Dear reader, are you aware of what exactly you consume during meal times? Are you sure that your food is safe? Hopefully, the following information will aid you in choosing healthier foods and lifestyle. Development of biotechnology is associated both with risks and benefits when it comes to producing and consuming of foods. Biotechnology and gene transfer innovations allow enhancing food production by enabling plants to effectively compete against weeds and make them less vulnerable to viruses, insects, frost and droughts. There are instances when such technology helped improve nutrition and quality of food by changing its composition. However, the impact of biotechnology and genetically modified organisms on humans, plants and the environment has become a topic of debates among public and academia, as well as media. On a positive side, gen modifications can alter the chemical and physical composition of foods and improve quality and nutritious value in some instances. Additionally, gene transfer in animals opens boundless possibilities for improving the qualitative and quantitative characteristics of animals.
Drawbacks and Dangers of Genetically Modified Products
Opponents and proponents of genetically modified (GM) products engage each other in discussions about the impact of GM foods on human health, environment and world economy. Group of scientists from several universities and research center in India conducted a non-biased review of studies about both negative and positive effects of GMF on human health, farming, trade and the environment (Verma et al. 3-9). Verma's et al. (3-11) work is valuable in that it attempts to present a balanced view of the pros and cons on GM foods. Authors draw attention to facts that justify promotion of genetic modifications in foods and crops. For example, gen altering and transfer help improve pest resistance, herbicide tolerance and disease resistance in crops, as well as cold tolerance and drought/salinity tolerance. Additionally, gen modification can help solve the problem of malnutrition by creating crops such as rice with the high content of minerals, vitamins and proteins. Moreover, gen transfer can be used to develop edible vaccines (in potatoes or tomatoes) that are much cheaper than traditional injectable vaccines. Lastly, it is possible to create genetically engineered trees that help clean up contaminated soil from the pollution of heavy metals.
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However, Verma et al. (4, 5) present the other side of the issue and arguments that point to serious drawbacks, disadvantages and even dangers of GMP for humans, animals, plants and natural ecosystems. Firstly, pollen from genetically altered crops kills not only harmful insects but useful insects that contribute to the ecosystem's balance, while some mosquitoes develop resistance to genetically modified pesticides. Additionally, herbicide tolerant crops cross-breed with weeds, creating herbicide resistant "super weeds". Verma et al. (3-11) reviewed several studies on the effects of genetically modified plants and animals and plants on human health and came to conclusion that, "Serious health risks are associated with GM food, including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system". (7). Firstly, GMOs are inherently unsafe because gene transfer from GM foods into the DNA of human is possible and creates unpredicted alterations, also knows as mutations (Verma et al. 5). Secondly, GM diet damages liver and triggers toxic reactions in the digestive system. Thirdly, animals that are fed with GM foods account for higher infant mortality and reproductive failure. Additionally, these animals suffer from frequent organ damages and higher death rates. Old slogan that says, "You are what you eat", gives a good clue as to how GM foods affect people who consume them. If what later becomes the food and ends up on one's table was unhealthy and had obvious deficiencies when growing, such food is unlikely to be good for the one who consumes it, especially on a regular basis. Lastly, GMF may cause allergies and immune reactions. Dorothy Du, bachelor of biology from Cornell University, and student-fellow of Pertie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology and Bioethics takes the problem of consumption of GMF beyond the health and environment related risks. The author rethinks the issue of GMF threat through the framework of socioeconomics and ethics. Du (379-389) raises what she identifies as non-scientific concerns associated with transgenic and genetically modified crops. It appears that public health and environment are not the only problematic issues in the GMO debate. According to Du (400), farmers who sell non-GMO crops suffer sizable economic losses. Additionally, the public is not included sufficiently in the GOM-related regulatory process and the public does not trust current GMO regulations (Du 393). Although there are valid scientific findings about the harmful effects of GMO, the government seems to guide its decision-making mostly by science-based studies that indicate that GM foods are not harmful. It is an example when interests of the general public are not reflected in the legislations about GMO. Why would the interests of the US population in regard to GMO be disregarded? Du (393, 394) argues that tighter public control will trigger diminishing investments on the behalf of biotech companies into the agricultural sector since GM farming will incur additional costs associated with adhering to greater public health safety regulations.
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Although growing GM crops reduces use of pesticides, increases yields and provides economic benefits for farmers, consumers and farmers still have different attitudes towards GMO, "Because the genetic modifications prevalent in the market are traits that are intended primarily to benefit growers rather than consumers. In fact, the evidence shows that many consumers are skeptical of the purported benefits of biotechnology" (Du 400). Te author goes on to say that legitimate concerns of consumers "have little effect on decisions to commercialize GMOs" (Du 401). In other words, law-makers disregarded concerns of the US public in favor of the agricultural sector's businesses. Another example is when big corporations, which are primarily concerned with making the profit and maintaining competitive advantage, used science to lobby their interests.
Counterclaims and Arguments in Favor of GM Products
There are numerous studies that claim consuming GM products to be safe. Such information comes from all kinds of sources, from web articles to scholarly journals. One might argue that online articles are not kind of sources people should always trust. However, indisputably, that is what nearly everyone reads, and for many people information therein is sufficient as far as their personal quest for finding the truthful data is concerned. Washington's Food Fight states, "There is broad scientific consensus that food on the market derived from GM crops poses no greater risk to human health than conventional food". The Genetic Literacy Project, NGO whose goal is to educate the public on the subject of genetic research, claims to have no ties to or financial benefits from industry or corporations. Projects' scientists pursue the goal to disentangle ideology from science and provide objective data about the effects of GMO on human health. Jon Entine, executive director of the Genetic Literacy Project and a senior fellow at the Center for Health & Risk Communication and STATS at George Mason University, calls criticism of GMO "either demonstrably untrue or exaggerations of problems that are present in all of agriculture". Author goes on to name critics of GM products "junk scientists" and "pseudoscientific scaremongers", while their findings Entine calls "outlandish junk science claims" (Entine). Importantly, academic studies such as article by Eliot Herman from Plant Genetics Unit of the US Department of Agriculture an Agriculture Research Center responded to concerns of regulatory agencies and biotechnology critics and asserted "Current GM crops, including soybean, have not been shown to add any additional allergenic risk beyond the intrinsic risks already present". (1317).
