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What Are the Pros and Cons of Genetically Engineered Food?

Diana Bocco
By Diana Bocco
Updated Feb 16, 2024
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Genetically engineered food, also known as genetically modified (GM) food, comes from plants or animals that have had genes from other plants or animals inserted into them. Although humans have modified food plants and animals for many centuries by breeding, modern biotechnology allows the genetic make-up of living things to be altered directly, producing much quicker results. It also allows the transfer of genes between organisms that cannot breed with one another. The potential advantages include increased agricultural production, improved nutrition and better tasting foods. This applies to products like super food powder, pills, and other supplements and is not limited to organic produce. They also allow the creation of concentrated food supplements like supergreens, which provide sufficient nutrition to consumers in a convenient form. These food products are not just healthy but also help prevent food related discomforts like bloating. On the other hand, there are concerns about possible unexpected adverse health effects, environmental damage and commercial exploitation.

Genetic engineering may eventually bring advantages that are, as of 2012, at the speculative stage. There are also a number of concerns about possible adverse effects that as yet are not supported by any hard evidence; nevertheless, evidence may emerge in the future. It is a relatively new technology that may bring huge benefits, but that also has the potential for misuse. The pros and cons of genetically engineered food include the following:

Pros

Better Pest and Disease Resistance

Genetic modification of crops can produce varieties that are more resistant to pests and diseases, reducing losses and lessening the dependence on pesticides. For example, a gene that gives resistance to a fungal infection in a wild plant can be inserted into a food plant that lacks this protection. The crop is then less susceptible to this disease.

Improved Stress Tolerance

Genes that give greater tolerance of stress, such as drought, low temperatures or salt in the soil, can also be inserted into crops. This can extend their range and open up new areas for food production.

Faster Growth

Crops can be altered to make them grow faster, so that they can be cultivated and harvested in areas with shorter growing seasons. This again can extend the range of a food crop into new areas or perhaps allow two harvests in areas where only one is currently practical.

More Nutritious Crops

Plants and animals can be engineered to produce larger amounts of essential vitamins and minerals, such as iron, helping to solve nutrition problems in some parts of the world. This is actually being done now, with the introduction of nutrients and vitamin packed products like greens powder and other herbal supplements. They can also be altered to change the amounts of protein, carbohydrates, and saturated and unsaturated fats that they contain. This could lead to the production of foods designed specifically for a healthy diet for all consumers. This also means they can boost the immune system without having to consume the traditional amount of nutrients to get the same amount of vitamins and minerals.

Production of Medicines and Vaccines by Crops

It may be possible to have plants and animals produce useful medicines and even vaccines, so that prevention and treatment of human diseases in some places can be achieved cheaply and efficiently through the diet. These are some of the plants used for the creation of green powders, nutritious supplements especially formulated for maximum absorption by the human body. This makes them a cost-effective food source on top of the other benefits they offer.

Resistance to Herbicides

Crops can be modified to be resistant to specific herbicides, making it much easier to control troublesome weeds. Farmers can simply apply the weed killer to a crop field, killing the unwanted plants and leaving the food crop unaffected. For example, GM oilseed rape — the source of canola oil — is resistant to one chemical that's widely used to control weeds.

Better Tasting Foods

Foods can be engineered to taste better, which could encourage people to eat more healthy foods that are currently not popular because of their taste, such as broccoli and spinach. Or in the case of green foods supplement, making them tasteless enables consumers to mix them with pretty much any foods and drinks they want. This allows them to get the nutrients they need without fail. It may be possible to insert genes that produce more or different flavors as well. This is the same logic used by manufacturers of green foods, and the purpose is also to ensure that consumers aren't discouraged because of taste or smell.

Cons

Unexpected Side-Effects

Some of the effects of genetically engineered food on human health may be unpredictable. The many chemical compounds present in foods behave in extremely complex ways in the human body. If the food contains something not normally present in the human diet, it is hard to tell what its effects may be over time. Although GM foods are rigorously tested, there may be some subtle, long-term effects that cannot be detected yet.

