Introduction Opener: What are genetically modified foods (GMF)? Thesis statement: Genetically modified foods have both benefits as well as dangers to human health, the environment, and economy. Genetically modified foods have contributed to better foods in terms of food quality and human health. * higher nutritional value and better flavour * increased shelf life Genetically modified foods or organisms advocates enhanced farming techniques in terms of being environmentally friendly. * inbuilt resistance to pests, weeds, and disease.
* more capable of surviving in poor soil or adverse climates Genetically modified foods are produced more economically thus has an impact on the global economy today. * more economical to farmers in terms of production and supply Some GM foods may potentially lead to new diseases and allergies affecting human * health. * modified to be resistant to antibiotics * may put consumers at risk for surprising allergic reactions Some concerns are that genetically modified foods may lead to environmental hazards.
* gene transfer to non-targeted species can cause ecological problems * undesirable impact on biodiversity Genetically modified food is young untested technology that can cause major economic problems if not handled well. * patent infringement costs involving genetic modification * end of food diversity Conclusion The Benefits and Dangers of Genetically Modified Foods In the near future, kids may soon have the option to not eat their vegetables! The reason being, genetically modified foods have emerged from science labs quickly making their way to the dinner table.
Firstly, what are genetically modified foods (GMFs)? Genetically modified (GM) foods are simply put foods that have had their DNA directly manipulated via genetic engineering also known as biotechnology. It uses recombinant DNA, where two or more genetic sequences are combined in a way that would not ordinarily happen in nature. Genetic engineers take DNA from a plant or animal and transfer it to crops through a range of techniques, which will ultimately give crops new or improved qualities.
Genetic engineering, gene therapy, and cloning, are all possible because a scientist named James D. Watson paved the way for the molecular revolution in biology (Cullen, 2006, p. 144). Genetically modified organisms are used in biological and medical research, gene therapy and agriculture. The public is probably the most familiar with genetically modified organisms in the form of crops and foods (National Geographic, 2012). Some examples crops that have been genetically modified are maize(corn), rice, wheat, potato, soybean, tomatoes and cotton.
Genetic engineering has been a topic of controversial debate for many years and will continue to be debated for years to come. It has been proven that genetically modified foods offer a variety of benefits. That being said, everything has a down side to it though we as consumers may not be aware of it. Hence, genetically modified foods have both benefits as well as dangers to human health, the environment, and economy Firstly, genetically modified foods are proven to have higher nutritional value and better flavor.
They can also be manipulated to contain nutrients that help fight malnutrition. For example, blindness due to lack of Vitamin A is a common problem in third world countries. Whitman’s (2000) article states that researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Institute for Plant Sciences have created a strain of “golden” rice containing high content of beta-carotene (vitamin A)13. Since Rockefeller Foundation14, a non-profit organization funded this rice; they hope to offer the golden rice seed free to any third world country that requests it.
However, this argument is refuted when press release from Greenpeace in February 2001 announced golden rice as “fool’s gold” and said that the plant produced so small amounts of beta-carotene that a person would have to eat nine kilograms of cooked rice a day to obtain the minimum recommended daily allowance of vitamin A as stated by Yount (2006). Secondly, increased shelf life of genetically modified foods will enable it to be shipped to distant locations and cut costs as well as minimize waste to consumers.
These foods are modified to be pesticide and herbicide tolerant, resulting in less use of chemical sprays; reducing soil contamination and pollution. In addition, genetically modified crops are more resilient, weather tolerant and capable of surviving in adverse climates such as droughts and extremely cold weather (Whitman, 2000). Last but not least, Whitman (2000) also states genetically modified crops are more economical especially to farmers in third world countries because they have higher crop yields in lesser time enabling them to satisfy the high demand for food.
Genetically modified crops also take up very little land to grow improving profits for farmers. Because they grow in such short time, the demand for more food in starving countries is more easily satisfied at a lower cost. However, due to the unknown nature of genetically modified foods, it may lead to harmful effects to human health such as harmful diseases and new allergies. It has been argued that the adverse effects of genetically modified foods cannot be predicted but only discovered through future consequences.
Genetically modified foods may contain genes that are immune to antibiotics which may transfer to consumers; which will lead to ineffective antibiotic treatments. Most importantly, 100% safety of genetically modified foods cannot be guaranteed as normal toxicology tests do not work on them (Giorgio, 2008). Besides that, Betancourt (2011) noted that some people are worried that genetically manipulating foods puts consumers at risk for surprising allergic reactions. Because genes from different species can be transferred and exchanged, unexpected sources may contain allergens.
To illustrate, a person who is allergic to eggs can have a different reaction to a completely different genetically modified food that has been engineered from eggs. Thus there is good reason to believe that new and more dangerous allergies may surface from genetic modification. Next, there is a rising concern that genetically modified foods may lead to major environmental hazards such as gene transfers to non-target species and the negative impact on biodiversity. Some are stressing the fact that genetically modified crops that are herbicide and pesticide resistant may pollinate with weeds; giving rise to “super” weeds and “super” pests.
