Genetically modified foods refer to foods that have been produced through biotechnology processes involving the alteration of DNA. This genetic modification is done to confer the organism or crops with enhanced nutritional value, increased resistance to herbicides and pesticides, and reduction of production costs.
The concept of genetic engineering has been in existence for many years, but genetic modification of foods emerged in the early 1990s. Currently, a lot of food consumed is composed of genetically altered elements, albeit without the knowledge of the consumers (Whitman, 2000).
Genetically modified foods have been hailed for their potential of enhancing food security, particularly in small scale agriculture in low-income countries.
It has been proposed that genetically modified foods are integral in the enhancement of safe food security, enhanced quality, and increased shelf-life; hence becoming cost-effective to consumers and farmers. Proponents of this technology also argue that genetically modified foods have many health benefits, in addition to being environmentally friendly and the great capability of enhancing the quality and quantity of yields (W.H.O., 2013).
Genetically modified foods are, therefore, considered to be a viable method of promoting food production and ensuring sustainable food security across the world to meet the demands of the increasing population. In spite of the perceived benefits of genetic engineering technology in the agricultural sector, the production and use of genetically modified foods have triggered a number of issues pertaining to the safety and consequences of consumption (Whitman, 2000).
Benefits of genetically modified foods
Many champions of genetically modified foods suggest the potential of genetic engineering technology in feeding the huge population that is faced with starvation across the world. Genetically modified foods could help in increasing production, while providing foods that are more nutritious, with minimal impacts on the environment.
In developing countries, genetic engineering technology could help the farmers to be able to meet the food demands while decreasing the adverse environmental effects. Genetically modified crops have been shown to have greater yields, besides reducing the need for pesticides.
This is because genetically modified crops have increased the ability to resist pest infestation, subsequently resulting in increased earnings (Uzogara, 2000). Some genetically engineered crops are designed to resist herbicides, thus allowing chemical control of weeds to be practiced. Foods that have been genetically modified are perceived to attain faster growth and can survive harsh conditions due to their potency to resists drought, pests, and diseases.
Genetically modified foods have also been suggested to contain many other benefits, including being tastier, safer, more nutritious, and have a longer shelf life. Though scientific studies regarding the safety and benefits of genetically modified foods are not comprehensive, it is argued that critics of this technology are driven by overblown fears (W.H.O., 2013).
Controversies surrounding genetically modified foods
To most opponents of the application of genetic engineering technology in agriculture, issues relating to safety, ethics, religion, and environment are greater than those that are related to better food quality, enhanced production, and food security. Genetic modification technology is perceived to carry risks touching on agricultural practices, health, and environment.
The major issue raised by the society concerning this technology pertains to whether genetically modified foods should be banned for the benefit of people. The gene transfer techniques are not entirely foolproof, thus raising fears that faults may emerge and lead to many unprecedented events.
There is a possibility that DNA transfer to target cells may not be effective, or it may be transferred to an untargeted point with the potential effect being the expression or suppression of certain proteins that were not intended. This may cause unanticipated gene mutations in the target cells, leading to physiological alterations (Bakshi, 2003).
A number of animal studies have indicated that genetically modified foods could pose serious health risks, including the tendency to cause impotency, immune disorders, acceleration of aging, hormonal regulation disorders, and alteration of major organs and the gastrointestinal system (Bakshi, 2003). It has also been demonstrated that genetically modified foods can act as allergens and sources of toxins.
With the apparent lack of clear regulatory mechanisms and policies to ensure that genetically modified foods are tested for human health and environmental effects, human beings become reduced to experimental animals, thus subjecting them to adverse toxic effects and dietary problems.
In animals, it has been found that the use of genetically modified feeds causes complications, such as premature delivery, abortions, and sterility (Bakshi, 2003). Some genetically modified crops such as corn and cotton are engineered to produce pesticides.
It has been demonstrated that this built-in pesticide is very toxic and concentrated as compared to the naturally sprayed pesticide, which has been confirmed to cause allergies in some people. Many studies have also shown the immune system of genetically modified animals to be significantly altered, with a persistent increase in cytokines; indicating the capability of these foods to cause conditions such as asthma, allergy, and inflammation in human beings (Whitman, 2000).
Some of the genetically modified foods such as soy have also been shown to have certain chemicals known to be allergens, for example, trypsin inhibitor protein. Genetic engineering of food may also result in the transfer of genes that have the capability to trigger allergies into the host cells.
