Alexander Napolitan on GMOs

In "On Teaching and Learning Macroeconomics" I lay out my teaching philosophy for Intermediate Macroeconomics. One aspect of that philosophy is that I want my students to learn to write. So I ask them to write a blog post every week. One of the best posts this past semester was this one, by Alexander Napolitan. You can see links for all the student posts from my classes that have been guest posts on my blog here. I am pleased to have Alexander's permission to share his post here:

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs), especially those created with Crispr-Cas9 need to be carefully studied and analyzed for any potential harmful side effects before being introduced into the market. However, this does not mean that GMOs aren’t a helpful technology to feed a growing world population.

GMOs have become a prevalent technology today sparking many debates and controversies with companies like Monsanto about their potential side effects and impacts on peoples’ health and the environment. There is no great consensus on the safety of GMOs (Tsatsakis, A. M., Nawaz, M. A., Tutelyan, V. A., Golokhvast, K. S., Kalantzi, O.-I., Chung, D. H., ... Chung, G., 2017. "Impact on environment, ecosystem, diversity and health from culturing and using GMOs as feed and food," Food and Chemical Toxicology, 107, 108– 121). Concerns about cross-pollination with wild type breeds that could create a wider variety of pesticide resistant plants affecting the biodiversity of many ecosystems are valid. Conversely GMOs also can create plants that reduce the amount of time to harvest and increase the yield. Therefore, there is a clear imperative to divert resources and energy into researching ways to contain their impacts on the public health and environment while also improving the efficiency of yielding crops.

Crispr-Cas9 may be one of the largest discoveries in this century with foreseeable dramatic effects on genetic engineering and biotechnology. With this technology, scientists can cleave DNA at precise locations to make specific alterations to the organism that can improve their efficiency. This differs from previous gene editing technology that had to add different genes to the plant (Bunge & Marcus, 2018, "Is This Tomato Engineered? Inside the Coming Battle Over Gene-Edited Food," Wall Street Journal). Crispr-Cas9 simply edits the existing information. Regardless, many labs will work tirelessly to create a product that could enter shelves at super markets within the next year. The impact on food markets could be significant.

A few crop markets have become dominated by GMOs such as corn, soybean, and cotton (Bunge, 2017). Many groups publicly denounce the use of GMOs to feed the world population by working to better delineate to the consumer what products are GMOs or not. Companies producing GMOs will work to market these new GMOs in a different light that focuses on potential benefits they could possess such as making healthier vegetable oils (Bunge, J., 2017, October 10. "Seed Giants See Fresh Start in Gene Editing." Wall Street Journal.). As this technology progresses, it will be crucial to have a well-informed public on the products they buy and consume. Through this, the true sentiment of the public on GMOs can be measured, and this will dictate future policy decisions.

GMOs will always play a role in food markets, and that technology will just improve. Therefore, I say it is an important question to consider the future of a growing world population. Cities will become denser and more compacted. Climate change could lead to changes in locations many people could inhabit as water levels may run out in certain places. Being able to feed everyone will remain a large and ever present problem. We need to focus on reducing any harmful impacts GMOs may have and use it to create more food for everyone.

Update, June 23, 2018: Two days after this post appeared, I saw the Wall Street Journal opinion piece by Mark Lynas: "Genetically modified crops have been vilified and banned, but the science is clear: They’re perfectly safe. And what’s more, the world desperately needs them.

Update, January 17, 2019: In my post “What Steven Gundry's Book 'The Plant Paradox' Adds to the Principles of a Low-Insulin-Index Diet” I write:

In my life as a whole, I have been a defender of GMOs. I have no objection in principle to genetically modifying the plants for our food. But it matters what genetic modification is being made! Many GMOs are genetically modified to add in genes for natural insecticides! Others are genetically modified so that pesticides can be added externally without killing the plant. So, the point of the most most important genetical modifications so far has been to increase the natural insecticides and make it easier to add pesticides externally to our food chain.