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Rebuttal of Counterclaims and More Evidence of Dangers of GM Products
However, the recent study called GMO Myths and Truths presents findings that are entirely opposite to the afore-mentioned pro-GMO claims. Antoniou, Robinson and Fagan conducted an evidence-based examination of claims about the efficacy and safety of GM foods. Michael Antoniou, "Ph.D. in molecular genetics and head, of Gene Expression and Therapy Group, King's College London School of Medicine, London, UK" (Antoniou, Robinson, and Fagan 3). This person has 28 years of experience in genetic engineering, more than 40 publications in peer-reviewed journals and holds inventor status on several gene-related biotechnology patents. Coauthor of the research, Robinson, M.Phil., specializes in investigative reporting on topics related to public health. John Fagan, "Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular and cell biology from Cornell University, is a leading world authority on sustainability in the food system, biosafety, and GMO testing" (Antoniou, Robinson, and Fagan 3). As the top class, knowledgeable and reputable professionals, authors employed laboratory and field research of the effects of GMO on human health. Main authors' findings can be summarized as follows: (a) GM products are less nutritious, allergenic, toxic and unsafe; (b) GM crops reduce biodiversity, disrupt ecosystems and impair soil quality; (c) GM products "Cannot solve the problem of world hunger but distract from its real causes – poverty, lack of access to food and, increasingly, lack of access to land to grow it on" (Antoniou, Robinson, and Fagan 8). Authors of the research point to GM crop industry and its supporters as entities behind the promotion and far-reaching claims about the benefits of GM crop industry, while results of genetic engineering are unpredictable, imprecise and crude. The powerful lobby of GM crop producers provide their own biotech research information but refrain from publishing their findings in peer reviewed journals (Antoniou, Robinson, and Fagan 8). Authors claim that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is linked to major GM crops producers. Some FDA top officials were previously involved in GM crops corporations (Antoniou, Robinson, and Fagan 8). Such connectedness accounts for extremely lenient regulatory climate that GM crops producers enjoy in the US and the fact that the US government is notably favorable towards GM crops and foods producers. Biotech industry relies on raw data of their own in evaluating the safety of GM foods instead of the peer review process as the cornerstone that ensures scientific reliability. Availability of vast financial resources helps corporations facilitate the creation of the environment whereby they get positive media coverage, extremely weak screening of their production and comparative safety assessment, favorable regulations and backing of the state. Additionally, researchers who publish studies that find harm in GM products and crops are sued or attacked.
One example of the beneficial preferential treatment that the biotech business receives is the absence of requirements to apply food labeling. Despite the decades of the US public demand to disclose foods that contain GMO, FDA does not mandate appropriate labeling for identifying GM products. "The FDA found mandatory labeling inappropriate because, under its product-based approach, it typically considers GMOs to be "substantially similar" to conventionally produced foods" (Du 384). Therefore, lack of labeling results in consumers' unawareness that does not allow the US consumers to choose between GM and non-GM foods. Subsequently, one cannot prevent damage to his/her health that GM products can inflict, since there is not labeling to help a person distinguish between GM and non-GM foods. Conclusion Careful analysis of current policies indicates the tendency of biotech corporations and government not to reveal the full scope of the effects the GM crops and products have on human health and the environment. Additionally, existing evidence points to bias in their findings and statements about GM products, motivated by prospects of economic gains. It appears that there are obstacles and manipulations of data that prevent the general public from easily accessing information about the true impact GM products have on consumers. Although there are benefits of developing biotech industry and growing GM crops, the public should be aware of the vast negative consequences of pursuing gen transfer technologies and incorporating them into food production. Research by credible and reputable bodies shows that despite the claims of biotech corporations and responsible governmental agencies about safety of GM foods, GM products are harmful to human health and dangerous for the environment. There are evidences that show not only that GM products are less nutritious, allergenic, toxic and unsafe, but also that they tend to disrupt ecosystems and harm the environment. Therefore, there is a need to develop mechanisms that would allow the public to make informed choice about the consumption of GM products and serve to protect both consumers' health and the environment.
- Antoniou, Michael, Claire Robinson, and John Fagan. GMO Myths and Truths: An Evidence-based Examination of the Claims Made for the Safety and Efficacy of Genetically Modified Crops. June 2012. Web. 15 May 2014.
- Du, Dorothy. "Rethinking Risks: Should Socio-economical and Ethical Considerations Be Incorporated into the Regulation of Genetically Modified Crops?" Harvard Journal of Law & Technology 26.1 (2012): 375-401.
- Entine, Jon. "Is There Really a Science-based GMO Controversy? False Balance Captures Discover Magazine." Genetic Literacy Project. 11 March 2013. Web. 16 May 2014.
- Herman, Eliot. "Genetically Modified Soybeans and Food Allergies". Journal of Experimental Botany 54.386 (2003): 1317-1319.
- Verma, Charu et al. "A Review on Impacts of Genetically Modified Food on Human Health". The Open Nutraceuticals Journal 4 (2011): 3-11. Print. "Washington's Food Fight: The Debate over GMO Labels".15 May 2014. Web. 16 May. 2014.