Furthermore, most of the DNA transferred into genetically modified foods originates from microorganisms that have not been studied to elucidate their allergenic properties. Similarly, the new genetic combinations in genetically modified foods could cause allergies to some consumers or worsen the existing allergic conditions. Various cases of genetically modified foods causing allergic reactions have been reported, leading to the withdrawal of these foods from the market (Bakshi, 2003).
Genetic modification of crops could also increase the expression of naturally occurring toxins, through possible activation of certain proteins, resulting into the release of toxic chemicals. It is argued that sufficient studies have not been carried out to prove that genetically modified foods are safe for consumption (Krierbel & Epstein, 2001).
Genetically modified foods are also associated with many environmental risks. Issues relating to the manner in which science is marketed and applied have also been raised, challenging the perceived benefits of genetically modified foods. Many opponents of genetic engineering technology perceive that genetic modification of food is a costly technology that places farmers from low-income countries at disadvantaged positions since they cannot afford it.
It is also argued that this technology cannot address the food shortage issue, which is perceived to be more of a political and economic problem than a food production issue (Krierbel & Epstein, 2001).
Political and economic issues across local and global levels have been suggested to prevent the distribution of foods so as to reach the people faced with starvation, but not issues of agriculture and technology. Politics and economic barriers have also been shown to contribute to greater poverty, subsequently making individuals unable to afford food.
Some bioethicists are of the view that most genetic engineering advances in agriculture are profit-based as compared to those that are need-based, thus challenging the appropriateness of genetic modification of food in ensuring food security, safeguarding the environment and decreasing poverty especially in low-income countries.
This argument is supported by the costly nature of genetic engineering technology and the yields from the application of this technology, which in some instances have been observed to be less than the yields obtained from the use of conventional food production processes. The economic benefits of genetic engineering of foods are usually attained by the large scale agricultural producers, thus pitting the majority of the population who are involved in small scale agricultural production (Weasel, 2009).
With the widespread adoption of genetic engineering technology, regulatory policies such as patents have been formulated, subsequently allowing biotechnological organizations to reap from the patenting of indigenous knowledge without consent of the consumers (Azadi & Ho, 2010).
Though biotechnological firms suggest that genetic modification of foods is essential in addressing starvation and ensuring food security, the patenting of this technology and food has been perceived by many as being a potential threat to food security (Weasel, 2009).
Patenting of genetically modified foods gives biotechnology firms monopoly control, thus demeaning the sanctity of life. This technology has also enhanced dependency, whereby farmers have to continuously go back to the biotechnology firms to purchase seeds for sowing in subsequent planting seasons.
Being a relatively new technology, it is argued that genetic modification has not been well tested and, therefore, has not been accepted as the appropriate method of addressing problems relating to food safety and shortage.
Genetically modified food is regarded as unsafe because sufficient tests have not been carried out to show that the insertion and alteration of the genetic material could cause some unprecedented long term effects in another organism. Despite possessing positive attributes such as health benefits and food safety, many consumers are wary of these foods because of a lack of proven safety testing (Goodyear-Smith, 2001).
There are also fears that the genetic material inserted into genetically modified foods often gets transferred into the DNA of commensals found in the alimentary canal of human beings. This may lead to the production of the harmful genetically modified chemicals inside the body of the human being, even long after ceasing the consumption of such foods.
Prior to the widespread adoption of this genetic engineering technology in agriculture, many scientists and regulatory agents raised concerns that genetically modified foods were inherently harmful, and could trigger allergies, toxic effects, gene transfer to commensals in the gut, and could lead to the emergence of new diseases and nutritional problems (Smith, 2003).
To date, no rigorous tests have been performed on the same to dispel these fears; instead, the biotechnology companies have been mandated to ensure that their foods are safe. The lack of any published human clinical trial and rigorous tests on genetically modified foods, therefore, leaves the toxicological safety of these foods unaddressed and makes humans act as experimental animals.
It, therefore, remains unknown whether genetically modified foods could be contributing to the rising cases of various ill health conditions such as obesity, asthma, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and reproductive problems among other diseases affecting the population. In most cases, the testing that has been performed involves evaluation of the growth and productivity of the modified organism, and not in terms of environmental and health impacts (Azadi & Ho, 2010).
Gene transfer may affect the nutritional quality of foods as the transfer is likely to reduce the amounts of certain nutrients while raising the levels of other nutrients. This causes a nutritional variation between conventional foods and similar foods produced through genetic modification techniques.