Giorgio (2008) states that this would be catastrophic as newer, stronger pesticide sprays would have to be developed to counter them. This would increase soil and water pollution, something genetically modified plants are supposed to hinder. In addition, genetically modified crops may cross breed with non-genetically modified crops resulting in issues with patent rights. Following that, there is a negative impact on biodiversity when the number of organisms in the ecosystem is reduced as well as their interactions. The gross areas of genetically identical crops will tip the balance of nature and wildlife, and disrupt surrounding ecosystems.
Wild plants up to miles away can be pollinated via wind-blown pollen. Some genetically modified plants may even be toxic to certain insects. Take for example, B. t. corn and the Monarch butterfly. Studies showed that pollen from B. t. corn caused high mortality rates in monarch butterfly caterpillars. Another concern is that genetically modified foods could impact the organic foods industry. This is why environmental agencies closely monitor their use. Since bees are used to pollinate crops, there is also some suggestion that genetically modified crops may affect organic farming (Whitman, 2000).
Genetically modified food is a young and relatively untested technology which can lead to major global economy problems if not handled well. Some people even claim that biotechnology is profit-driven rather than science-driven (National Geographic, 2012). One example of this is patent infringements imposed involving genetic modification. Bringing a genetically modified food to market is a long and costly process. Many new genetically modified foods and plants have been patented as biotech companies wish to ensure a profitable return on their investment. This results in the shift of power in the industry from agriculture to biotechnology.
Consumer advocates are worried that biotech companies who are patenting these new plant varieties will raise the price of seeds so high that small farmers and third world countries will not be able to afford seeds for genetically modified crops, thus widening the gap between the wealthy and the poor (Whitman, 2000). To add, patent enforcement is hard as these genetically modified plants may pollinate neighboring farms. Hence, biotech companies may accuse these farmers of patent infringement and sue them. Patent enforcement can also cause farmers in third world countries to become dependent on successful biotech companies for seeds.
This is because genetically modified plant seeds grow faster and have higher yield which is desirable in third world countries where there is not enough food. These plants would produce sterile seeds that do not germinate and be usable for only one growing season. A fresh supply of seeds would have to be bought each year. However, this would be financially unfeasible for farmers in third world countries who do not have the means to buy seed each year (Whitman, 2000). Besides causing high infringement causes resulting in unfair balance of economy, genetically modified foods may end food diversity in the future.
At the rate the biotechnology industry is growing, soon everyone may be growing the same standardized crops. This may very well lead to decreasing richness of food and variety. Imagine a world where all countries serve the same food and there are no cultural differences in terms of food and drink (Panse, 2011). In conclusion, although genetically modified foods and crops have huge benefits that may lead to solving world hunger due to the lesser production costs and increased crop yields, the dangers far outweigh them; risks and hazards that are related to it may affect human health, environment and society in the long run.
Some people even view the technology as unacceptable meddling with biological states and processes that have evolved naturally over long periods of time. Opposition is especially strong in Europe where genetically modified foods are called Frankenfoods because people fear that genetic engineers, like the scientist in Frankenstein, in Mary Shelley’s novel have created monsters (Yount, 2006, p. 147). In my opinion, the advantages of biotechnology prominent now are only short term, consumers should be aware of what they are eating and the health risks they are taking when consuming genetically modified foods.
Last but not least, the correct labeling of genetically modified foods should be mandatory in all countries. So that the people have the right to decide for themselves whether or not to consume genetically engineered foods. Strict government controls should be implemented to regulate the planting of genetic crops, especially in third world countries. Investigations into biotech companies who manufacture genetically modified foods should be made prior to approving any product that will be released to check for health safety.
In addition, all biotechnology companies should develop a strong ethical sense of responsibility and think towards the future well-being of society in the long run instead of simply satisfying needs in the present.
References Betancourt, L. (2011). GM foods advantages and disadvantages. Retrieved from http://www. livestrong. com/article/422846-gm-foods-advantages-disadvantages/ Cullen, K. (2006). Biology: The people behind the science. New York, NY: Chelsea House. Giorgio, V. (2008). Genetically modified food. Retrieved from http://scienceray.com/technology/applied-science/genetically-modified-food/ National Geographic. (2012). 100 scientific discoveries that changed the world:
Genetically modified organisms. Special publication, pp. 52-53. Panse, S. (2011). The Advantages and Disadvantages of Genetically Modified Food. Retrieved from http://www. brighthub. com/science/genetics/articles/23358. aspx#secn_3 Whitman, D. (2000). Genetically modified foods: harmful or helpful? Retrieved from http://www. csa. com/discoveryguides/gmfood/overview. php Yount, L. (2006). Modern Genetics: Engineering life. New York, NY: Chelsea House.