Genetically Modified Food
Genetically modified foods (GM foods) are foods that are produced from genetically modified organisms. These organisms have introduced changes into their DNA through genetic engineering methods. There are other methods too through which foods can be modified; such include selective breeding, plant breeding, and animal breeding. Simply put, genetically modified foods are transgenic plant products, examples include soybean, corn, canola and cottonseed oil. Genetic modification was originally introduced so as to increase crop yield as a means of solving world hunger problems. However, GM foods have raised a lot of questions, or even, if that is the best way to address the issue. This paper is going to discuss the GM foods issue, it will then Identify and briefly evaluate different sides to the issue. (The positives and negatives) and then conclude by giving evidence based on the findings.
Debate on genetically modified food
Genetically modified foods have brought in a big debate lately in the news, public organizations and public interest groups have actively been protesting about the effects of these foods, The term GM foods refers to mainly crop plants created for human and animal consumption. These crops are enhanced in the laboratory to acquire desired traits such as improved resistance to herbicide or increased nutritional content. Originally this was done by conventional plant breeding methods until it was realized that this could be time consuming and apparently not accurate, which finally lead to Genetic engineering which is accurate and can create plants with the exact desired traits. A plant geneticist can get a gene such as those conferring insect resistance, desired nutrients or drought tolerance from one plant and insert it in another plant. The newly acquired plant will gain tolerance to drought, be resistant to drought or insects depending with the nature of the trait organism inserted in the plant. However, it’s not only from plants that these genes can be transferred but also genes from non-plants organisms.
The best example is the use of B.t (Bacillus thuringiensis) which is a naturally occurring bacterium that produces crystal protein harmful to insect larvae (Whitman, 2011). The debate about genetically modified foods is most intense in Japan and Europe, Where the public concern is also very high is in the United States where genetically modified foods are widely grown and the introduction of these was less resisted. The key disputed areas of genetically engineered foods include; food safety, the effects of these crops in the natural ecosystem, gene flow into crops that are not genetically improved, moral and religious perceptions have been raised, and corporate control of food supplied. Though, not a single situation of harm to humans has been documented. In 2006, 252 million acres of transgenic crops were planted in more than 22 countries where by the majority of these plants were herbicide and insect resistant crops, the majority was soybean, oilseed or canola corn or maize, and alfalfa. There are other crops that are grown for commercial purposes like sweet potatoes which are resistant to viruses.
These can be used as an additional surplus to most of the Africans continent harvest. Rice rich in iron and vitamins that decimate chronic malnutrition in Asian countries and a variety of other crops with abilities to tolerant extreme conditions can also planted (U. S Department of Energy office of science, 2008). Scientists responsible for genetically modifying foods have promised meeting the 21st century greatest challenge towards curbing the food shortages throughout the world but just like all other scientists, they face challenges trying to convince the world that these crops are for the good, genetically modified foods have set backs both positive and negative the ones known and unknown.
The controversies surrounding GM foods and crops focus mostly on human and environmental safety, labeling and consumer preference, intellectual property rights, matters to deal with ethics, food security, poverty eradication and reduction and environmental conservation. An example of such body that wants to ensure the safety of the GM products is FDA (Federal food Drug authority) that evaluates the process of bioengineered plants so as to ensure the safety of new products and also allow the use new food products and its use ( Maryanski,2009). I would be glad to point out the benefits and the negative impacts of GM products.
GM Products: Benefits and Controversies
According to Science Daily (2010) many farmers in the U. S who grow genetically modified crops are experiencing substantial economic and environmental improvements. These includes; lower costs of production, limited pests infestation thus reducing the cost of buying pesticide, and improved crop production compared to the crop that are not genetically engineered.. Many American farmers are enjoying high profit margins because of using genetically modified seedlings; through this they are able to reduce environmental impacts while in the farm and off the farm. Environmental benefits are realized because the water quality improved due to less insecticide and herbicide use that attach in water ways and soil especially after being sprayed in the farms. Moreover, farmers who grow herbicide resistant plants less often to control weeds are able practice conservation tillage which improves the quality of soil, water filtration and reduces erosion since the soil is not lose to be swept away easily during the rainy seasons. However there is no laid down infrastructure to track and analyze the effects of genetically modified products on water quality. The world population is doubling in the years to come.
GM foods promise to meet these needs in a number of ways:
- Pest resistance- crop losses from insect pests is a major problem leading to financial challenges for farmers and starvation in the third world countries, foods that have been treated with pesticides may also be harmful to the human health and a run-off of agricultural waste from the use of pesticides may poison water thus causing harm to man and the environment. The growing methods of GM foods such as B.t can help eliminate pesticide
- Herbicide tolerance for some crops, it can be very cost effective by not removing weeds through the conventional methods such as tilling especially most farmers will spray a lot of herbicides to kill weeds which is a time consuming exercise and expensive process taking in mind that these herbicides could have negative impacts to humans and the environment as well. Genetically engineered crops that have been developed with traits to tolerate herbicides may be found to be cost effective economically and the environment too may not be exposed to these waste that may be harmful.
- Disease tolerance where by the GM foods engineers are working to develop or create plants with genetically-engineered resistance organisms to viruses, fungi and bacteria.
