Biomedical Aspects of Genetically Modified Foods

Genetically Modified Foods

Genetically altered foods are the foods that are made using genetically modified organisms. A genetically modified organism (GMO) refers to an organism that has its genetic composition altered through genetic engineering technologies. Examples of such organisms are GMO crops and fish. Recent developments in genetic engineering have resulted to evolution of organisms with a more specific genetic composition. Before the dawn of this gene altering strategy, researchers relied on mutagenesis in changing the genetic composition of organisms. Mutagenesis does not result to particular genetic changes. On the contrary, GM Science Review (2003, p.9) confirms that the application of GMOs produces organisms with a unique genetic composition as opposed to the use of mutagenesis. Genetic modified foods are developed through selective reproduction especially in plant breeding, soma clonal variation, and animal propagation. The purpose of engaging genetically modified foods is to increase the production of more nutrients, resistance to pathogens, increase the speed of growth, and even enable an organism adapt adverse weather conditions. Genetically modified organisms have been successfully used in transgenic plants like rice, conola, corn, cottonseed oil, and even soybeans. Genetically customised foods that come from genetically modified plants are made through cisgenesis and transgenesis processes. In transgenesis propagation, researchers insert transgenic genes derived from other species into plants belonging to different species. According to Deborah (2008, p. 1), cisgenic plant modification is important especially in crops that are not easy to crossbreed using the conventional methods. Deborah also points out that plants that are in the cisgenic group do not require equal levels of lawful regulations as compared to other GMOs. In cisgenic breeding, researchers use genes from closely related plants or plants of the same family. In such plants, conventional plant breeding can occur freely. Genetically modified foods are first made in the laboratories. Researchers do this by altering the genetic composition of an organism followed by carrying out a test on it for the qualities they want to achieve. They use genetic engineering to add genes into the genome of a certain plant. There are various methods of doing genetic engineering in plants: through biolistic method or agrobacterium tumefaciens. These transformations are scientifically mediated. When they produce the required quality of a plant, enough seeds are then produced following approval by regulatory authorities to test the seeds in the field. When the seeds pass the field tests, the producers seek regulations to market them as products. When authority is granted the producers make mass production and distribution of the seeds to farmers in countries that allow the use of genetically modified foods. Human beings have used genetically modified foods since early 1940s. According to James (1998, p.45), genetically modified organisms began to be sold commercially by Calgene company when it marketed Flavr Savr following the earlier witnessed delay in the ripening of tomatoes.

Trend in Genetically Modified Organisms

Before 1940s, genetic engineering had not been realised. Genetically modified foods gained prominence when scientists realised the possibility of transferring DNA between various organisms in 1946. However, a clear and well-researched subject of GMO was laid in 1976 upon the recognition of the first genetically altered organism: the e-coli bacterium. The Flavr Savr transgenic tomato was finally approved in the United States’ market. In fact, genetic modification of this tomato delayed ripening after the ripe tomatoes had been picked. By 1995, many genetically modified crops had received approval in the United States. James (1996) enlists the approved crops for marketing as follows: “cotton resistant to herbicide bromoxynil, canola that had modified oil composition, Bt cotton, Bt potatoes, virus resistant squash, delayed ripening tomato, and Monsato” (p.19). Genetically modified foods gained a global outlook in their use when the golden rice was approved and produced in mass. This rice had more nutrients compared to other types of rice. According to James (2011, p.20), the United States was the leading country in genetically modified food production in 2011 having approved about 25 GMO crops for commercial production. Other countries have also approved the use of GMOs. Today various food crops have been approved as foods in the world. However, according to Andrew (2012), no genetically modified animals have been approved as human foods. The only animals that are likely to be approved soon are the genetically modified salmons. These approved genetically modified foods are used directly as foods for use by people. Some countries that have approved the use of genetically modified foods also promote their sale. In such countries, there are industries in which foods are processed into commodities for both internal and external markets. In some cases, the genetically modified foods are processed into ingredients for making other foods. Currently, various vegetables and fruits have also been genetically modified. A good example is the ring spot virus resistant papaya. It is out of genetic modification that the papaya industry in Hawaii was saved from collapsing in the 1990s. The ring spot virus was eliminated through a specific papaya breed that was engineered to resist the virus. According to Ronald (2010, p.12), 80% of papayas that are produced in Hawaii today is genetically modified. Genetic engineering has therefore played a crucial role in controlling rings spot virus since there is no other method of controlling the virus. In addition, Johnson (2008, p.9) says, by 2005, 13% of all the Zucchini that are grown in United States was also genetically modified for purposes of resisting viruses. Genetically modified organisms have also been used for production of vegetable oil. Almost all the vegetable oils that are produced in the United States are genetically modified. The oil is then sold as margarine, cooking oil, or even as shortenings for consumption by human beings. According to Crevel (2000, p.385), refining process during hydrogenation eliminates the non-triglyceride components. Genetic engineering has also been used in the manufacture of sugar in various countries of the world. In fact, James (2011, p.26) points out that 90% of sugar that is used in United States is from genetically modified sugar beet. The sugar beet has been widely adopted since it is glyphosphate resistant. Countries like Canada, Japan, Australia, and Korea have also adapted the use of genetically modified sugar beets for production of sugar. Just like the sugarcane, the sugar beets produce sugar and molasses. In addition, the pulp that comes from this process is used as feeds for animals. Sugar that results from the processed genetically modified sugar beets contains the same percentage of sucrose as that of the sugarcane-produced sugar.

