Genetically Modified Food: Main Issues

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Introduction

Genetically Modified foods were for the first time marketed in 1990. Characteristically, GM foods are mostly transgenic manufactured plant products; they include “soybean, corn, canola, and cottonseed oil. Animal products have also been developed; although as of July 2010, none was on the market” (Kang, 2002). In 2006 for example, a swine was controversially modified to generate omega-3 fatty acids. This was done through the expression of roundworm genes. Researchers have gone further to develop genetically engineered pig breeds that can absorb plant-phosphorus more effectively; as a result, the phosphorus content in the pig’s manure, is decreased by about fifty percent. Technology has its own impacts; this has brought about much criticism aimed at objecting to Genetically Modified foods on several grounds. This includes potential safety concerns, ecological issues, and monetary fears brought about by the fact that the life forms are subject to intellectual property law and contamination. Therefore this paper will highlight the main issues surrounding Genetically Modified foods.

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Method and modification

“Genetically modified (GM) foods are foods derived from genetically modified organisms. Genetically modified organisms have had specific changes introduced into their DNA by genetic engineering techniques” (Kang, 2000). These methods are a great deal more specific than mutagenesis or mutation-breeding. Mutation breeding involves organism exposure to chemicals or radiation for the sole purpose of creating non-specific but stable changes. Other methods employed in modifying food organisms include, “selective breeding (plant breeding and animal breeding), and somaclonal variation” (Holmes, 2010).

Genetic alteration entails the inclusion or removal of genes. In Cisgenesis procedures for incidence, genes are synthetically relocated among life forms that could be conventionally bred. “In the process of transgenesis on the other hand, genes from a different species are inserted in an organism, which is a form of horizontal gene transfer. In nature, this can occur when exogenous DNA penetrates the cell membrane for any reason” (Holmes, 2010). To carry out these processes artificially, researchers do attach genes to viruses or they physically insert additional DNAs to nuclei of the proposed host. They do this with a tiny syringe, or with tiny elements shot from gene guns. However, further techniques utilize natural types of gene transfer. They involve “the ability of Agro Bacterium to transfer genetic material to plants and the ability of lentiviruses to transfer genes to animal cells” (Holmes, 2010).

A tomato (FlavrSavr) was the first genetically engineered food crop basically for commercial purposes. This was done by Calgene to ripen tomatoes without necessarily softening them. Calgene requested an FDA authorization in 1994 to sell its products with no special labeling. Consumers bought this product more than regular tomatoes although Calgene encountered production and shelf life setbacks. In 1996 the genetically modified tomatoes were used to produce tomato paste sold in Europe. During this time, labeling and the setting of prices were designed for the purpose of marketing, “which proved, at the time, that European consumers would accept genetically engineered foods” (Hutchison, 2010).

At present, there is a lot of food genus which have been genetically engineered. This is done as a measure to improve on the product, satisfy a certain need or enhance resistance to a certain pest or disease. Additionally, a number of genetically modified microorganisms are regularly used as enzyme sources in the manufacturing of an assortment of processed foodstuffs. Some of these are alpha-amylase derived from a bacterium that changes starch to simple sugars, chymosin derived either from bacteria/fungi which clots milk in cheese production, and pectinesterase derived from a fungus for the purpose of improving fruit-juice clarity.

Benefits of genetically modified foods

There are a number of benefits as far as genetically modified foods are concerned. First of all food crops that are genetically engineered are resistant to a variety of pests and diseases. This in turn creates economic viability in the sense that farmers do not necessarily have to use pesticides and other medicines to treat their food crops. It is again environmentally friendly because, pesticides do have detrimental effects on the environment. These products are also attractive, that is why when they hit the market they tend to sell out faster than the other regular types. Food crops can be genetically engineered to withstand drought and weeds and thus can be planted in a wider variety of areas. Research has also proved that genetically modified crops have a better yield as compared to other regular crops.

Labeling and testing

In the United States and Canada GM foods are not labeled. However, “in certain other regions, such as the European Union, Japan, Malaysia and Australia, governments have required labeling so that consumers can exercise choice between foods that have been genetically modified, conventional or organic foods” (Kang, 2000). In these countries, there is a dependable separation and labeling of GM foods from regular foods in the whole system (from production to consumption).

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“Testing on GMOs in food and feeds is routinely done using molecular techniques like DNA microarrays or qPCR” (Beilen, 2005). These tests are initiated to make sure the products are safe for human consumption. These tests show any type of detrimental effects, viruses and contamination in Genetically Modified Foods. The tests are necessary for the avoidance of forged positive/negative results.

Concern and controversy

Currently, there is a food shortage in the world. Researchers are debating on the issue of whether GM foods can be a solution to food shortage. Scientists have concluded that in order to meet food requirements in the world, GM food technology is necessary. However, some critics still insist that food shortage is not the issue but overpopulation is. They say, if the issue of overpopulation (particularly in third world countries) is addressed, we won’t need genetically modified foods. But as shown by Collier (2002) for example, “declining genetic modification makes a complicated issue more complex. Genetic Modification offers both faster crop adaptation and a biological, rather than chemical, approach to yield increases”. Additionally, so far no health risk has been identified as far as these products are concerned.

Conclusion

Research done recently by the RSM (Royal Society of Medicine) shows that Genetically Modified foods have been consumed by people over a relatively long time without any noted detrimental effect. Likewise, the National Academies of Sciences (2004) states that, “to date, no adverse health effects attributed to genetic engineering have been documented in the human population”. No epidemiological research has shown that these foods cause harm.

Therefore as shown in this paper, GM food crops are environmentally friendly, mature fast, are safe for consumption, are economically viable, can be planted where other plants can hardly survive and can be engineered to suit specific needs. So, as much as critics tend to disagree with this technology it is still viable in the current world where we are experiencing food shortage.

List of references

Beilen, V. 2005. Testing GM foods. Food chem, 3 (12), pp. 28-56.

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Collier, P. 2002. Food shortage and the introduction of Genetically Modified Foods. Ivy spring international publishers.

Holmes, B. 2010. Genetic breeding. New scientist press.

Hutchison, W. 2010. Adoption of Genetically Modified products. Economic impacts of transgenic crops, 14 (1) pp. 78-83.

Kang, J. 2000. Genetically Modified foods. Nature biotechnology, 8(2), pp. 382- 397.

National Academies of Sciences. 2004. GM foods. International journal on Genetically Modified foods, 5(3), pp. 113-127.

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