GMOs in the Food Supply

Published: 2019-11-11 09:00:00
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Genetically modified organisms, commonly abbreviated as - GMOs, are microorganisms, animals, plants, or any other organisms whose genetic makeups have been scientifically modified or altered through the combination of DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid). The DNA combination can be in many diverse methods, which include transgenic technology method, gene modification, or gene splicing. This fairly new biological engineering, which is merely two decades old, introduces both stable and unstable combination of animal, plant, viral and bacterial genes that have never occurred in nature. Genetic modification can also be done through the traditional methods of crossbreeding. However, every new technological innovation that comes with a heap of benefits must always be accompanied with certain risk factors as well (Allison & Palma, 2001). Since it comes with both positive and negative impacts on the global health and economy, there have been heated debates on regulatory issues, which are intended at making wise decisions on whether the risks of this newly praised GM technology will outweigh its anticipated benefits or not. This paper thereby provides a deeper insight on both positive and negative impacts that have surfaced due to the debated concerns.

Starting with the widely spoken concerns of the technologys controversies or negative impacts, the GM technology has been termed to come along with both short-term and long-term negative influence on the human health and environment (Butler & Reichhardt, 1999). Genetic engineering has also resulted into the emergent of untargeted species with unexpected resistance, which could be hazardous both to the environment and human health. Considering the adverse environmental effects, the GM crops may potentially introduce environmental issues that directly result from the first-generation engineered traits. For example, the engineered genes may introduce a unique and untargeted crop species, which may later become toxic and invasive to the wildlife. This impact may destroy the wilds biodiversity, hence a destruction to the entire environment (Allison & Palma, 2001). A number of researches on the adverse influences of GM technology have also found out that the technology is coined to certain risks to the normal farmers and organic farmers both in the developed and developing countries. Another problem is the evolution and emergence of resistant weeds and resistant pests (commonly termed as super-weeds and superbugs respectively). If this resistant organisms persist, then there could be an evolution of highly resistant insects, pests, viruses, bacteria, parasites, or weeds in the near future, which might one day act to wipe a big portion of the human population, plants and animals from the surface of the earth (Burks & Fuchs, 2005).

Picking on the health concerns or risks as one of the majorly debated controversy against the GM technology, a number of studies have revealed that genetically engineered foods or crops are inherently unsafe for human consumption (Zilberman, 2014). To begin with, the major health related risks linked to the GM products are centrally portrayed as allergens, toxins, and genetic vulnerabilities or hazards. In gene splicing between species, there have been a number of cases where consumers develop unintended allergic reactions that may lead to long-term ailments and ultimately, dead. Newly modified proteins can be synthesized in a way produces unexpected allergic effects. For instance, according to Butler and Reichhardt (1999), the genetically modified bean plants that were targeted at increasing methionine and cysteine contents were immaturely discarded upon the discovery that the resultant transgene protein was extremely allergic. Zilberman (2014) thereby warns that due attention must be taken when dealing with the GE foods that contain genes from commonly allergic foods such as eggs, milk, wheat, nuts, fish, legumes, crustacean, and molluscs.

A research aimed at analyzing the impacts of GE foods/crops on mammalian health associated three varieties of corn to organ failures in rats that were used to represent the humans. Led by Seralini Gilles-Eric of the University of Caen (in France), the researchers discovered new side effects of GE corn consumption, which were dose and sex dependent. These dangerous side effects were associated to the liver and kidney ailments, while other side effects were related to the adrenal glands, heart, hematopoietic and the spleen system. Another related research on animal toxicology studies from Greece indicated that GE foods could as well have toxic pancreatic, hepatic, reproductive, and renal effects to humans (Burks & Fuchs, 2005). The study also suggested that increasing employment of recombinant-growth hormones and related expressions in animals ought to be re-examined as it was exhibited to upsurge IGF-1, which promotes the development of cancer.

On the other extreme end, Clive (2011) argues that regardless of the immense restrictions imposed on GE technologies, the first and second generation GMOs have introduced conspicuous positive differences. For example, a wide range of pest control methods have now been adopted in Canada, U.S., Argentina, Brazil, Europe, and some parts the African and Asian continents, through the utilization of soybeans, corns, papaya, and rapeseeds (Langer, 2015). A vast portion of the Chinese and Indian agricultural production now heavily rely on the GMOs for the production of cotton, which feeds the intensive textile industry that exports their products to other developing economies. Burks and Fuchs (2005) thereby conclude that the incorporation of GMOs into the contemporary human society could help ease the rising land/water competition issues and also help minimize the greenhouse gas emissions.

Arguing in favor of the genetically modified foods/crops and technology, Zilberman (2014) supports that this new technology has become an essential tool that assists in addressing the emerging challenges in food supply or food security. He asserts that genetic engineering is the only available way forward in feeding the ever growing and prosperous worlds population, and as well, it could help improve the global living standards both for the current and future generations. In a related context, Langer (2015) also unveils his concerns in favor of the GM technology by stating that the high costs and related uncertainties on the GMOs regulations have directly or indirectly slowed down the rate of new innovations. This has barred several companies and higher learning institutions from coming up with second or third generation varieties, which could absolutely improve the well-being of worlds population. Genetic food engineering could also help improve environmental sustainability and introduce new solutions for addressing the current challenges arising from climatic changes.

As elicited by Hamer and Scuse (2014), there are approximately 30 countries worldwide that almost entirely rely on the GM applications, covering up to approximately 400 million acres, all meant aiming at boosting their agricultural produce that can be sufficient to feed the growing population. As well, there have been several cases of food scarcity in many developing countries due to the ever growing human population. The only way forward could thereby be the prioritization of GE in the modern agricultural activities. This would help boost the volumes of agricultural produce since the GE introduces both crops and domestic animals that are averagely resilient to the changing harsh climatic conditions (Zilberman, 2014). They can thereby survive even in the worst environmental conditions, hence maximizing the production. I thereby conclude that the GE technology, even though still at its infancy, must be given a very close attention since it comes with both positive (beneficial) and negative (risky) impacts, some of which are still under research and debates.

References

Allison, S. & Palma, P. M. (2001). Commercialization of transgenic plants: Potential ecological risks. Bio-Science, 47; 8696.

Burks, A. W. & Fuchs, R. L. (2005). Assessment of the endogenous allergens in glyphosate-tolerant and commercial GMO varieties. J Allergy Clin Immunol, 96; 108110.

Butler, T. & Reichhardt, T. (1999). Long-term effects of GM crops serves up food for thought. Nature, (6729); 651653.

Clive, J. (2011). Global status of commercialized Biotech/GM crops. ISAAA Briefs 43. Ithaca: International Service for the Acquisition of Agro-biotech Applications.

Hamer, H. & Scuse, T. (2014). National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), Agricultural Statistics Board, US Department of Agriculture. Acreage and Health Statistics Report, NY.

Langer, G. (2015). Poll: Skepticism of Genetically Modified Foods. ABC News. ABC News Network, 19 June 2015.

Zilberman, D. (2014). GMOs and global food security. Agriculture and Resource Economics, 14(5), 3-9.

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