Genetically modified foods (GMF) are types of crops and plants created by modifying the DNA of other foods using molecular biology techniques. The molecular biology techniques have replaced the traditional plant enhancement technique of breeding. Genetic modification is done to improve the traits of the crops to the desired level such as improved nutritional value. “Genetic engineering is more efficient as compared to traditional modification through breeding, in that it can produce a plant with intended characteristic fast and with accuracy while breeding takes time and inaccurate” (Deborah). Genetic modification involves the transfer of genes from one plant to another.
- Reasons: technology is changing every now and then and utilization of available technology has proved beneficial to society. Genetic engineering is a recent molecular biology technique that assists in the development and enhancement of crops and plants. “We can not stop the introduction of technology or its integration into human operation especially when is going to change life for the better” (Raney and Prabhu). Either we cannot ignore technology with marvelous benefit to the society. The world today is driven by technological and technology which is changing the way we used to see things.
The world population is now close to 6 billion people and is expected to grow further. Advocates of genetically modified foods hold that the natural crops cannot provide enough food to feed the ever-growing population and hence the need for alternative crops. GMF advocators believe that GMF has the ability to solve the problem of future food shortages. Genetically modified foods have enhanced nutritional value, take a short time to mature, and are resistant to adverse weather conditions. With increased nutritional value many malnutrition problems will be solved in the future: Malnutrition diseases will be a thing of the past. GMF produces high yields and takes a shorter period of time to mature hence will contribute much to reducing the world’s hunger. Natural crops produce less yield and take a long time before harvesting resulting in shortages of food in the past.
Currently, we are experiencing adverse climatic changes caused by global warming as a result of human activities. The level of rainfall received in many places has reduced drastically and rains seasons have changed. Also, there is intense sunlight penetrating onto the earth’s surface due to the distraction of the ozone layer. Pronged drought caused by these conditions has reduced natural crops productivity resulting in hunger. GMF will provide a solution to these problems because they can withstand all kinds of climatic conditions.
- Grounds: why should we believe genetically modified foods will solve the world’s hunger? There is a number of ways by which GMF promises to eliminate this problem.
- One, GM foods are pest resistant: Over year crops have failed from pests resulting in financial losses to farmers and hunger in third world countries. Farmers have been a force to use huge finances to purchase pesticides every now and then. Some of these pesticides are too toxic and cause health hazards to the consumer. Adopting GM foods will reduce the cost of production as well as environmental hazards.
- Herbicide tolerance: traditionally we remove weed through tilling. There are plants that cannot be weeded by tilling which require farmers to use huge quantities of herbicides to remove weeds. The process is expensive and takes a lot of time and if care is not taken the herbicides harm the environment and the crop. Uses of genetically modified foods that are resistant to very strong herbicides could assist prevent environmental harm by scaling down the number of herbicides used. An example is “modified Soya beans that are not affected by herbicides” (Deborah).
- Diseases resistance: crop and plant diseases are caused by fungi, viruses, and bacterial. Biotechnologists are in process of creating crops that are genetically modified to resists such diseases.
- Cold tolerance: some crops can not withstand adverse cold conditions such as frost which destroys seedlings. Genes from aquatic organisms have been introduced to farm crops and plants. These genes have enabled crops to withstand frost which normally damages natural crops.
- Drought tolerance: some lands are unfavorable in the production of crops due to water shortages. As the population expands, these lands will be used in the future. Genetically engineered crops are able to tolerate long periods of drought hence utilizing areas that were unutilized.
- Improved nutrition and crop varieties: traditionally especially in developing nations communities have over-relied on cereals as staple foods. With genetic engineering, more varieties with increased nutrition will be introduced to farmers.
- Warrants: in order to protect the anti-GM foods groups, the “regulatory process to monitor the effects and approve new varieties has been established by the government around the world” (Boes). In Japan, the ministry of health has made compulsory health testing for genetically modified foods. Governments have demanded the manufacturers of genetically modified foods label them. Disease caused by GM foods has caused consumer scare in Europe. As result governments have required all GM foods to be labeled to protect consumers. In the US the government has formed three different bodies to control the spread of genetically modified foods. Environmental protection agency (EAP) ensures GM foods are environmentally friendly, food and drug administration ensures the GM foods are safe for consumption and USDA ensures that the GM foods are safe to grow.
- Backing: some countries have supported the adoption of GM foods while others have rejected it. “Thirteen countries by 2000 had grown and consumed genetically modified foods with the US producing the majority” (consumer security administration). Pother countries that grow GM foods include china, Canada, Mexico, Germany, Spain, and South Africa. Soya beans and corn are the widely grown crops accounting for 82 percent of GM foods. Some countries such as Brazil have banned genetically modified foods into the country.
- Rebuttal: although GM foods have considerable benefits they have been criticizing in the following ways:
Causes harm to suspected organisms: “a corn variety B.t is said to kill caterpillars that feed on weeds. There is a risk that some pests will become resistance to the GM foods as many insects have become resistant to pesticides” (Pusztai). The problem of the transfer of genes to non-target species may arise in the process of engineering the crops. For example, crops intended for herbicide tolerance and weeds may crossbreed, causing the transfer of herbicides resisting genes into the weeds. The resulting weeds may become herbicide tolerant.
Risks on human health
- Allergy: “allergy to some foods is common in the US and hence the development of GM foods may bring new allergies or cause allergic reactions to people” (Pusztai).
- Other effects: people fear that GM foods will impact people’s health negatively as genes are transpired from one organism to another. Therefore proper testing should be done on GM foods to make sure that they do not cause harm to human health.
The development and introduction of GM foods is an expensive process and many plants require making profits. “Farmers believe that these GM foods will have high prices such that some will not be able to buy them hence increasing the gap between the rich and the poor” (McHughen).
There is the possibility that GM foods will minimize the world’s food shortages and reduce malnutrition across the globe while protecting the environment for sustainable development. Although there are challenges such as in areas of human safety and international policy, many people feel that we should not ignore this beneficial technology.
- Deborah B. Whitman. 2000. Genetically Modified Foods: Harmful or Helpful?
- Pusztai, Arpad Dr. Safety of genetically modified food questioned: Interview with gene scientist. Web.
- Consumer Security Agency. EC says 1% is acceptable GMO contamination (Nature Biotechnology, 1999: 1155-1156
- Boes, genetically modified foods: mandatory labeling and the specter of fear. McHughen, A. Pandora. The Potential and Hazards of Genetically Modified Foods, Oxford University Press, 2000
- Raney, Terri, and Prahbu Pingali. (2007) “Sowing a Gene Revolution.” Scientific American.