Even if genetically engineered modified foods have been part of the fixed range of our supermarkets for many decades, there is still a lot of controversy between opponents and supporters around the topic.

While genetic engineering is a blessing for some, helping to feed millions of starving people, others see it as an apocalyptic threat to our bodies and the environment. To make the confusion perfect, there are countless studies that support the arguments of both sides. To follow a false ideology without dealing with the basics is out of place here. That this educational gap must be closed proves the dramatic result of a representative survey, which shockingly revealed that a not insignificant part of the population is convinced that organically grown vegetables contain no genes. So let's start with the basics.

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Genetic engineering is really old hat

Of course, organically grown vegetables contain genes, as do any other living thing on this planet. How else should the specific characteristics be expressed on the microbiological level and transferred from one generation to another? And that's the point, because genes are not artificial, mixed into food by the evil industry. These are simply components of the genetic material that define certain characteristics of a living being. So genetic engineering is nothing but an attempt to create new plants that are more nutritious, more productive or resistant to pests. However, this is anything but a new phenomenon, because even our ancestors at the time of the Neolithic revolution experimented with plants and animals of various kinds and tried to call certain properties by crossing. Without these experiments today we would have neither wheat, rye, dairy cows and yes, no dogs. In contrast to modern genetic engineering, the development and cognition processes in earlier times took decades and centuries, since any result was based on the principle of trial and error. A failed experiment could well lead to an annual crop being inedible and starving many people. Today, however, it is possible for us to decode the genes and thus to specifically investigate which gene of a plant is responsible for which trait. For example, if a plant is particularly resistant to a particular pest, that gene can be integrated into the gene set of another plant, which in turn can be planted in areas where it was previously impossible. The same applies to genes that enable high-energy plants such as corn to thrive on less fertile soils or simply need less water to grow. Countless types of grain have been produced since the 1930s, without which our world would hardly be able to feed, since corncobs and wheat ears used to be much less productive. But that's not all. Genetic engineering also makes it possible to encourage plants to produce certain vitamins, eliminating blatant micronutrient deficiencies in many parts of the world.

What do many people have against genetic engineering?

A not to be despised part of the fear, which many humans before the genetic engineering, is justified by the lack of knowledge about basic connections of the biology and the agricultural history, which are not taught in our schools, not more or not sufficiently. Basically most of the interventions are nothing but a much accelerated evolution, which was done in a "natural way" on the field and is now much faster and more controllable in the test tube. Since this knowledge is lacking, many people have concerns because they consider these plants as artificial. This also results in fears that these new plants will harm the environment, be poisonous or make us ill. From a purely logical point of view, however, it makes no difference whether nature cares about mutations in plants or whether we intervene. In particular, in relation to the fact that genetically modified plants may be generally toxic, an investigation has shown that this statement is not sustainable.

In the context of a comparison between genetically modified plants, which required less water to grow due to the intervention, and ordinary plants, it was found that the heavy metal content in the genetically modified plants was lower. The cause is clear, because the ordinary plant had to pump significantly more water through their cells than the more frugal plant, which could also deposit more natural heavy metals from the same soil. It should be noted, however, that in both cases the limits have not been exceeded by far, so this example serves only to illustrate that not always everything is as clear as it seems, and we want to be led astray. However, there are very justified objections to genetically modified plants that are, for example, immune to a certain pesticide, so that farmers can use these partially highly toxic agents without restriction. These poisons destroy not only the pests, but also all life that is not resistant. In addition, these pesticides deposit on the surface and possibly also in the plant itself, which of course can have serious health consequences for us if we consume these plants or the food produced from them. Because many pesticides cause liver and kidney problems, has long been scientifically proven. And that's not all, because fodder plants that have been treated in this way are also used in livestock breeding and thus reach our food via dairy products and meat, as well as antibiotics, which are still used too carelessly in factory farming. Especially in the context of plants that are grown in such a way that they are toxic to certain insects, there are further problems, because this can affect entire food chains in our ecosystems. For example, imagine that pollen of such a plant crosses with a wild plant species, so that more and more of these plants, even in the wild, take over the toxic properties of the crop. This could lead to the extinction of a specific species of insect that relies on this wild plant, which in turn greatly reduces the nutritional basis for other species, at least in the short term, until the animals have changed.

What is the moral of the story now?

As so often, there is no clear black and white or good and evil, but many multi-faceted shades of gray, so it can only be called in the final judgment on whether genetic engineering is good or bad: It depends. When used responsibly, genetic engineering is a true blessing for humankind, making a vital contribution to overcoming hunger in the world. Careless quick shots with incalculable consequences, such as the immunization against highly toxic to humans pesticides, should be urgently avoided for the benefit of all living things. But for your daily practice, the very fact that genetic engineering has existed for millennia in principle means that you can not escape it at all. But you do not have to, because even here the food is boiled hotter than it is eaten. The best solution is to stay up to date, to keep up to date with new developments, and to select foods that meet your personal standards. Another magic word is diversity of food, because if you eat a variety of foods, and not only consume certain products, any risk is extremely low. But you should know that a one-sided choice of food, even without the context of genetic engineering for health reasons is not desirable. So do not get lost in details, but first take care of the really big health threats like smoking, lack of exercise and too much sugar.

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