Power Supply has recently released a non-GMO version of our Instant Porridge for our customers peace of mind. To learn about the advantages and disadvantages of GMOs keep reading to discover why Power Supply now offers two versions of our Instant Porridge.

What are GMOs?

According to the World Health Organization, GMOs can be defined as “organisms (i.e. plants, animals, or microorganisms) in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination”. It is important to note the difference between GMOs and transgenic GMOs. When the genes of one species are incorporated into the genes of another species, it is referred to as a transgenic GMO. However, the term “GMO” only refers to altering the genes of one species; in other words, turning certain genes “off” or “on”. For example, this was done with certain apples where the gene responsible for browning was “shut off”. In other words, genetic engineering aims to enhance certain traits of a species by either altering its own genes or by incorporating another species’ genes.

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History of GMOs

Genetic manipulation by means of artificial selection has been done for thousands of years (since 10 500 BCE, in fact). Farmers noticed that choosing the best bull to breed with the best cow resulted in the best calf, or sowing the best seeds resulted in the best crops. Gregor Mendel, a monk, was the first to scientifically prove genetic inheritance by conducting experiments on peas between 1856 and 1863, and thus became the father of genetics.

Genetic engineering, however, only originated in 1983, when an antibiotic-resistant tobacco plant was created. The first commercially grown genetically modified food that was approved for release by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in America was the Flavr Savr tomato in 1994. By inserting an antisene gene, the shelf-life of the tomato increased considerably. The FDA concluded that the Flavr Savr tomato was as safe as conventionally grown tomatoes and that it had no negative effects on humans.

In 1995, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) was inserted in potatoes, which caused the potatoes to release their own pesticide. While this sounds unhealthy to consumers, to date there has been no definite scientific proof that it is harmful to humans, but the public is still concerned. In fact, it might just save many beneficial insect species like bees, since Bt only targets a specific detrimental species, while conventional pesticide indiscriminately kills all other insects. Since 1995, other GMO crops have been approved, such as Bt maize, glyphosate-tolerant soybeans, virus-resistant squash, and many more.

In 2000, golden rice became the first GMO crop of which the nutrient value was increased through genetic engineering and therefore became the first GMO to actually have higher nutrition than its traditional counterpart.

Advantages and disadvantages of GMOs

Preventing an apple from turning brown does not result in any health benefits. It’s the same with transgenic GMOs such as the GloFish, where genes from glowing jellyfish were inserted into zebra fish to create glow-in-the-dark fish. Still, scientists don’t spend all that time in the laboratory only to create novelties; they are attempting to create GMOs that will benefit the human race.

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In the agricultural sector, genetic engineering can result in huge benefits, especially in developing countries where crops are destroyed by pests and drought. For example, crops such as maize and soybeans have been genetically modified to be more resistant to pathogens and pests, and for better nutrient profiles. In the case of the latter, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation suggests that the easiest way to address the problem of vitamin A deficiency is to increase its levels in rice through genetic engineering. Likewise, Uganda is looking at increasing the vitamin content in their bananas, and other countries want to increase Omega-3 and decrease trans-fats in soybeans.

Certain strains of crops are more resistant to drought, and, according to DTMASS, 2.9 million farmers in 13 African countries experienced a 20% to 30% increase in their yield with drought-tolerant GMO maize. Genetic engineering therefore allows people to grow more crops with less water, land, nutrient-rich soil, herbicide, pesticide, etc.

Another benefit is that food can be modified to eliminate food allergies or intolerance issues, as with peanuts.

While the advantages of GMOs far outweigh the disadvantages, there are still a few potential negative consequences. For example, GMOs that are resistant to certain herbicides and insects cause those weeds and insects to evolve, creating super-weeds and super-bugs, which in turn leads to stronger herbicides and pesticides, which could eventually become harmful to humans. GMO crops can also contaminate other organic fields, and to date, the effect of such cross-pollination is not known. Soybeans are an exception, since they don’t cross-pollinate.

While most scientists agree that GMO food has no negative effects on humans, crops containing pesticide are by definition toxic, and this scares the public. Also, it is still required that stringent tests are conducted before a GMO is approved, and some of these tests might be inconclusive or they might overlook something small.

While some GMOs are created to enhance certain tolerances, it might result in lower nutrition. Some might be created to have a higher nutritional value, but create allergies in consequence. “Playing God” is not easy, and one beneficial change might lead to an unintended negative change.

Power Supply acknowledges the scientific facts presented, but if there is just the slightest chance that GMO products might be harmful to our customers, we want to offer them peace of mind. That is why we have released a non-GMO version of our Instant Porridge. It is still enriched with essential vitamins and minerals, and unlike the GMO topic, where there are still divides, we know that vitamins and minerals are good for you.