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Silvio Pham
Ali M. Meghdadi
Writing 39C/ Section 33337
8 February 2015
Genetically Modified Food: Past and Present Controversy
Since the 1990s, genetically modified (GM) foods have been commercially planted and
abundant in the diets of Americans. Genetic modification allows commercial crops advantageous
traits that make them easier to grow, boosting their yield, increasing their year-round availability,
and decreasing their cost (Uzogara 190). This revolution in industrial agriculture has benefitted
American consumers by granting greater access to cheap, high quality foods. However,
Americans continue to be divided in their approval of GM foods. Opposition to GM foods by
propaganda has confused consumers about the safety and practicality of the foods, undermining
their purchase and backing of GM products. Consequently, hesitation to trust GM foods has
hindered their development and implementation toward addressing the nations food needs. The
ongoing spread of misinformation has ignited a fear of GM foods, splitting support from
consumers and limiting further research for the benefit of consumers.
The application of genetic modification in agriculture is the means to improving the
efficiency of growing crops. Two of the first commercial GM foods were the Flavr Savr tomato
and recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) milk. While the tomato experienced success
and was considered superior to the organic type, the milk was not favored due to perceived fears
of human harm and the organic type was preferred. This contrast marks the beginning of the rift
between defenders of GM foods and defenders of organic foods that is still present today.
Although genetic modification has been proven to produce higher quality, higher quantity, and

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more affordable crops, GM foods remain misunderstood and not widely accepted. Prejudiced
hostility toward GM foods has wrongly tarnished their reputation and has misled consumers to
reject GM foods for organic options. As a result, research and development of GM foods has
slowed, and their abundance in the marketplace is curbed to make room for lower quality, more
expensive organic alternatives.

Price Comparison Between Regular (Non-organic or GMO) and Organic Foods

Figure 1. Martin, Andrew and Kim Severson. Sticker Shock in the Organic Aisles. The New
York Times. The New York Times Company. 18 Apr. 2008. Web.

The common misconception has been organic foods are superior because they pose no
health risks in contrast to genetically modified organisms (GMOs), therefore their price premium
is justified. This belief has been disproved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in their
comparison of GMOs to other alternatives. The FDA's current policy on food biotechnology
takes the position that genetically engineered crops are not fundamentally different from

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[traditional plants] (Phillips 682). There is negligible difference between the basic make-up of
GM foods and organic foods, so organic foods are not better regarding health risks, and to this
day there have been no documented cases of health consequences. However, FDA approval has
not calmed supporters of organic food who continue to push the myth that organic foods are
healthier in order to justify their price premium and their mission to remove GM foods from the
marketplace. Their disinformation-focused campaign against GMOs is a way to promote the
market share of organic foods.
Consumers finances and selections are affected as organic foods rise in popularity and
GM foods are dismissed. According to Figure 1, which compares grocery store prices nationwide
of regular (non-organic or GM) foods to organic foods, organic foods are 20 percent to over 100
percent more expensive than their corresponding non-organic foods. The largest price difference
depicted is between the varieties of half gallon of milk in Brooklyn; regular is priced at a
moderate $2.05, and organic is priced at an elevated $4.99. The organic price equates to $10 for
a full gallon which is unaffordable to the ordinary consumer. The price premium for such foods
is steep and unreasonable, yet shoppers are still interested assuming organic foods are safer for
consumption. The effectiveness of such campaigns reveals how the general public is
uninformed or disinformed in the case of GM [foods], and efforts at dissuasion from GM foods
is causing escalating economic costs (Twardowski 1-3). Organic foods are no better than GM
foods but have been marketed as better, and they have been successful in persuading consumers.
The demand for organic food persists, leading to perpetually increasing prices. The demand for
GMOs is halted, leading to decreased availability. If this trend continues, organic foods will
replace GMOs in the marketplace, limiting consumers to narrow, expensive, and unaffordable
options.

