Are GMOs Good or Bad? Genetic Engineering & Our Food

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GMOs are one of the most controversial areas of science. Genetic engineering is used in many fields, but even though medical applications like GM insulin are widely accepted, The debate heats up when it comes to food and agriculture. Why is that? Why is the same thing treated so differently? Let's try to get to the bottom of this and explore the facts, the fears, and the future of GMOs. Humans have been genetically modifing plants and animals for thousands of years. Maybe a few of your crops had very good yields. Maybe one of your wolves was especially loyal. So you did the smart thing, and bred the plants and animals that had traits beneficial to you. Traits suggest an expression of genes. So with each generation, those genes got more pronounced. After thousands of years, almost every single plant and animal around us is vastly different from its pre-domesticated state. If humans have been changing genes for millennia, what makes a so called "Genetically Modified Organism", or GMO, different? Selective breeding is basically hoping for lucky hits. Genetic engineering eliminates this factor. We can choose the traits we want. Make fruit grow bigger, immune to pests, and so on. So, why are people concerned about them ? Let's start with one of the most common objections to GMOs. Gene flow, meaning GM crops could mix with traditional crops and introduce unwanted new characteristics into them. There is a method that might guarantee complete prevention, but is a big anti-GMO argument by itself. Terminator seeds. The idea is that they could produce sterile plants, requiring farmers to buy new seeds every year. The very concept of this, however, caused a public outcry, stopping the technology being put to use. This brings us back to the unintentional spreading of engineered DNA. There have been cases of GMOs growing where they weren't planted, and traces of modified genes found in foreign crops. But GM plants can't run wild entirely. Many crops pollinate themselves, and all crops have to be related to mingle. There are also cultural methods like buffer zones, to keep unintentional crossing at a minimum. But if it's possible in principle that a GMO could unintentionally cross with a non-GMO, there's actually a more important question. Is food that comes from GM crops different to food from non-GM crops? This question has been a major concern from the very beginning. GM plants that are destined to be eaten are checked for possible dangers, and the results are evaluated by multiple agencies. After more than 30 years and thousands of studies, the science is in. Eating GMO plants is no more risky than their non-GMO equivalent. But don't just take it our word for it, the sources for this and other claims are in the video description. But what about plants that have been engineered to be toxic? For example, BT crops. A gene borrowed from the bacterium Bacillus Thuringiensis, lets engineered plants produce a protein that destroys the digestive system of specific insect pests. The plant makes its own pesticide. Insects that eat it die. That sounds alarming! Pesticide sprays could be washed off. While the poison in BT crops is inside the plant. But actually, it's not a big deal. Poison is really just a question of different perspectives. What's harmless to one species, might kill another. Coffee, for example, is a poison that kills insects but is harmless to us. Or take chocolate, it's dangerous for dogs but a pleasure for humans. BT crops produce a protein that is tailored to the specific design of the digestive tract of certain insects; it's completely harmless for us. There's also the opposite approach. Plants that are engineered to be resistant to certain weed killers. This way, farmers can use them widely, killing the other plants competing for resources without harming the crop. Here, we get to the dark underbelly of GMOs. For the pesticide industry, they are big business. Over 90% of all cash crops in the US are herbicide resistant, mostly to glyphosate. As a result, the use of glyphosate has increased greatly. That isn't only bad, glyphosate is much less harmful to humans than many other herbicides. Still, this means famers have a strong incentive to rely on this one method only, casting more balanced ways of managing weeds aside. That's one of the most fundamental problems with the GMO debate. Much of the criticism of this technology is actually criticism of modern agriculture and a business practice of the huge corporations that control our food supply. This criticism is not only valid, it's also important. We need to change agriculture to a more sustainable model. GMOs as a technology are actually an ally and not a enemy in that fight, helping to save and protect nature and minimize our impact on the environment. Let's look at some positive examples. Eggplant is an important crop in Bangladesh but often, whole harvests are destroyed by pests. Farmers had to rely heavily on pesticides. Not only was this very expensive, Farmers also frequently got sick. The introduction of a new GM eggplant in 2013 stopped this. The same BT protein we talked about before, an effective killer of insects but harmless to humans, was engineered into them. This reduced insecticide use on eggplants by more than 80%. The health of farmers improved, and their income rose dramatically. And sometimes, the GM approach is the only option. In the 1990s, the papaya industry in Hawaii was under attack from the ringspot virus which threatened to wipe out Hawaiian papaya. The solution was a papaya genetically modified to be vaccinated against the virus. Without it, the state's papaya industry would have collapsed. All these stories show a very narrow application. 99% of all GMOs we use right now produce pesticides, or are resistant against them. There is so much more we could do. The scientists are working on GMOs that could improve our diet. Plants that produce more or different nutrients, like fruit with higher antioxidant levels that help to fight diseases or rice with additional vitamins. On a larger scale, we're trying to engineer plants more resilient to climate change, plants that can better adapt to erratic weather and adverse soil conditions, making them resistant to droughts or floods. GMOs could also not only reduce agriculture's impact on the environment, but actively help to protect it. Scientists are working on crops that can draw nitrogen from the air, like microbes. Nitrogen is a common fertilizer, but its build-up pollutes the ground water and speeds up climate change. Plants that collect their own nitrogen could fix two problems at once. The over use of fertilizers in the developed world, as well as the shortage of it in developing countries. We could even modify plants to become super-effective carbon collectors, like the American chestnut tree, to mitigate and actually reverse climate change. With the tools we have today, our imagination is the limit. The world eats 11 million pounds of food every day. A UN estimate suggests we'll need 70% more by 2050. We could grow that food by clearing more and more forests to create fields and pastures and by using more pesticides. Or we find a way to do it on the land we've got right now, with more effective methods like GM crops. Intensifying farming instead of expanding it means GMOs could become the new organic. In a nutshell, GMOs have the potential to not only drastically change agriculture but to also dampen the effects of our own irresponsible behavior. GMOs could be our most powerful weapon to save our biosphere. This video took more than 600 hours to make, which would be impossible without viewer support on If you'd like to support carefully researched content made with love, it's really very helpful! And you can get your own bird as a reward. If you want to learn more about genetic modification, we have more videos explaining the opportunities and risks of the technology and how it could impact our future. Caption credits are in the description.
Channel: Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell
Views: 7,012,804
Rating: 4.9129443 out of 5
Keywords: GMO, gmos, genetically modified organism, genetics, cripsr, food, agriculture, bt crops, monsanto, organic, natural, pesticide, herbicide
Id: 7TmcXYp8xu4
Channel Id: undefined
Length: 9min 3sec (543 seconds)
Published: Thu Mar 30 2017
Reddit Comments

