Recently, 15 scientists have written to Health Minister Nicola Roxon to call for all genetically modified foods to be labeled. (Article: http://www.canberratimes.com.au/news/local/news/general/scientists-call-for-review-of-gm-foods-afety-labels/1341212.aspx) This action and call of these scientists display how there are countless genetically modified foods we are consuming unconsciously in our daily lifestyle. However, should GMFs really be fed to everyone?
Genetically modified foods are an extremely controversial issue in our modern day society. While genetically engineering crops can truly contribute to solving problems such as nutrient deficiency or world hunger, this technology can also be easily abused. Genetically modified foods can thrust disastrous impacts upon the environment when used inappropriately. As a relatively new science, there are still many potential threats that are unknown to us. There are both advantages and disadvantages in genetically engineering foods.
The exploding population is one of the major problems our global community will face in the next few decades. Jonathon Rauch from The Atlantic Monthly quotes, “world food output will need to at least double and possibly triple over the next several decades. Even if production could be increased that much using conventional technology, which is doubtful, the required amounts of pesticide and fertilizer and other polluting chemicals would be immense.” This means as of our technological advancements today, genetically modified foods is possibly the best hope we have in feeding our global population. “Organics can’t feed more than 4 billion. Even if all forests on earth are created into farmland, it still wound not be enough.” (Meyer 59) Genes resistant to pesticides, cold, drought, disease and many other kinds of threats to our foods can be injected in the crops, allowing humans to maximize food output. Since the use and development of hybridization and this unconventional method of agriculture, crop yields have increased significantly. “The number of acres planted has decreased by 25%, yet production and crop yields have multiplied by 4.5 times,” as stated by Mr. Shull. All throughout history, humans have never had enough to feed our people – feast and famine was common. But today, we possess a technology which could potentially extinguish world hunger altogether.
Foods can also go through another process of genetic modification called biofortification. “Through biofortification, scientists can provide farmers with crop varieties that through the provision of essential micronutrients could naturally reduce anemia, cognitive impairment, and other nutritionally related health problems in hundreds of millions of people.” (Biofortification) Many people living in the developing world have little money for a healthy variety of foods and end up lacking in many nutrients and minerals such as zinc, iron, vitamin A and many more. Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Institute for Plant Sciences have created a strain of "golden" rice which contains an unusually high content of Vitamin A. This has helped many people living in the developing countries fulfill their necessary Vitamin A requirements. Foods such as Golden Rice and other biofortificated foods will help more than 200 million children worldwide obtain the proper amounts of nutrients. They are “presumably to be the most sustainable and cost-effective approach to reduce micronutrient malnutrition.” (Mayer 32) Researchers are even working to develop edible vaccines in tomatoes and potatoes – providing people from third world countries a less costly alternative to medicines and vaccines. Not only does this technology keep people fed, it also promotes health through enriching nutrients and injecting medicines.
Not only do GMFs benefit humans, they can in some ways benefit environment and conserve natural habitats for wildlife. One of the advantages of genetically modified foods is the reduced need for tillage or plowing, allowing farmers to adopt conservation or “no-till” practices. Statistics show that in USA alone, these practices are reducing soil erosion by 1 billion tons and saving consumers $3.5 billion. (Monsanto) With the built in pesticides and resistance, many crops no longer need the overuse of chemicals for treatment. “Since 1996, the use of GM soybeans has been one of the largest contributors to reduced pesticide applications, accounting for cumulative reductions of 41,000 metric tons.” (Monsanto) The reduced pesticide usage is definitely a positive impact upon our ever-increasing polluted world. As they can alter organisms to produce more yields, “Biotech crops also have played an important role in boosting the productivity of existing farmland — enough to allow for the protection of at least 400 million acres of prairies, forests and other natural areas from cultivation over the past decade.” (Monsanto) Instead of converting all arable land into farmland, some forests and natural areas are kept from cultivation.
However, there are many unintended and extremely harmful risks of which we can not foresee. “Engineered crops have unpredictable and undesirable side effects that may harm the environment and disrupt local ecosystems.” (Steinbrecher 150) One classic example is the pollen from B.t. corn which caused high mortality rates in monarch butterfly caterpillars. Before releasing this GMF, simply not enough research was done. “Unfortunately, B.t. toxins kill many species of insect larvae indiscriminately; it is not possible to design a B.t. toxin that would only kill crop-damaging pests and remain harmless to all other insects.” (Mugambe 49) Sometimes, the potential hazards of GMF do not appear until after a few generations. By then, the possibility of its pollen drifting towards other organisms cross-pollinating them with the fatal pollen to insects is great. “Crop plants engineered for herbicide tolerance and weeds [may] cross-breed, resulting in the transfer of the herbicide resistance genes from the crops into the weeds.” (Turtle Mountain) This means whenever a gene is out, whether it is harmful or beneficial – you can’t stop them from spreading. “Once a mistake is made and released into the environment, there is no certainty that it can ever be undone.” (Gorgon 126) Since this is so, extensive research must be done before releasing GMFs to ensure no harm is inflicted to the environment.