- Drought tolerance where the crops are able to thrive in areas unsuited for plant cultivation like places where the rains are short like arid and semi arid areas
- Cold resistance- extreme coldness is not good to plants as this kills the micro-organisms responsible to help crops germinate for instance unexpected frost can destroy sensitive seedlings. An anti frost gene from cold water fish has been developed for plats like tobacco and potatoes, the anti frost gene is able to tolerate cold temperatures that normally unmodified seeds.
- Nutrition especially these crops can alleviate malnutrition in Third World countries where people are extremely impoverished and survive by just a single meal to see another day such as rice as the main staple food. Rice contains starch; therefore it does not contain all the necessary nutrients to prevent malnutrition but if it can be genetically engineered to contain additional nutrients that mean the problem of malnutrition will be solved. According to Whitman, D. Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Institute of Plant Sciences have created a strain of “golden” rice that contains a high content of beta-carotene which is vitamin A13.
- Pharmaceuticals-the cost of medicine and vaccine production are often costly to produce and mostly require special storage condition that may not be available in the developing countries. But through GM crops researchers are working to produce edible vaccines in tomatoes and which will not pose great risks for instance in transportation like shipping them to third world countries, this includes storage and the process of administering like the inject able vaccines
- Phytomediation- this is a process of trying to clean up heavy metal pollution from the contaminated soil by developing genetically modified plants or crops that can clean up the environment. Other benefits that have been noted include;
- Farmers who have adopted the use of genetically modified crops enjoy lower costs of production and higher yields in most cases, because of the lower cost experienced in insects and weed control and fewer insect damage, these farmers gain more economic benefits. According to Daily Science (2010) the high costs realized from the genetically modified seeds are not obviously offset financially by lower production costs or higher harvests. For instance farmers in areas infested with fewer insects and weed problems may not have much improvement in terms of reducing crop losses. None the less, research shows that farmers would value greater flexibility in spraying pesticides that these crops provides, among o0ther benefits there is increased safety to their workers due to reduced exposure to pesticides that may be harmful.
- Although farmers have expressed high preference towards crops that are genetically modified, they have been adversely affected by propriety patent-protection terms involved in genetically modified seeds by the U.S market seed authority making the buying of conventional seeds even harder or those that have specific GE traits . However, with the exception of consolidation, there are other effects experienced from the genetically modified crops on social factors of farming, these include labor farm infrastructure and community viability. However, the range of effects on GE crops should be determined; this should examine the impacts on industries that rely on GE products.
- Among the limitations to be discussed are for instance the safety of the humans and the health impacts, this includes the allergens, transfer of antibiotic resistance markers and other unknown effects that may be directed to mankind which have not been researched, as regards to safety there are also environmental impacts caused due unintended transfer of transgenic organisms through cross-pollination, other impacts are to the soil microbes and the loss of the flora and fauna biodiversity.
- Accessing and intellectual property is also a controversy due to the domination in the world food industry by a few companies thus hindering the diversity thus increasing to dependence on industrialized nations by developing countries leading to bio-piracy where by other companies will compete to produce similar products that are substandard or foreign exploitation of natural resources.
- About matters concerning ethics, the major disputes are related to violation of natural organism’s intrinsic values that is caused due to the transfer of gene that have some specific traits to original or conventional crops which in turn tempers with the nature by mixing genes among different species. It is also not ethical to consuming animal genes or the other way round which is totally against nature which can be stressful especially to animals.
- Another limitation is labeling which is not mandatory in some countries for instance the United States which may lead to mixing of GM crops with non-GM products which confounds with the labeling attempts.
Genetically modified crops have limitations in regards to resistance to insect, according to a report produced by Daily science, (2010). Two types of insects have developed resistance to Bt, due to this there has been a few economic and agronomic consequences, These means that practice to pest reduction has not stopped this calls for farmers grow or plant conventional crops alongside genetically modified plants in areas where these type of insects are. Even more there are genetically engineered crops that have developed resistance to herbicides (glyphosate which is the main component in weed killing leading to more weed more weed problems as with time due to mutation, these plants become resistant to glyphosate unless the farmers use or introduce weed and insect management practices. Other limitations of genetically modified crops facing the production of genetically modified crops are for example the government not being supportive to research institutions by helping them to develop GE traits that could be able to deliver valuable public benefits by providing few market incentives for private sectors to develop. Examples include crops with less likelihood of producing off-farm water pollution or plants that are resistant to changing climatic conditions. These will increase food for the growing population.
Genetically modified foods have the capacity to solve the world’s many hunger problems and alleviate malnutrition; GM crops can also protect the environment from harmful chemicals produced from the use of pesticides and herbicides. Though most governments face very many challenges, it is the duty of the government to regulate measures governing especially areas like ensuring the safety of these crops by for instance safety testing, international policy and food labeling. Most individuals, researchers and other non governmental bodies feel that genetically modified crops is the future we cannot be able to avoid considering the immense benefits that can be achieved. However we must approach all these with a lot of care to avoid causing unintended harm to humans and the environment as a result of being carried away by the desire of embracing this new technology.