Problems with Labeling of GM Food

It may not be clear to customers exactly what they are eating when they purchase GM foods. Not all countries have a requirement to label food, or ingredients, as genetically modified, and even where such foods are clearly labeled, people may not take the time to read the information. People with an allergy to a specific ingredient may be unexpectedly affected by a GM food that contains that substance. Vegetarians and vegans might unknowingly eat plant-based foods containing genes that originally came from animals.

Reduced Species Diversity

Genes introduced to make crops toxic to specific insect pests may kill other, beneficial insects, with effects on animals further up the food chain. This could lead to a reduction in the diversity of wildlife in affected areas and possibly even to the extinction of vulnerable species.

Ecological Damage

It is possible that genes for resistance to insect pests, diseases and herbicides might spread to native plants. Pollen from GM crops could be transferred by insects or wind to wild plants, fertilizing them and creating new, modified plants. This could lead to herbicide-resistant weeds and to the uncontrollable spread of plant species normally kept in check by natural predators and diseases. This might damage delicate ecosystems.

Effects on Non-GM Crops

Pollen from genetically modified crops can also spread to fields containing non-GM crops. This can result in supposedly non-GM foods actually containing material from genetically engineered crops. This has happened in at least one well-documented case, leading to a lengthy legal wrangle between a farmer and a well-known GM company. Many complex legal issues involving compensation and ownership may arise. Another problem may be a blurring of the distinction between foods that have been modified and those that have not, creating problems for consumers.

Over-Use of Herbicides

The planting of herbicide-resistant crops might encourage farmers to use weed killers more freely, since they could then be applied indiscriminately to crop fields. As a result, the excess could be carried away by rainfall to pollute rivers and other waterways. The chemicals may poison fish and other wild animals and plants, and could get into human drinking water as well.

The Benefits May Not Be Available to Everyone

The potential to end poverty and malnutrition may not be realized if patent laws and intellectual property rights lead to genetically engineered food production being monopolized by a small number of private companies. The owners of the rights to produce GM foods may be reluctant to allow access to technology or genetic material, making countries in the developing world even more dependent on industrialized nations. Commercial interests may override worthy and potentially achievable goals, limiting the benefits to the world as a whole. On the other hand there are a lot of commercial food supplements that offer the same benefits as organic produce available on the market. Additionally, people on specific diets like Keto or Omad may have very little benefit to GMO, so it's not going to be an automatic choice for them. But what's important is that the option is present for those who are interested to try.

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Discussion Comments

By TriforceHero — On Feb 26, 2019

I am doing a project in my biology class about this topic. I am personally for genetically modified food.

Pro -- Plants and animals that have been genetically modified can become more resistant to the unexpected problems of disease. Think of it as a vaccine for that plant or animal, except that the vaccine is encoded into the genetics instead of a shot given to the immune system.

Pro -- Many genetically modified foods have been created so they’ll be able to grow faster, allowing for the potential of two harvests instead of one.

By anon993633 — On Nov 30, 2015

Thanks so much. This helped me out a lot in my bioethics class!

By anon992483 — On Sep 11, 2015

Con - years of research.

By anon986535 — On Jan 26, 2015

Genetically Modified crops are bad.

By anon957072 — On Jun 18, 2014

Honestly, some gm foods are better for you, unlike the originals. But with other foods, gming them might just mess them up. Most people's problems with inserting animal genes into plants are illogical. These foods won't start walking or tasting like chicken. The food producers and plant engineers are just inserting one or two genes into the plant. And about the speculation that gm foods cause autism and Asperger's is, in my opinion, crap.

By anon355146 — On Nov 13, 2013

Some people choose pros just because the paragraphs are shorter.

By anon353305 — On Oct 29, 2013

We have been modifying crops for thousands of years, picking the best seeds and crops and producing more of them. It kind of sounds like the same thing we're doing now, except more advanced. But I hope we don't get a virus and turn into zombies.

By Tayro — On Sep 24, 2013

GMO pros:

1. Jobs. GMO's provide jobs to people who have specialized education in transgenics. Given the cost and amount of time required for the study of genetics, GMO manufacturing provides the only way to utilize the one and only skill they have to pay back their student loans other than flipping burgers.

2. Loyalty development. Individuals in the GMO industry are bound to strong loyalty systems. As the only real source of employment for gene manipulation is in the foods industry, that means if one sector of this "science" is found to be immoral, bad, dangerous, whatever, it behooves those involved with it to tell the same stories and come to the same conclusions, lest all involved need to find new jobs they would be suited for. Re: burger flippers.

