Genetically Modified Organism food comes from plants whose genetic constitution has been altered through recombinant DNA technology. Selective recombination allows for the enhancement of nutritional content in foods and increases the energy generated from consuming a particular type of food. However, the greatest attraction of GMO food is the power it gives to the consumer to decide exactly what types of nutrients they consume. Using genetic modification, not only is it easier and more effective to feed a large population; the nutrients can be moderated to reach the consumer at the optimal levels of requirement for both micro and macronutrients.
In this essay, we shall embark on an assessment of GMO food consumption, evaluating the human health benefits, public perceptions on GMO foods, and the effects of GMO food production on the environment and on human health. Finally, we shall discuss the policies and regulations governing GMO food consumption and offer suggestions on what direction Canada should take in regards to GMO food. These five issues represent the most pressing issues in GMO food consumption, touching on all parties engaged in the debate on the genetic modification of plants used for human food, namely the public (consumers), the farmers (producers), and the governments (regulators).
All parties to the GMO debate have different priorities, with the public being concerned about the health consequences of GMO food consumption, farmers minding the effects of growing genetically modified plants on their farms, and the government seeking to protect both the farmers and the public from possible adverse effects of producing or consuming genetically engineered food products. The essay will address the following issues; the human health benefits or detriments of consuming genetically modified foods, the perception of the public on the consumption of GMO food, the effects of GMO herbicides on human health, and the regulations and policies governing the production of GMO foods.
According to Maghari and Ardekani (2011), recombinant DNA techniques are touted as being advantageous in that they enhance the nutritional yield of crops. Genetic modification of plants is not the first effort of humans to enhance the nutritional yield of their crops. The cross breeding of plants with the intention of creating superior yields has been practiced for thousands of years. The advent of DNA sequencing technology has enabled genetic modification in food plants. This advancement arguably represents the greatest leap in yield enhancement in food crops. According to Key, Ma and Drake (2009), genetic modification has been so successful and controversial because it allows for the enhancement of constituent minerals from food, making it possible to tinker with and improve the nutritional yield of plants.
Genetic modification was initially introduced to enhance the resistance of crops to pests, diseases, and weeds (Du, 2014). The success of genetically enhanced cotton in producing higher volume and quality yields led to its introduction in the farming of food crops. According to Du (2014), genetic engineering also increases quantities of yield, enhances features such as texture, fosters faster growth, and boost the nutritional yield. In many countries, GMO food has been proposed as the solution to food shortages because it is a 'super food', which can be designed in a laboratory to the specific crop yield and nutritional requirement of a country's citizens.
The overall health of the individual is directly related to the quality of food they consume (Key et al., 2008). Therefore, if genetically engineered food contains higher nutrients, it is clear that it improves the physical health of its consumers. Not only do GMO foods deliver higher nutritional endowment to the consumer, but it is possible to introduce nutrients in a food crop to counter some widely recognized deficiency among the populace. Countries can greatly enhance the health of their citizens by conducting research to determine what nutrients are lacking in their diets and then introducing these nutrients, if there exists enough public support for GMO foods.
On the other hand, human health concerns for GM foods include antibiotic resistance to the foreign components introduced in the crops through genetic engineering, possible allergic reactions to these new components, alterations in nutritional values of common foods, and toxicity when alien genetic components react with body chemicals (Maghari & Ardekani, 2011). The human health concerns rising from GM foods are informed by recent findings that genes function co-dependently. It is thus possible that splitting them to create special nutritional compositions could wind up rendering the whole nutrient ineffectual. In a study conducted by Du (2014), the issues of toxicity in GM foods was conclusively disproved in numerous studies, showing that when grown properly, genetically engineered crops pose no threat to the toxin levels in humans. The study also disproved the possibility of transmitting foreign DNA into the body through GM foods, indicating that naturally grown foods are just as likely to introduce foreign DNA into the body.
According to Key et al. (2008), many pharmaceutical companies make medicines from plants, extracting particular chemical components in the plants and combining them together to make drugs. The authors prove that medicine made from genetically modified plants poses no threat to the consumers, largely because chemical separation ensures that only the pure elements needed from the plant are extracted for the preparation of medicines. Public opinion is the greatest opposition to the worldwide adoption of GMO technology, both in food production and in secondary derivatives such as medicines, among others (Key et al., 2008). Non-governmental organizations are some of the most influential influencers of public opinion against GM foods and products.