Genetically Modified Organisms and Human Health

Whether GMOs have any outstanding effect of human health or not remains a puzzle to many people. However, uses of these modified foods have been blamed based on their negative effects on human health. Studies on Flavr Savr tomatoes show that these tomatoes are more of fruits and not foodstuffs. It has also been realised that their energy and protein compositions are not enough to support growing animals. The case is likely to hamper growth of young animals that are fed using tomatoes that are genetically modified. It is also not possible to know which component of the vector that is incorporated into the plant genome is harmful to human and animal health because most of the tests that are conducted on the genetically modified foods are compared with their counterparts: the natural crops. According to Burke (2004, p.432), rats that were fed with genetically modified potatoes died due to damaged gut mucosa. This report was published in 1999 after the author had announced the same on television. However, the report was highly refuted by many scientists since it did not have a firm foundation of its arguments. In addition, scientists also claimed that the author of the report had used very few rats in his experiment to have any convincing conclusion to derive. Presence of DNA that comes from foreign plants cannot be a reason enough to dismiss genetically modified foods as harmful to human health. In fact, all foods that human beings and animals consume contain RNA and DNA. A harmful effect can only occur if the protein that is released by transgene is toxic. In the process of consumption, the consumer as a host absorbs this transgene. However, according to Malarkey (2003, p.217), the safety assessment test that is recommended before allowing the use of any genetically modified food can detect the potential for toxins. Another report that was published in 1999 indicated that genetically modified maize was harmful to the larvae of butterfly. It was also claimed that the larvae that was fed on the genetically modified maize experienced a slow rate of growth. However, various long-term studies have indicated that the report was futile. The amount of maize flour that was used to dust the larvae was said to have been insignificant to cause any change. However genetically modified foods have been consumed for more than 15 years with no documented evidence of their harm to human health.

Genetically Engineering and the Environment

Genetic engineering has been more helpful to the environment. In fact, there are plants that have been genetically engineered to absorb heavy metals that are toxic and harmful to human health. This revelation indicates that genetically modified crops are more helpful to human health. Genetically modified crops are also grown alongside the natural crops. In some instances, these crops experience some relationships, which become helpful especially to the naturally occurring crops for example in eliminating harmful insects, which is a plus in environmental management. Many opponents of genetic engineering have cited gene transfer into the environment as one of the reasons why countries should not legalise the consumption and use of genetically modified organisms. With this in mind, researches have established methods that prevent gene flow from the genetically modified plants to the environment. In genetic engineering, caution is taken so that proteins that are supposed to be expressed by crops for purposes of industrial and pharmaceutical applications are not expressed. According to Mascia (2004, p.189), genetically modified crops should not express proteins that are meant for industrial and pharmaceutical purposes. To curb these cases, researchers and those that adapt the use of genetically modified foods can perform physical isolations of these plants from the rest of the crops in the environment. They can also perform genetic containment. In such cases, genetic engineered crops can be grown in green houses. Genetic containment can also be done through biotechnology, for example, the use of sterility method and genetic incompatibility method.


In conclusion, based on the revelations made in the paper, it is evident that genetic engineering has both negative and positive impacts on human and animal life. Many countries have adopted the use of genetically modified foods based on their various advantages. However, there exist controversies about genetically modified foods and health. While proponents of GMOs have come up with reasons as to why the modified foods are fit for consumption, those opposed to the foods have not been left out based on their arguments as to why there is a need for governments to ban any production of such foods. However, it is surprising that, up to date, no successful report or research has indicated that genetically modified organisms are harmful to human health. Although there may be loopholes that can allow these harmful effects to flow to the consumer, the flaws are easily eliminated during the testing for viability of GMOs. Before any regulation is made, all genetically modified foods are tested for any harm to humans and the environment. Although genetically modified foods can have some negative effects on the environment, researchers have developed methods to curb such an instance.


Andrew, P 2012, New York Times. An Entrepreneur Bankrolls a Genetically Engineered Salmon. Web.

Crevel, R 2000, ‘Allergenicity of Refined Vegetable Oils’, Food Chem Toxicol, vol. 38 no. 4, pp. 385-93.

Deborah, M 2008, ‘How the humble potato could feed the world’, New Scientist August, vol.2 no. 2667, pp. 30-33.

GM Science Review 2003, First Report, Prepared by the UK GM Science Review panel Chairman Professor Sir David King, Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK Government, Harvard Press, Harvard.

James, C 1996, Global Review of the Field Testing and Commercialisation of Transgenic Plants: 1986 to 1995: The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications. Web.

Malarkey, T 2003, ‘Human Health concerns with GM crops’, Mut Res, vol. 544 no. 1, pp.21722.

Ronald, P 2010, Genetically Engineered Distortions, The New York Times, New York.

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