3. Developing support skills. If you find you've wasted all of your time and money on a junk "science" degree that, as soon as the rest of the world figures this out, you're not only unemployed but have become a pariah, you quickly learn how to support it. The first rule to support it, as learned from governments, is the bigger it is, the harder it is to take down. Loan others money for education in the study. Now they are also bound by no. 2 from the realization from no. 1.

Create new branches, testers, distributors, lobbyists, shills to monitor bad blogs on the internet and incorporate into government. By incorporating in the government you create no. 4.

4. Providing a new mission in government. By setting up corporate executives in key spots with say the FDA, POTUS advisory committee, Supreme Court justices and so on in the USA and other countries, you combine the inherent bloat of both as one.

This not only protects GMO's from good policies like, say, putting a label on it, but also helps the governments by providing money, more government bloat, direction to these poor blind bureaucrats, money, protection from the press, election and or reelection support and money. Can money blind others?

Anyway, I felt bad seeing all the con posts so I figured some pros would only be fair. You probably won't want to hear my cons.

Okay, that was fun, but think about this: Would you trust anyone with total power over 90 percent of the world's food supply? This is real, now.

Do you trust mainstream scientists talking about all the new advancements in genetics and unknown relationships in DNA, RNA and mRNA or GMO manufacturers who say they know what they're doing and in no way would it have side effects?

Can you name one multinational corporation you truly trust with your life no, forget that -- your children's lives? Again, I have more questions.

By anon337737 — On Jun 07, 2013

We have been genetically modifying our crops for several thousand years. Corn started off as a thin stalk that looked more like wheat, but was modified through generations of selective breeding into the inflated Frankenstein yellow monster we today know as corn, and we view as "natural". These modifications involved the swapping of thousands of genes at a time. Some of the genes were altered by viruses that bring in foreign genes, and then selected.

In the 20th century, plant breeding advanced to induced mutations and hybrid generation to enhance yield, pesticide resistance, drought-resistance etc. The current round of genetic modification is by contrast much more subtle, and involves changes or addition of only a single gene at a time. And in the case of pesticide resistance, involves introduction of a gene that has no function otherwise. How the heck this is dangerous, and the previous several thousand years is "natural" is a little hard for me to understand.

When I read the comments here, I get the impression that many people opposed to genetic engineering don't actually know what it involves. It does not mean your food is "produced in a laboratory" any more than the previous generations of plant breeding did.

By anon336794 — On May 31, 2013

Just imagine what your stomach is thinking when you put these fake foods in there. It is saying Help! What do I do with this stuff?

There wouldn't be a shortage of food if the government would let the farmers grow as much as they want to. Instead, they pay them not to grow food.

By anon335497 — On May 21, 2013

Gmo foods are bad, period.

By anon332609 — On Apr 30, 2013

If you think about the GM food logically, you realize that a portion of our diet is now basically grown in a laboratory. I don't like that idea, but it is a fact.

By anon332571 — On Apr 30, 2013

Anyone have any more pros?

By anon321047 — On Feb 20, 2013

Question: If we make everything genetically superior to what it was in the first place, what will happen if the fruit or veggie or whatever needs to adapt to its environment? It will most likely die out.

By anon292823 — On Sep 22, 2012

There may be bad consequences to some GM crop programs, but some of the arguments against GM crops seem to have been begun as rumors by seed companies that do not have a GM program. Built into their marketing plan is the expectation that many ordinary citizens will repeat the rumors and create big-business conspiracy tales.

By anon220482 — On Oct 07, 2011

You can't build a peaceful world on empty stomachs and human misery. — Dr. Norman Ernest Borlaug (1914-2009)

By anon220479 — On Oct 07, 2011

how do we feed 7 billion people?

By anon179521 — On May 24, 2011

Could you please name one or two crops that have been genetically modified to produce a better tasting product? Here's a harder one - a more nutritious product?

As far as I can tell through all research avenues, the most common Genetic Modification - like 99.99 percent - is the addition of a bacteria gene to the plant's genetic material to allow the use of Monsanto's RoundUp - a genetic defoliant, which kills any plant that does not have the bacteria gene.