In my opinion, the problem with the GMO debate boils down to a failure of language and a failure to disentangle many separate but overlapping points. The truest point in the whole video is that the criticism is actually a criticism of modern agriculture as it exists today (edited for /u/Letsbereal). But people seem to prefer to have one, unified, simple thesis of huge complex issues rather than dissecting individual aspects of them. For example, many people believe certain applications of GM technology are inherent traits of all GMOs which is like believing everything written with a fountain pen is a murder mystery.

Edit: I want to address a few common themes in the replies.

1) Corporate agriculture. Farms exist and will continue to exist at many sizes. They are all capable of employing more environmentally harmful or more environmentally benign practices. Admittedly, larger farms may have more lobbying influence and a larger profit motive to disregard the environment. But as they will continue to exist at all sizes, and as efficiency (which in many cases means less environmental harm) exists at scale, we should focus on which practices are best, whether, and where they're being employed.

2) Patents. Plant patents long predate GMOs. Plant breeders, like coders, songwriters, microprocessor engineers, and film directors, are investing massive amounts of time and money into something that can ultimately be replicated for nearly nothing. Thus, legal constructs exist which allows them to commodify their results and incentivises them to work. For some reason, people feel living organism should be off limits as mediums for intellectual property. Admittedly, it is a complex issue, but I will ask: Why? Why are they inherently worse than any of the previously mentioned applications? They don't give a small number of companies control over all food anymore than copyright gives Taylor Swift control over all music.

3) Genetic modification vs. selective breeding. Terms have to have a consistent meaning in order to have a meaningful exchange. Many people will say we're "modifying" the genetics of organism when we engage in any form of breeding and therefore they're "genetically modified". This is technically true, but we happen to use the term "genetic modification" to describe the set of modern techniques that directly alters the genome. So it's best not to use it in the former sense to avoid confusion.

