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Genetically Modified Food as a Current Issue

Introduction

GM foods are those kinds of food items that have had their DNA’s changed by usual breeding; this process is also referred to as Genetic Engineering. It involves redesigning and restructuring the cells of the living organisms which results in the creation of a completely new organism with preferred modified qualities. The science of Genetic Engineering started in the early 1990s and was reported to have short term benefits as well as long term drawbacks. The idea is to make a food crop thrive or survive in an environment (climatic condition) that it naturally could never have been able to live. By getting the DNA altered there will be a creation of resistant cell that has the ability to survive in the chosen area, or resistant to a given pests and disease attack, or foods with longer shelf life, depending on whatever the primary objective is.

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There has been on going debate controversies surrounding GM foods, on their short and long term on the health, environmental safety, ethics, food security, poverty eradication, possible disruption of food chain and many more. This debate has seen the emergence of two different camps i.e. its proponents claiming that GM is a boon for the human race while its opponents say that it is a real disaster that can claim human life (Dr. George Wald qtd. in 50 Harmful Effects of Genetically Modified Foods by Nathan Batalion).

Facts of Genetic Engineering

GM foods can also be referred to as Bio-engineered foods. Bio-means life, while engineering-means making of blue prints of machines, which of cause are dead. In combining the two terms we will then understand why the opponents of the system are firm on their ground. It literally refers to killing what is naturally in existence to give way to an artificially modified organism; no wander the opponents are against its use. For both schools of thought that have got different stands on the matter, one thing is clear, GM will either have a positive or negative effect on human health as well as plant life. Its impact therefore has a biological connection. There have been varying reports on the use of GM foods, some negative and others positive. Both camps have presented evidence to support their stands.

Proponents of GM

Genetic engineering involves introducing a foreign gene into the system of another, either of its class or genre or of a different one. The supporters of the act argue that the resultant product will have boosted qualities that will enable it to thrive well in a setting that it could not have naturally lived. The GM crops are able to thrive under hostile agricultural conditions as witnessed in Africa, where there has been acute shortage of food supply, high rate of population increase that surpasses the development growth rate as well as serious environmental degradation. GM will therefore help increase the food production rate.

Proponents argue that modified foods are safer than natural foods because they have been made with humans in mind not animals. And that it has helped those countries that depend on Agriculture as the major driver of their economy. Trying to bar the flow of GM food into a country may result to food shortage crisis, especially if that particular country can not produce enough food for their population, as witnessed in Zambia in August 2003 when the government banned the importation of GM products. They did not stay for long, because in December 2005 the ban was lifted due to escalating cases of food shortage crisis. It is an open secret that bio-engineering will increase profitability of many farmers in the developing countries due to the reduced use of pesticides, herbicides as well as boosting their yields.

Elevation of vitamin A in the GM golden rice has seen the reduction in the cases of permanent blindness that comes as a result of the deficiency of the vitamin in the diet. By just boosting the percentage of vitamin A in the people’s staple food, the effect of babies born with permanent blindness reduced greatly. Thanks to bio-engineering. The research has been diversified making the latest inventions to include:-drugs and vaccines against some infectious diseases such Hepatitis B in food and also the introduction of fish and other plants that mature quickly (Van Beilen et al; 2008 684-701).

Opponents of GM

The problem in the world regarding food that makes some people unable to get enough food is distribution and politics not production. Therefore to eliminate the hunger, there need not be the introduction of GM foods that carry a lot of health risks with it, but an equitable distribution (Raney & Pingali; 2008) and (Boucher; 1999, p342). Research studies show that the long term effects of GM use include; – development of potentially precancerous cell growth in the digestive system, damaged immune system, enlarged pancreases and intestines (both ileum and colon) and also inhibition of the development of the brain, liver and testicles. Anti-GM campaigners claim that those governments and organizations that authorize the use of GM foods are using the population as Guinea pigs.

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They say that GM foods have unforeseen consequences on the human health as well as environment. allegations have it that certain strains of maize that were Genetically Modified are toxic to plant eating insects have in the resent past cross pollinated with some wild and domestic varieties. This resulted to the passing of some genes with putative effect on Maize biodiversity (Quist & Chapela; 2001, 542). GM effect on biodiversity can have far reaching implications on lots of lives; for instance, by having plants that are free from insects, it shows that there will be an eventual reduction of food to insects, thus decline in other wildlife like birds and all those animals that feed on insects and the eliminated vegetation.

Organic chemicals that are used by farmers as manure on their lands decompose and clear off within months though some persist for some years. But they will eventually fade off, leaving the land in its original or in a far much better state. On the other hand, genetic pollution can forever alter the state of soil. Other reported defects include:

  • cancerous causes, allergies, viral and bacterial diseases, birth defects, toxicity and lowered nutrition.

My Take

Taking a look outside the commercial context, it is reported that bio-engineering perils, if not practiced with caution or if there are no defined rules to govern the practice. The problems that come as result of bio-engineering are multi-directional. The most unethical one is the creation of new “transgenic” life forms that break natural boundaries. Such acts violate the consciousness that forms and guides living nature. For instance, crossing roses with pigs, tomatoes with fish and oaks, orchids with snakes and fish with asses, are all ethically un- acceptable. If it has to be done then it calls for care and keenness to the finer detail. The health of any living thing should be preserved at all cost. Mistakes arising from a bio-engineering process gone soar should be avoided. Like what was reported in August 18th 2006 in Europe where the crops imported from US were found to be contaminated with unapproved engineering genes. The cause was said to be accidental cross- pollination (Raeburn; 1996).

The future will see a lot of GMO’s introduction in many countries due to the latest tests that have proved that there is either very little or no danger associated with genetically engineered foods. Researchers are gaining increasing access to genomic resources to help them in their quest to venture more in the study. Of late plant scientists have also backed the idea that there is very little difference between the naturally and artificially modified foods. These factors when coupled together will see a lot of GM foods finding their way in both international and local shopping centers. To help the consumers therefore, I would suggest that all the GM foods that find their way to the market have to bear clear labels, to make it possible for the consumers who would want to choose other foods apart from the GM ones to do so with ease. Finally everyone should always stay informed and share any important information on GM that they have acquired with others (Rifkin; 1999).

Work Cited

Boucher D: The Paradox of Plenty: Hunger in a Bountiful World. Food First: 1999, p342.

Lappe F, Collins J, Rosset P, and Esparza L:World Hunger: Twelve Myths. Grove Press, 1998, p224.

Nathan Batalion: 50 Harmful Effects of Genetically Modified Foods.

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Quist D & Chapela H. : Transgenic DNA Introgressed into traditional maize landraces in Oaxaca, Mexico. Nature 414 (6863) 2001: 541–543.

Raeburn, Paul: The Last Harvest: The Genetic Gamble That Threatens to Destroy American Agriculture. University of Nebraska, 1996.

Raney, Terri & Prahbu Pingali: Sowing a Gene Revolution: Scientific American. 2008.

Rifkin, Jeremy: The Biotech Century: Harnessing the Gene and Remaking the World: J.P.Tarcher, 1999.

Van Beilen, Jan B & Yves Poirier. Harnessing plant biomass for biofuels and biomaterials: Production of renewable polymers from crop plants“. The Plant Journal 54 (4): 684–701. 2008.

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