliminate all transport emissions that market produces globally and would also favour local agriculture; for example, banana exports to Europe would drop, taking all the transport CO2 tons with them, and they would instead be grown directly on European soil in a controlled manner.

The answer is therefore no, it is not that GMOs directly harm the environment, if used in the right way without getting out of control they can actually help a lot to meet the demand for food with less environmental impact.

Who is the real culprit of environmental damage?

A serious risk for the environment is the system of non-sustainable agriculture, from which most of our food comes today. We rely on production that is organised by monocultures, that is to say the cultivation of a single crop on hectares of land.

This technique needs huge amounts of water and also creates damage to the soil, which is impoverished and in constant need of fertilisers that cause carbon emissions.

Moreover, the damage is twofold, because monocultures take away space that can be occupied by an intact and self-sufficient ecosystem, in which many plant varieties and animals are included; this allows it to have a significantly higher CO2 sequestration capacity than isolated plants.

To give some statistics, the current food system emits 30% of global greenhouse gases and threatens more species than any other area of human endeavour: Of the ~25,000 species that the IUCN[1] has identified as threatened with extinction, 13,382 are threatened by agricultural land clearing.

BeCook!’s policy on raw materials

BeCook! works in the food industry, therefore is concerned about everything that is linked to it, including agriculture, breeding and raw materials.

In BeCook!’s spirit the respect for the environment is real, that means the company likes to check how their clients behave and what type of resources are being used.

Many of the current clients are using Organic certified products to keep up their business, so no OGM is involved. Other ones use products with no certification.

Even if It is not competence of the company to tell what products the clients should use, it is always necessary to keep track of it and be responsible.

Conclusion: What role can GMOs play in the Anthropocene?

Genetically modified organisms are a constant subject of criticism in many countries around the world, but regulating their use could bring many benefits in terms of water waste, land use and the development of local agriculture. However, it must be realised that they are only part of the solution to climate change and must be accompanied by other non-intensive farming methods that respect the local ecosystem.

In conclusion, the best use of GMOs today would be for the cultivation of non-native species, so as to reduce the emissions of globalisation… but they must definitely not take over and be the only way of farming.

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