What are GMO Foods?
Food is among the basic needs of a human being. For a long time, people have conducted research on how to improve food production as well as food safety. Among the researches for the improvement of food production, the scientists have ventured into a realm of production in which they produce artificially modified foods referred to as Genetically Modified Foods that are classified under Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). The introduction of such foods has been met with a lot of upheaval by many people, especially in the religious and political segments and the general public as well. In some countries, the foods have been accepted with no controversies. To balance between the two sides (accepting and objecting sides) governments have set up regulations to control the production and the sale of GMOs. For instance, regulatory measures have been established in varying places with the aim of letting the consumers know what they are consuming while in other regions such labeling is considered unnecessary. Based on all these issues relating to the GMOs, this paper will explore the issue of GMOs with a specific focus on the major controversies and issues surrounding the GMOs especially regarding their safety in terms of consumption.
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), are among the most controversial products of the current biotechnology (Catacora-Vargas 6). By definition, GMOs can be identified as the type of foods that have been altered through an internal addition of genes thus modifying their internal structure. This modification enhances their shape, color, size, or even their general mode of growth. Consequently, the foods characteristics are changed and enhanced (Washington State Department of Health 1).
The essence of modifying the gene is to enable the development of a novel species that has a given array of favorable characteristics. For instance, the food’s growth may be enhanced by the introduction of a gene that is characterized by fast growth. Other reasons for genetically modifying a food substance, a drug or a pesticide for that matter would be to make them more disease, drought, toxins resistant; to add a nutrient or remove an unwanted constituent such as an allergen from the modified species (fortification). For example, the addition of beta-carotene in Golden Rice is intended to add vitamin A. Another example is the enhancement of preservation characteristics in cosmetics e.g. the Arctic Apple (Center for Ecogenetics and Environmental Health 1). The foreign gene may be derived from plants, viruses, animals and bacteria to add certain characteristics to these foods. The modified foods could be animal products, fruits or vegetables. For instance, the cotton oil, corn, canola and soybean foods have been subjected to some genetic modification or engineering technology in countries like the USA. It should however be noted that the GMOs are not limited to foods only but also include other farming products such as the pesticides, herbicides and other drugs.
The major controversy surrounding the GMOs is whether or not they are safe for eating. Considering that the foods date back to the mid- ‘90s in America, the GMOs can be assumed to be safe for consumption (Washington State Department of Health 1). However, there have been many health effects associated with the consumption of GMOs. For instance, the GMOs are highly linked to allergenic reactions to some individuals. As an example, the genetically modified soybeans were once considered to cause allergenic reactions on some consumers in Brazil. These reactions resulted from the fact that the beans were modified using Methionine which is a major allergen found in nuts. Therefore, those allergic reactions from nuts were susceptible to allergies from the soybeans. In other medical cases, the GMOs were said to be carcinogenic. They were considered to cause reproductive and gastrointestinal harms on the humans. Some researches link the GMOs to some chronic disorders such as autism and even accelerated aging. The scientists also lack certainty on the long-term effects the GMOs pose to human health as well as the environment. They question the possibility of just introducing a new strain of food into the food chain without having any side effects which is a matter they say requires much research.
As already hinted out, the GMOs are not only associated with foods but also with other farm products such as pesticides. For example, the RoundUpReady herbicide and the Bt corn pesticides have been developed to enhance agricultural growth. However, both products have been seen to pose serious threats to the environment; based on the fact that they have been seen to affect other non-target species such as the Monarch butterfly. Further, they have been associated with having grave effects on the amphibians especially at the endocrine and the embryonic stage. In other words, the GMOs may be developed to bring advantageous characteristics to the target species but may also breed severe long-run effects on the non-target species. On a broader basis, the GMOs are associated with other environmentally harmful effects. They are related to decreasing the number of plants and organisms within the ecosystem besides the pollution of the environment regarding the soil and water pollution.
Other researchers have gone beyond presenting the major effects on the environment and the human health to determining the socioeconomic impacts the GMOs have. For instance, the production of GMOs is associated with the tension between the GMO producers and the non-producers (Catacora-Vargas 6). In other cases, the production of the GMOs may be fast in yielding produce than the normal products. In this case, the GMOs may alter the market prices and patterns of production which alter the social and economic status for the non-GM producers greatly. The food sovereignty is also altered since some of the farmers and the consumers tend to rely heavily on the production of GMOs than the original food products (Assouline and Stockelova 5). The other major socio-economic problem associated with the GMO production is the stringent and varying GMO legalities within varying localities. That is, the production is much restricted in some countries than it is in others.
The uncertainties about the effects of GMOs and the evidence behind the negative effects of the GMOs call for regulation efforts on the production and sale of these products. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which regulates GMOs with regards to the environment; the Food and Drug Agency (FDA), which regulates the GMOs with regards to human consumption; and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), which regulates the GMOs with regard to agricultural production, are the primary regulating bodies of the GMOs, especially since they are highly produced in the USA (Center for Ecogenetics and Environmental Health 2). The regulation however is majorly aimed at portraying the message that the GMOs are not less safe than other food substances. For instance, the FDA uses the “substantial equivalence” notion to regulate the GMOs which is based on the idea that the GMOs are to a greater percentage similar to their original food versions. Consequently, they have no marked difference in terms of safety as compared to their unmodified versions. To ensure the similarity criteria is observed, the FDA only require the labeling of the GMOs whose modification has resulted in a high degree of modification from the original food species. Further, the FDA requires the GMO foods with possible allergic reactions to be labeled as containing the allergens. In other words, the FDA empowers the freedom of labeling otherwise called the voluntary labeling of the GMO products (The Law Library of Congress 220).
To sum it all up, the use of GMOs has become a common practice in the current world. As is evident from all that has been presented, there still are a lot of uncertainties on what effects, especially the long-term effects that the GMO products hold on the humans as well as the environment. Evidently, though, the uncertainties and the negative impacts associated with the GMO outweigh the positivity. Albeit that fact, regulating bodies such as the FDA which are in the top position of regulating food and drugs globally do not demolish the use, production or sale of GMOs. For this reason, the GMOs are not so highly questioned. Nevertheless, there need to be extensive studies on the effects of the GMOs to the humans and the environment so as to establish how safe and how much regulations should be enacted with regard to the GMOs. Only then will the suitability of GMOs be made clear to everyone.
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