Furthermore, few studies have been carried out to show the effect of nutrient alterations brought about by genetic engineering in relation to nutrient-gene interactions, metabolism, and bioavailability (Goodyear-Smith, 2001). Critics of genetically modified foods, therefore, argue that little information is available to show how the alteration of food contents affect gene regulation and expression as these changes occur at rates that far overwhelm scientific studies, particularly in regard to pediatric nutrition.
Genetic modification of food involves the transfer of genetic material even between organisms belonging to different species. To biotechnology firms and other proponents of genetically modified foods, this approach helps in maximizing productivity and profits. However, many consumers, environmental conservationists, and opponents of genetically modified foods perceive gene transfer across different species as causing a decrease in diversity (Weasel, 2009).
With the reduction of diversity, benefits such as resistance to diseases and pests, adaptation to adverse weather conditions, and productivity also diminish. Critics of genetic engineering technology, therefore, suggest that the application of this technology creates uniformity in organisms and decreases their genetic diversity, rendering them to increased risks of diseases and pests.
Transfer of genetic material also carries many environmental risks, especially in the event of the wide cultivation of such crops. Some critics suggest that genetically engineered plants with herbicide and insect-resistant traits could transfer these traits to wild plants, and subsequently lead to the evolution of weeds that are difficult to eradicate.
These weeds could develop into invasive plants with the capability to decrease crop production and cause a disruption of the ecosystem. The genetically modified plants could also evolve into weeds, which will then require costly and environmentally unfriendly means to eradicate (Krierbel & Epstein, 2001).
It is also possible for non-target organisms to become affected by the genetic engineering of food, thus further reducing diversity. It is a persistent concern that genetically modified foods such as pesticide-resistant crops could cause harm to non-target organisms.
Some of the genetically modified crops could also alter the soil chemistry through the release of toxins and decomposition of the plants after death. In addition, crops that have been genetically modified so as to tolerate higher chemical concentrations further perpetuate increased use of herbicides, subsequently causing greater concentration of chemicals in the soil (Smith, 2003).
The deliberate transfer of antibiotic resistance genes in genetic engineering may have severe health and environmental impacts. There are fears that these genes, which are antibiotic-resistant, may be transferred to pathogenic microbes in the alimentary canal of humans and animals, thus conferring these microbes greater pathogenicity and subsequently contributing to the increasing public health issues (Weasel, 2009).
Genetic modification of food is applauded to be an appropriate method of ensuring that there is increased food availability, better nutrition, and general improvement in the agricultural sector. However, many issues surround this technology, mostly centering on safety, health, cultural, social, and religious issues.
Most of the concerns regarding genetically engineering foods can be cleared by conducting expansive research to establish clear grounds on such issues. Unless concrete research is conducted to substantiate the benefits and potential harms of genetically engineered foods, the majority of people will remain wary of genetically modified foods. In the end, the full potential of genetically engineered foods will not be realized.
Example #2 – Genetically Modified Organisms In Our Food
Tomatoes, soybeans, and McDonald’s French fries- what all of these things have in common? They are all some of the most commonly genetically modified foods on the market today. With scientists in the race to invent newer and better everything, genetically modified organisms, or “GMOs” have become a hot topic of research in just the past 10 years. By using the genetic information from one organism, or the “DNA” and splicing it with the DNA of another, scientists can make food crops grow bigger, stay fresh longer, or even create their own pesticides.
In this case, however, and often with any case involving genetic modification, the technology has exceeded the practicality of this innovation. Genetically modified foods have no place in everyday agriculture because of the threat they pose to humans, the environment, and the future of traditional agriculture.
Plants have been genetically manipulated for thousands of years. Even in the earliest cases of civilized agriculture, people saved seeds of high yielding crops to replant each season (Shannon 1999). Lately, however, with genetic engineering being the hottest and most controversial side of science, many companies such as biotech are now tampering with food crops to get results that the early farmers could have never imagined.
This seems to be a scientific child’s play in comparison to all of the recent media attention the cloning of sheep and even human cloning has received. Much of this genetic experimentation with the cloning of mammals and similar species can be linked to a high stakes game of chicken, where scientists are trying to do more and more daring things before people actually take the final step and clone a human.
Likewise, there are no real demands for genetically modified foods, but their supporters keep manufacturing and experimenting with new food ideas to make more efficient what nature had already designed.