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The start of the divide began in 1994 with the introduction of the Flavr Savr tomato, a
tomato engineered to be more resistant to rotting, and rBGH milk, milk from cows treated with
artificial growth hormones to increase production. The Flavr Savr tomato was widely accepted
due to its easily recognizable benefits. Distributors noted the tomatos phenomenal success, The
response was terrific We've been shipping these tomatoes all over the country ever since, and
consumers exclaimed, the Flavr Savr compares favorably with most of what's out there
(Phillips 673-674). The reason for the Flavr Savrs success was its advantages over organic
tomatoes could immediately appreciated by human senses. Because the tomato was more
resistant to rotting, it looked, tasted, and smelled more vibrant and it felt more firm. In addition,
the tomato was easier for farmers and distributors to pick and ship. The difference in the Flavr
Savrs quality to its organic counterpart prompted a greater demand as its beneficial genetically
engineered traits were quickly identified.
rBGH milk, on the other hand, was met by fear because its benefits were not
conveniently realized. Opponents said of the milk, it has been so easy to make the argument
against [rBGH] It doesn't improve the taste, the quality or the nutritional value of milk (677).
rBGH was meant to allow cows to produce greater quantities of milk, not to improve the
aesthetic and taste of a typical glass. Even though rBGH milk was more plentiful and
consequently cheaper, consumers did not experience significant changes distinct from organic
milk, so they casted aside the unfamiliar rBGH milk for their already-acquainted organic milk.
Witnessing a lack of changes, consumers turned their attention to changes that are not easily seen
hidden potential side effects. Consumers worried of possible health risks as an unintended
consequence of genetic modification. People are talking about the impact [rBGH] might have
on themselves, on their small children These feelings seem to go very deep (673). The

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opponents mindsets were if modifications were not apparent and beneficial, they must be
concealed and harmful. The milk was proven to be safe; nevertheless opponents worked to
unfairly criticize it. Because genetic modification did not affect rBGH milk the same way it
affected Flavr Savr tomatoes, with obvious, visible results, consumers concluded the milk should
be avoided as its mysterious genetic modification poses potential unseen threats.
The support for Flavr Savr and opposition to rBGH set the precedent for disagreement on
and misinformation of GMOs today. The division is present in the debate of requiring GM foods
to be labelled. Opponents of GMOs have initiated the labelling movement, viewing GMOs as a
fundamentally failed technology and aiming to eliminate the technology from agriculture in
this country (McLure 719, 723). To influence consumers, they fuel their claims with
propaganda misinforming and downplaying GMO benefits. Their ideals are responsible for
organic-only supermarkets such as Sprouts or Whole Foods and for the Non-GMO Project which
brands organic products. They distinguish organic and inorganic foods to consumers and assert
inorganic options are superfluous. Supporters of GMOs are against required labelling wishing to
preserve the reputation of GMOs rather than have labels demonize [GMOs,] a technology with
enormous potential benefits (719). GMOs are proven to be safe, efficient, and affordable, yet
opponents do not accept the reality. One example of a successful GMO is the Bacillus
thuringiensis (Bt) crop.
Bt crops currently dominate GM agriculture due to their engineered ability to combat
pests. Studies of invasive species have found insect pests cause nearly $14 billion in U.S. crop
losses each year and once an invasive species becomes well established it is practically
impossible to exterminate the pest (Pimental 10-11). Increasingly resistant pests invade farms
and withstand chemical pesticides, causing billions in losses. As typical pesticides lose

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effectiveness in controlling pests, a different, safe, and cost-effective approach must be adopted
to maintain farms. The need is fulfilled by Bt crops, crops that produce proteins that selectively
kill predatory pests (Betz, Hammond, and Fuchs 157). With the inherent capacity to kill specific
predators, Bt crops are easier to grow than organic crops because they can defend from largescale damage by pests without heavy use of pesticides. Bts highly effective pest control
translates to reduced pesticide usage and higher crop yield. Farmers gain by spending less on
plant protection while producing more crops. In turn, efficient growing and high yield translates
to greater availability and lower prices for consumers. And because Bt is selectively kills a
narrow range of predators, it is non-toxic to most organisms including bees, birds, and mammals.
Bt stands as a model for GMOs; it helps safely produce higher quality, higher quantity, and more
affordable crops.

Comparison Between Leaves of Organic Crops (Left) and Bt Crops (right)

Figure 2. Suszkiw, Jan. Tifton, Georgia: A Peanut Pest Showdown. Agricultural research
magazine. USDA-ARS, 1999. Web.

