College Papers

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Genetically modified foods (GM foods) have created a lot of conflict in the public. There have been active protests by European environmental organisations and public interest groups against GM foods for months. There have been controversial studies on genetically modified corn pollen which have caused a great concern of genetic engineering to the public in the USA. In response to the public concern, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) held meetings to find out public opinions and to establish new regulatory processes for government approval of GM foods. Genetically modified (GM) foods or Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are the terms used to describe the crop plants created using molecular biology for human or animal consumption. The plants are modified to improve the traits of crops including resistance to herbicides or increased nutritional content. Genetic engineering allows for the desired trait to be produced accurately and quickly. Genes can be transferred from one plant to another for example a gene from a drought tolerant plant can be inserted into another plant, causing it to become drought tolerant. Genes can be transferred from non-plant organisms too for example B.t genes (Bacillus thuringiensis) is a bacterium which produces proteins which are deadly to insects. B.t proteins are often transferred to corn which acts as a pesticide. The world’s population is growing at a fast rate and therefore adequate food supply for this growth is crucial. GM foods can meet this increase in the following ways: GMOs can be used as pest resistance, resulting in less crop losses, less financial loss for farmers and prevent starvation in developing nations. This will also mean less use of chemical pesticides which are health hazards to consumers and can harm the environment through water waste.  GMOs can reduce the amount of herbicides needed, which can prevent damage to the environment and reduce costs. GMOs can cause plants to become resistant to diseases such as viruses, fungi and bacteria. GMOs can also cause plants to become cold tolerant and drought tolerant which means more crops can be grown in formerly inhospitable areas. GMOs can be used to help prevent malnutrition which is common in poverty stricken countries where only cheap, single crops can be consumed. These foods can be genetically engineered to contain required vitamins and minerals. GMOs are also used in the pharmaceutical industry in order for easier transport and keeping of vaccines. Lastly, GMOs can also be used in phytoremediation, which means trees can be engineered to clean up metals which contaminate the soil. The FDA and the United States Department of Agriculture, state that there are more than 40 plant varieties that have completed federal requirements for commercialisation. This includes tomatoes and cantaloupes for ripening, soybeans which are herbicide resistant, and corn and cotton plants which are pest resistant. There have been many activist groups to raise concern about GM foods, and disapproved agribusinesses for pursuing profits from GM foods without concern for potential hazards and the governments for not regulating GMO use. The following are the main concerns of GM foods: They can cause unintended harm to other organisms, for example the pollen from pesticide resistant GMO plans can blow into other fields in which it can be eaten by insect which are not pests, causing them to die. There is a concern that insects develop a resistance to B.t. or other GM crops. Another concern is that there may be gene transfer from one herbicide resistant GM plant to a non-target specie for example, a weed. These weeds would become “superweeds” and herbidcide resistant too. The solutions to these problems include, producing a plant which does not produce pollen and creating buffer zones between GM crops with non-GM crops which would not be harvested. Human health risks include allergenicity, as introducing new genes into plants may cause a potential allergen. The unknown effects on human health is a concern as the use of foreign genes in human’s food may cause a harmful, negative effect on human health, which are unknown to scientists at this moment. The economic concerns of GMOs are that bringing GM food into the market is expensive and will take a lot of time. There is a concern that GM crop seeds will be too expensive for farmers in developing countries to afford, which will widen the gap between the rich and the poor.

The labelling of GM foods is an issue. There are many agribusiness industries that believe the labelling of GM foods should be voluntary and influenced according the wants of the market. If consumers show preference to receiving labels indicating that the food contains GMOs then the industries will have to do so to satisfy and keep customers. However, some consumer interest group are demanding compulsory labelling requirements of GM foods. The cost of mandatory labelling implementation will be very high and in turn, consumers will have to pay higher prices for foods. Consumer interest groups are also arguing about what the acceptable limits of GM contamination in non-GM products are, as there can be cross contamination in food production. These consumer interest groups argue that only 0% contamination is acceptable. Lastly, these consumer interest groups are also questioning who is responsible for the education of the public about GM food labels. In January 2000, there was an international trade agreement which was signed by more than 130 countries. The agreement states the requirement for exporters to label all GM food. There are a number of problems which governments must face in terms of safety testing, regulation, international policy and food labelling of GM foods. The use of GMOs has the potential of many positive impacts; however, precaution must be taken so that no harm to the environment and humans is made in the process.