The quick growth of GM crops often produces foods that have less refined tastes compared to conventional plants, which take longer to grow and produce less. Nonetheless, GM foods such as the Golden Rice, hailed as a possible solution to food shortages in the developing world, are slammed as 'tasteless' and propaganda on the required quantity of consumption spread by NGOs. According to Cuite (2015), up to 90% of the public are distrustful of GM foods and support the labeling of all foods containing GM components. Du (2014) states that the demand for labeling is not so much an indication of consumers wanting to be informed as it is an sign of desired avoidance of all foods GMO.
Herbs are some of the greatest nuisance to food security in developing countries. Farmers in these regions are unable to protect their crops from herbs because the available herbicides are beyond their financial reach (Key et al. 2008). The result is a vicious cycle of low yields that drive the countries into greater poverty, food insufficiency, and malnutrition. According to Maghari and Ardekani (2011), most of the genetically engineered crops available in the world today exhibit resistance to insects and/or viruses, herbicide tolerance, and nutritional superiority. Contrary to popular belief, GM foods require less pesticides and herbicides.
The lower susceptibility to pests and herbs means that, as long as the nutritional composition of the GM crop is in question, the foods are safer for consumption than non-modified foods because less chemicals are sprayed during growth, maturity, and harvesting (Kruft, 2001). A worrying trend, however, is the risk of development of super weeds and super pests, which are likely to, in the end, affect crop yield, nutritional value, and cost of production for GM foods. There are widespread speculations that long usage of herbicides leads to resistance, precipitates the use of more pesticides, and could create adverse health effects to the consumer.
Policies around the production and consumption of GM foods largely revolve around the labeling of foods containing genetically engineered ingredients. The only other enforceable area of GM food production is the use of herbicides and insecticides in the farms. Governments are largely concerned with the safeguarding of the environment from possible adversity from the growth of GM crops (Du, 2014). According to Key et al. (2008), food security is the main reason why governments encourage the production of GM foods. For example, experts hail genetically modified foods as the most effective solution to the food insufficiency problem in developing countries. The higher yield of GM foods, their quick growth, and superior nutritional benefits makes genetic engineering highly desirable for adoption in countries with low food production levels.
According to Key et al. (2008), Canadian farmers produce certain types of non-genetically modified rapeseed that are used as industrial lubricants and are highly toxic, and other brands that makes cooking oil. However, Canada is one of the greatest world producers of GM crops, alongside America, China, and Argentina. The use of genetically modified ingredients in processed foods in Canada currently stands at about seventy percent. This means that a lot of the food consumed in Canada contains genetically engineered components that increases crop yield and alters its nutritional composition. Barring any side effects of GM food, the widespread consumption of GM products could lead to better health standards in the country and widespread nutritional wellness.
The government has facilitated the consumption of GM food in Canada in its reluctance to enforce regulations for the labeling of foods containing GM ingredients. Labeling laws and regulations have greatly affected the consumption of GM foods in Europe where these regulations have been more rigorously enforced (Maghari & Ardekani, 2011). According to Du (2014), the preference for GM foods in Canada is partly because of the country's advanced agricultural biotechnology. The government and industry players have conducted numerous studies to ascertain the consumer friendliness of GM food products grown and processed in Canada, establishing the country as a leader in the production of GM foods as well as a major exporter of the same. According to Du (2014), the Canadian government has made the conclusion that genetically modified products do not differ much from conventional products and instituted a voluntary labeling of GMOs for the producers. Even with the government of Canada displaying sympathy towards GM foods, the people of Canada have continued to express their distrust of GM foods, with eighty-eight percent demanding that labeling be mandatory. However, Maghari and Ardekani (2011) expound the opinion that labeling GM foods is similar to a skull and bones tag that makes consumers highly unwilling to use such foods.
The labeling and non-labeling policies enacted in countries opposed and those in favor of GM foods consumption have their constituent pros and cons. Where the labeling of GM foods is compulsory, consumers are more likely to be scared into non-purchase even when studies continually indicate that these foods are as good as conventionally grown foods, or better in some cases. Governments and policymakers should take the lead in enlightening their constituents on the nutritional value of genetically modified food products and their inherent health benefits to increase consumption. The labeling of GM foods is akin to banning their consumption because it plays on the distrust people have of new, perceivably untried foods and technology.
On the other hand, the failure to enact compulsory labeling laws and regulations infringes on the free will of the consumer and forces them to consume potentially disagreeable foods. Policies o...
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