Not only is GMFs harmful to the environment, they can also be fatal to humans. “In 1990 a genetically engineered brand L-tryptophan, a common dietary supplement killed more than 30 Americans and permanently disabled or afflicted more than 1,500 others with a potentially fatal and painful blood disorder” (Cummins 33) Problems such as rashes, visual problems, breathing problems and many more are linked to the consumption of these gene-altered foods. Without the labeling of these modified foods, people are unable to avoid foods they are allergic to. In one case, a brazil-nut gene was inserted into a soybean and those allergic to the brazil-nut showed allergic reactions when consuming the new soybean. Insertion of genes into the genome results in unintended effects since some of the ways the inserted genes express themselves in the host or the way they affect the functioning of the crop’s own genes are unpredictable. “This may lead to the development of unknown toxic/allergenic components, which we cannot analyze for and seriously limiting the selection criteria. “ (Pusztai)
However nutritious and well-developed this technology, we are not using it to reduce world hunger and solve other global problems. Instead, corporations are taking advantage of this science to make profit. “80% of GM crop research and development is undertaken by four multi-national corporations – Syngenta, Monsanto, Bayer, CropScience and Aventis.” (GeneWatch 167). All these supposedly “for the public good” GMFs are controlled by corporations and not the public. Farmers can’t use the traditional method of saving seed and are left to depend on corporations. With the companies patenting these special genes, many farmers are at risk of being sued as well. As pollen may drift to these traditional farmers’ crops, it fertilizes their crops with the altered gene. Monsanto has sued Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser for this reason – possessing the genes Monsanto patented. This is simply increasing the debt from developing countries and poor farmers from these giant corporations. “GM crops could possibly be enslaving Africa because they would be forced to grow U.S. companies’ crops in Africa’s soil.” (Goodall 23) These big corporations owning and developing GMFs don’t care about individuals – instead, they only care for profit.
As one can see, there are many valid points and reasons for both ends of the argument. To be able to feed all mouths of our population, GM crops are almost a necessity for our environment. However, problems such as political turmoil, poor food distribution, corrupt governments, etc., have to be solved simultaneously with the development of GMOs to ensure world hunger can be reduced. Furthermore, we should be sure to do lots of research before releasing GM foods and using them extensively. By doing so, we will be able to avoid many potential problems that may be a threat to ourselves or the environment. Lastly, GMFs should be labelled so consumers can make a wise decision according to their own beliefs and knowledge. Although there are already man controversies concerning GMFs, these controversies are sure to continue throughout the next few decades as we face food shortage problems.
Works Cited"The Advantages of Genetically Modified Foods." Benefits of Genetically Modified Foods. 2008.Monsanto Company. 29 Apr. 2008 . "Biofortification Frequently Asked Questions." HarvestPlus. 2007. HarvestPlus. 29 Apr. . Gerdes, L.I. Genetic Engineering: Opposing viewpoints. Farmington Hills, MI: Greenhaven, 2005."GM Crops: Bringing Hope." GeneWatch. Dec. 2002. GeneWatch UK. 29 Apr. 2008 . "GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms)." Turtle Mountain. 2006. Turtle Mountain, LLC. 29 Apr. 2008 click here Goodall, Jane. Harvest for Hope: A Guide to Mindful Eating. New York: Time Warner Book Group, 2005. Hunnicutt, S.C. World Hunger. Farmington Hills, MI: Greenhaven, 2007.Jonathan, Rauch. "Will Frankenfood Save the Planet?" Atlantic Monthly Oct. 2003. 29 Apr. 2008 . Mugambe, Lydia. Patents on Genetically Modified Foods. University of Lund, 2004. University of Lund. Apr. 2008 . Pusztai, Arpad. "Genetically Modified Foods: Are They a Risk to Human/Animal Health?" ActionBioscience.org. June 2001. Action BioScience. 29 Apr. 2008..
"Scientists call for review of GM food safety, labels." Canberra Times. 26 Oct.
I’m currently a sophomore studying high school and I would just like voice out my opinion on genetically modified foods. I’m not a professional on this topic and my information all comes from other writers I’ve credited in the bibliography.