Despite the improvements, many consumers stay fearful of GMOs. Certain Bts,
although well received at first were discontinued after only five years of use because of
consumer concerns over genetically modified crops (Alyokhin 13). As safe and productive as

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GMOs prove themselves to be, they are always met with opposition. Often, GMO projects are
abandoned because consumers misunderstand the science of genetic engineering and imagine
dangers to human health. Arguments against GMOs are based on the notion that the technology
leads to unpredictable and uncontrolled modification of the genome (Wesseler and Zilberman
727). To opponents of GMOs, genetic engineering involves directly tampering with a plants
DNA, causing erratic behavior in plants, bringing unforeseeable consequences. The growing and
breeding of such plants is radically different than of conventional plants. Because the process is
unnatural and therefore unpredictable, current studies on the safety of GM foods may be
inadequate in assuring all aspects of human health and environmental conditions are preserved.
Their claim is GMOs are impossible to thoroughly assess on the grounds that the technology is
not natural and its effects are not certain.
However, that reasoning ignores traditional breeding methods in which results are much
more random. A study of genetics comparing the breeding GMOs and conventional plants found
GMOs genetics were controlled compared to conventional plants genetics which were
unrestrained: Transgenesis [(genetic engineering)] is a highly precise and controlled method of
crop improvement compared to conventional breeding in which many thousands of genes may
differ between the lines (Shewry et al. 204). The experiment disproves the claim genetic
engineering uncontrollably alters genetics. The concept of genetic engineering, granting
organisms new traits by manipulating DNA, inherently requires accurate and strict control of
genetics. Every detail of a GMOs DNA is regulated to ensure only desired traits are expressed.
Through meticulous management of DNA, outcomes of GMOs can be made predictable. The
genetics are controlled; therefore, the impacts are controlled. In contrast, traditional breeding
produces a random mixture of traits as there is little command over what DNA is expressed.

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Because DNA cannot be controlled in traditional breeding, outcomes cannot be controlled. The
impacts of GMOs are more certain compared to conventional crops; their impacts are dependent
on their DNA, which is precisely controlled.
As long as negative misinformation is spread about GMOs, the availability of affordable,
quality foods will continue to decline until only expensive, lesser quality options remain.
Unscholarly propaganda of GMOs is the barrier of preventing their acceptance among
consumers. It has resulted in ill-informed choices by consumers and the decline of the beneficial
technology. In order to contain this trend, consumers must be properly educated on the facts
about GMOs rather than exposed to the myths. So far, there have been no significant endeavors
to enlighten ordinary consumers about GMOs and daily food choices. If no attempts are made at
curbing misinformation, consumers will be no better in their judgment of GMOs, and it is likely
they will be devoid of choices.

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Works Cited

Alyokhin, Andrei. Colorado Potato Beetle Management on Potatoes: Current Challenges and
Future Prospects. Fruit, Vegetable, and Cereal Science and Biotechnology 3 (2009) :
10-19. Web.
Betz, Fred, Bruce Hammond, and Roy Fuchs. Safety and Advantages of Bacillus thuringiensisProtected Plants to Control Insect Pests. Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology 32.2
(2000): 156-173. Web.
McLure, Jason. Genetically Modified Food: Should labels be required? CQ Researcher 22.30
(2012): 717-740. Web.
Phillips, Susan. Genetically Engineered Foods: Do They Pose Health and Environmental
Hazards? CQ Researcher 4.29 (1994): 673-696. Web.
Pimental, David. Economic and Environmental lmpacts of lnvasive Species and Their
Management. Pesticides and You Beyond Pesticides 21:1 (2001): 10-11. Web.
Shewry, Peter, et al. Are GM and conventionally bred cereals really different? Trends in Food
Science & Technology 18:4 (2007): 201-209. Web.
Twardowski, Tomasz. Uninformed and disinformed society and the GMO market. Trends in
Biotechnology 33:1 (2015): 1-3. Web.
Uzogara, Stella. The impact of genetic modification of human foods in the 21st century: A
review. Biotechnology Advances 18:3 (2000): 179-206. Web.
Wesseler, Justus, and David Zilberman. The economic power of the Golden Rice opposition.
Environment and Development Economics 19:6 (2014): 724-742. Web.