To BT or not to BT?

Genetically modified organisms are slowly taking over our agriculture industry as they become the most scientifically advanced method of increasing yields and decreasing pesticide and herbicide consumption. This seems like an easy fix to a lot of our environmental problems, right? Well, not exactly.

Let’s look at BT corn as an example. Scientists have engineered corn by taking a gene from a bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis, which produces an endotoxin to kill caterpillar larvae, and giving it to the corn. This makes the BT corn produce this natural pesticide and therefore significantly decrease the farmer’s need for chemical pesticide.

gmo corn

GMO corn- https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/38/GMO_corn_Yellow_Springs%2C_Ohio.jpg

Although genetic modification can decrease a farmer’s need for pesticides, it can pose a threat to pests in the area. For example, the monarch butterfly can lay its eggs on the leaves of the genetically modified corn, which is severely detrimental to the health of the larvae. Most or all of them die from even being in areas surrounding the genetically modified fields, so the population of butterflies is diminishing. However, after a pest population has been wiped out, they usually resurge in even larger numbers, and can develop a resistance to the modification. So GMOs do not present the most effective option for pesticides. However, caterpillar larvae were being killed by pesticide spraying also, so GMOs are certainly not significantly worse than using pesticides in the first place. BT corn allows for much larger yields and is not detrimental to the health of humans.

pesticide spraying

Pesticides being sprayed- https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/20/An-2_plane_spraying_wheat_crops.jpg

Because spraying pesticides is just as detrimental as using GMOs, I believe that we should use GMOs- with caution. It is not a perfect solution, but it makes food more accessible around the world. Genetic modification allows crops to be able to survive in harsher environments, such as in Africa and other third world countries that struggle with the issue of hunger. They increase yields and we need something that can provide for our rapidly increasing population. Almost 1.3 billion people have been born since I have… and I’m only 15. Because this problem is so urgent, I believe it poses more of a threat than GMOs do.

However, I think GMOs should be labeled. Because they introduce potential allergens, they can be dangerous to the portion of the population with food allergies. Also, people have the right to know what they’re putting into their bodies.

While I don’t believe genetic modification is a natural process, I do believe that it is safe and it can be beneficial. Because it allows us to decrease our use of pesticides, herbicides, and water, it has the potential to transform the way we produce our food. It can make the food industry more environmentally friendly (although some insect species are negatively affected by it just as much as by pesticides) and make food more readily available.

To BT or not to BT? That is the question. And the answer is BT, but be careful.

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