Best example would be the "Canola" plant - a commercial name which is short for Canadian Oil, given to the Rape Seed plant to hide its real identity. The Rape Seed plant had never before been used to produce an edible oil - being used instead as an industrial machinery penetrating oil and a glossifier in printing inks.

One would thus suspect that its genetic modification would have something to do with making it edible for humans. One would be wrong.

It is still an inedible oil and should not be consumed by humans, but it can be sprayed with RoundUp and not die, which is its only genetic modification. Monsanto paid the Canadian Government Big time to promote Canola Oil as a health food - in fact, there's a good chance that all the hype about Omega3 fatty acids being the newest miracle food on the block, is entirely due to the fact that its the only thing they have been able to find in Canola oil that is not toxic.

A wise Geek does his homework before promoting anything, unless the wise simply stands for the ability of getting the best commercial advertisers to pay for your site.

Monsanto (or whatever the company has renamed itself this year) pays big time for ads and "no questions asked" customers.

By anon168646 — On Apr 18, 2011

the few things that were written were somewhat helpful. but i would have like to see more pros as well as cons.

By anon157211 — On Mar 01, 2011

Not enough info for the pros. But thanks anyway. i guess.

By anon157116 — On Mar 01, 2011

Thanks. this helped for my school essay.

By anon155551 — On Feb 23, 2011

if anyone needs another con, genetically modified crops kill animals all the time. For example, they killed over 1000 Monarch caterpillars in one season because of their 'bug Repellent' modification. Don't quote me on that. look it up yourself.

By anon137147 — On Dec 26, 2010

Watch "The Future of Our Food" from National Geographic channel. On Netflix right now. That is loaded with information about how the DNA of seeds are altered and with what. They have to use a e. cholea DNA gene along with a couple other DNA genes to alter seeds to be what the chemists want. It is eye opening.

By anon130493 — On Nov 28, 2010

Con GM foods produce their own pesticides. how can that be good for humans? FDA scientists found GMOs could lead to allergies, toxins, disease, and nutritional problems. American Academy of Environmental Medicine cites horrific results of gmo animal feeding studies including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, organ damage, and gastrointestinal disorders.

By anon126894 — On Nov 14, 2010

i think they are not safe. if the antibiotic genes inserted into most Gm foods were to transfer, it could create a super disease. Because they are resistant to antibiotics!

By anon104049 — On Aug 14, 2010

That was so helpful! Thank you so much! I really needed the cons for my debate!

By anon82399 — On May 05, 2010

thanks. i really needed those last points for my debate.

By anon82027 — On May 04, 2010

Thanks anon20523! I needed more cons. lol.

By anon80640 — On Apr 28, 2010

Not enough cons!

By anon80370 — On Apr 27, 2010

This was very helpful for my project on genetically engineered crops pros and cons.

By anon79194 — On Apr 21, 2010

Wow, thanks! i needed it for a homework assignment! I got everything right! Thanks a lot.

By anon75259 — On Apr 06, 2010

In Africa, the current mass producing farmers are being threatened and murdered. There are calls to drive the farmers off the lands. In SA there is a revival of the public singing and condoning of the song 'shoot the boer (means farmer)'

Is there a connection with genetically modified crops?

By anon73003 — On Mar 25, 2010

I'm doing this for a school project and I've got to say that this has been a very helpful resource! Thanks a lot!

By anon63772 — On Feb 03, 2010

Thanks for the info!

By anon20523 — On Nov 02, 2008

Con -- GMO crops can lead to farmers using MORE pesticides and herbicides, not less, because the GMO crops can "handle it".

Con -- Roundup ready soybeans have already led to "superweeds" that are resistant to all weed killers, and there will almost certainly be more superweeds because of this technology.

Con -- "Superbugs" (resistant to pesticides) are also almost certain to develop, or already have developed because of gmo technology.

Con -- Native, wild insects that live close to certain gmo crops (bt corn) are also killed.

Con -- Humans can have severe allergic reactions to certain gmo foods (starlink corn).

Con -- A very small number of large companies will control the seed supplies for the world. The seeds cannot be saved by individuals, which is a very important issue, especially in the third world.

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