Among the list of foods genetically created is a product from the Biotech Corporation; A modified tomato called the “FLAVR SAVR” and in theory, this sounds like a marvelous invention. It is larger, better tasting, and stays fresh longer than commercial tomatoes on the market. How did they do it? The FLAVR SAVR tomato was created by combining conventional tomato genes with genes of an arctic trout.
This was no natural or logical combination of genes and certainly presents a lot of complications when arriving at the market. Will people with a seafood allergy be able to eat the FLAVR SAVR? Would these new trout genes allow new types of bacteria to form on the tomatoes making them especially hazardous to eat? With so many new attributes introduced through this new DNA, it is difficult to know the potential side effects of these new foods. For centuries now farmers have been able to cross-breed various strains of sweet corn to make it grow even sweeter or to make potatoes grow bigger, but mixing tomatoes and fish is a match that could only have been made in a laboratory.
Since it wasn’t until recently that such technology was feasible, there is no real way of knowing whether genetically modified foods would take a negative impact on the body. Many activists tend to cite an incident that occurred in 1989 concerning the nutritional supplement, L- Tryptophan. What was originally believed to be a safe naturally occurring amino acid, safe for human consumption, causing a potentially fatal illness called Eosinophilia Myalgia Syndrome (Jacobs 2000).
This GM supplement was taking off the market shortly after the reports of widespread illness among consumers of the supplement. This is certainly reason to be skeptical of genetically modified organisms, but defendants of genetically modified foods have a different argument.
In theory, since the DNA is simply a miniature list of characteristics held by that organism, the DNA of one plant should be no less harmful than another, just because they were spliced together from 2 different sources. This is a completely scientific statement of something that most scientists don’t fully understand yet. However, there are other factors to take into consideration with GMOs aside from the theoretical consequences to human health.
Because over time all plants to evolve to compensate for climate changes and new environments, it is likely that because of these new characteristics, some parts of the ecosystem may get thrown off in response to the GMOs. For instance, some soybeans have already been produced that have built-in pesticides and herbicides used to fight off weeds and insects.
Because of the nature of these new genes, it is predicted that weeds may build a tolerance for this chemical defense, thus creating “superweeds” which would be immune to most agricultural weed killers.
Another possibility is that this new technology would spread unintentionally through the pollinating and germination of the GM crops. For instance, if two fields lay near each other, one growing organic tomatoes (ones that are raised using no pesticides or unnatural means of growth) and one field producing genetically modified tomatoes, a plant?s natural tendencies may come into play.
The chances would be great that insects or wind would carry pollen from one crop to the other crop, making both crops genetically modified. Since raising organic produce is a very regulated industry, this would not only contaminate the organic tomatoes, (thus making them non-organic), but also ruin the field?s ability to grow organic produce.
The wildlife in the environment might be affected as well. It has already been determined that a certain strain of GM corn can harm monarch butterflies (Pollack 2000). If GM plants have the capability of harming insects, what about animals in nature such as deer, whose life is already complicated by deforestation? What about humans?
It hasn’t been until recent years that genetically modified foods have surfaced, but since the public became aware, GMOs have been under fire. Many fast-food chains, grocery stores, and other food wholesalers and retailers have gone to the media, assuring the public that they would not buy or sell products containing GMOs.
Frito-Lay Inc., who purchases over 1 billion pounds of corn and potatoes a year (Jacobs 2000) recently spoke out on GMOs, saying it has asked its suppliers to not grow GM corn or potatoes. Spokespeople from Frito-Lay said it would not buy genetically modified corn for fear no one would buy it (Jacobs 2000).
This new technology has become more trouble than it is worth for GM supporters. The techniques used by the seed manufacturers are crude and can create unforeseen mutations in the food? (Jacobs 2000). Such mutations are likely to cause allergens or toxins in the food, depending on the source of the foreign gene.
For the most part, genetic modification is unnecessary, unpredictable and an infringement on nature. Nuclear energy was once thought to be the answer to all of our power problems and this might be a similar case, where the technology ends up having too many negative repercussions to be used practically in everyday life.
There is no test that can for sure say whether these foods will be toxic after they are produced other than trial and error, making humans experimental Ginnie pigs. The world has enough food in circulation and does not need more food or more efficient food. This science is best left to mystery for the sake of our bodies, as well as our environment.
Accompany the growing population in the world and food shortages, in order to alleviate the immediate crisis, transgenic technology began to be used in the field of food production. Genetic engineering technology as a young technology, which gives us a lot of genetically modified food and gained unprecedented gains. But science is a double-edged sword.