4) Thanks for the gold.

πŸ‘οΈŽ︎ 5567 πŸ‘€οΈŽ︎ u/[deleted] πŸ“…οΈŽ︎ Mar 30 2017 πŸ—«︎ replies

Genetically modify trees to be CO2 Super vacuums? Sounds really cool.

Now, experts in the field: Tell me how this will backfire on us.

πŸ‘οΈŽ︎ 1839 πŸ‘€οΈŽ︎ u/DarthSatoris πŸ“…οΈŽ︎ Mar 30 2017 πŸ—«︎ replies

Damn a CGPGrey video and Kurzgesagt video within 24 hours of each other. What the hell is happening?

πŸ‘οΈŽ︎ 1085 πŸ‘€οΈŽ︎ u/EQUASHNZRKUL πŸ“…οΈŽ︎ Mar 30 2017 πŸ—«︎ replies

I feel like GMOs are getting the nuclear treatment. By focusing on theoretically possible negative effects we ignore the negatives of current methods. GMOs can

  • Reduce amount of agricultural land by increasing yields.
  • Reduce forest loss to forestry. Trees that are ready for cutting in a couple of years. Sign me up!

EDIT: thanks for popping my gold cherry kind stranger

πŸ‘οΈŽ︎ 3254 πŸ‘€οΈŽ︎ u/kilotaras πŸ“…οΈŽ︎ Mar 30 2017 πŸ—«︎ replies

GMO researcher here

videos like this need to be seen by everyone. The fact that it's profitable for food companies to list "GMO free!" on their labels makes me so sad, because it only perpetuates the unfounded fear.

I think the image people get in their heads when they think of people making GMOs is that we take a regular fully grown corn plant and inject it with DNA (hence why the movement to label all products which 'contain DNA') but to anyone who knows biology, this is so obviously wrong. We modify the genetic code of the sex cells like the pollen and eggs, and take the resulting seeds and grow them.

The research I'm a part of deals with making corn more efficient at storing energy and surviving droughts/heat/nutrient deprivation, something that could eventually save lives.

πŸ‘οΈŽ︎ 955 πŸ‘€οΈŽ︎ u/SkepticShoc πŸ“…οΈŽ︎ Mar 30 2017 πŸ—«︎ replies

GMO'S are very dangerous and I know this from experience. My father was murdered by a tomato spliced with John Wick.

πŸ‘οΈŽ︎ 1162 πŸ‘€οΈŽ︎ u/CatalystCoin πŸ“…οΈŽ︎ Mar 30 2017 πŸ—«︎ replies

I just believe what the experts tell me. Climate change is real. Vaccines, GMOs, and nuclear power is safe. Scientology is a cult.

I'll take the word of experts who spent years and years researching and peer reviewing the subject instead of my neighbor who "heard on facebook".

Edit: spelling, also thanks for the Gold!

πŸ‘οΈŽ︎ 492 πŸ‘€οΈŽ︎ u/nowhereman136 πŸ“…οΈŽ︎ Mar 30 2017 πŸ—«︎ replies

Worker in agriculture here. I work for a seeding company (one of the biggest seed distributors in the world to a specific seed) and we were forced to be 100% non-GMO and all I gotta say is, the SHIT we spray during every stage of the seeds life cycle is FAR WORSE than your worst GMO nightmare.

πŸ‘οΈŽ︎ 26 πŸ‘€οΈŽ︎ u/ocardona208 πŸ“…οΈŽ︎ Mar 30 2017 πŸ—«︎ replies

There are some fantastic efforts to counter the pseudo science out there. I just don't see anyone committed to David Wolfe style idiocy being convinced ever. Who cares if some dimwit in the developed world pays 3x for "organic" marketing campaigns. Its when little kids in the Philippines have to suffer malnutrition (Golden Rice) because of internet snake oil shit or People in Zambia have to go to bed starving and starve their kids its totally frustrating as shit. I know there are many more examples of this but these two are textbook examples of idiots causing harm on a grand scale

πŸ‘οΈŽ︎ 150 πŸ‘€οΈŽ︎ u/My_Body_The_Mystery πŸ“…οΈŽ︎ Mar 30 2017 πŸ—«︎ replies
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