People are concern about the topic of whether genetically modified foods is safe. It is evidently reasonable for some to believe that it hazard to human health and the environment, which should be strictly banned.
However, in spite of those who also think that it is safe and brings us a lot of benefits, which should be actively developed. In this essay, my personal view is that I do not agree with genetically modified foods. Not only because of the destruction it caused to the ecological environment, but also it will affect our health and our future. So what is genetically modified (GM) food?
Simply put, genetically modified foods are through genetic engineering means to make one or several exogenous gene transfers to certain organisms together (animals, plants and microorganisms), and make it a valid expression of the corresponding product (peptides or proteins). Using those organisms as food or as raw materials for food processing. Those who hold a positive attitude claim that it is a good way to against environmental…
Genetically engineered crops appear to be safe to eat and do not harm the environment, according to a new analysis by the advisory group the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. It is unclear whether the technology has actually increased crop yields.
The report from the influential group, released on Tuesday, comes as the federal government is reviewing how it regulates biotech crops and big packaged food companies like Campbell Soup and General Mills are starting to label products as being made with genetically engineered ingredients to comply with a new Vermont law.
Genetically engineered foods are reported to be high in nutrients and contain more minerals and vitamins than those found in traditionally grown foods. Other than that, these foods are known to taste better. Another reason for people opting for genetically engineered foods is that they have an increased shelf life and hence there is less fear of foods getting spoiled quickly.
GM foods are helpful in controlling the occurrence of certain diseases. By modifying the DNA system of these foods, the properties causing allergies are eliminated successfully. These foods grow faster than the foods that are grown traditionally. Because of this, the increased productivity provides the population with more food. Moreover, these foods are a boon in places which experience frequent droughts, or where the soil is incompetent for agriculture.
Genetically engineered food crops can be grown in places with unfavorable climatic conditions too. The report also says that new techniques, like a way to make small genetic changes in plants using genome-editing, are blurring the distinction between genetic engineering and conventional plant breeding, making the existing regulatory system untenable. It calls for a new system that pays more attention to the attributes of the crop, as opposed to the way in which it was created.
Genetically engineered crops pose no additional risks to humans and the environment when compared to conventional crops, according to a new report. The research, published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, is the result of a sweeping review of nearly 900 publications on the effects of genetically modified crops on human health and the environment.
Genetic engineering has helped agricultural producers in the U.S., including small farmers, thrive, according to the report. But genetic modification is not all good news, the report suggests. Widespread use of genetically modified crops, which are often engineered to resist the effects of pesticides, has contributed to concerning levels of pesticide resistance in weeds and insects. Pests improve in their ability to resist pesticides every time the chemicals are sprayed, creating a vicious cycle of increased spraying and more resistance.
Genetically modified foods consist of plants and animals whose genes have been altered. The principal ingredients of GM foods currently available are derived from genetically modified soybean, maize, and canola. GM foods are classified into one of three generations.
First-generation crops have enhanced input traits, such as herbicide tolerance, better insect resistance, and better tolerance to environmental stress. Second-generation crops include those with added-value output traits, such as nutrient enhancement for animal feed. Third-generation crops include those that produce pharmaceuticals, improve the processing of bio-based fuels, or produce products beyond food and fiber. GM food was developed to increase the yield of growing crops to beat hunger.
The goal of genetic modification is to create crops and livestock that have beneficial effects on health and do not occur naturally in a given species. Scientists Say GMO Foods Are Safe. Genetically-engineered crops are as safe to eat as their non-GE counterparts, they have no adverse environmental effects, and they have reduced the use of pesticides.
Genetically modified foods have been available since the 1990s. Genetic modification can be used to assist food manufacturers and to improve on the storage capacity or nutritional value of foods. The first commercial food product developed from gene splicing.
The potential for GM foods to cause allergic reactions is the most obvious health concern associated with these products. Specific proteins in milk, eggs, wheat, fish, tree nuts, peanuts, soybeans, and shellfish cause over 90% of food allergies. If a protein from one of these food types were to be incorporated into food that normally would not have this protein, people who are allergic to these proteins could unknowingly consume such food and suffer allergic reactions.
The FDA has put measures into place to prevent such a scenario by requiring that each producer of a GM food product present scientific evidence that they have not incorporated any allergenic substance into their product. If this evidence cannot be produced, the FDA requires a label to be put on the product to alert consumers.