To Eat or Not to Eat, That is the Question How often do you think of genetics or biotechnology as you are enjoying your favorite foods Does gene splicing ever cross your mind as you slice tomatoes, or do you ever think about growth hormones as you sink your teeth into that juicy steak Not very often if you are like most people, but perhaps you should. Many of the items you eat have been genetically modified by using biotechnology in some way. These products are often referred to as GMOs (genetically modified organisms). There are several different types of modified foods. Designer foods are processed foods that are supplemented with ingredients rich in disease preventing substances by genetic engineering. Functional foods are any modified food that may provide health benefits.
Biotechnology and the human understanding of it have allowed for great advances in the world of agriculture. One of the best advances is perhaps GM foods, by altering one or a few genes scientists can create a more user friendly and helpful organisms. The first genetically modified plants were introduced experimentally in 1982. Since then, different combinations and varieties have been tested and the first of these crops became commercially available in 1996. Some people are frightened by this new technology and feel these foods are unsafe.
" The ability to splice genetic sequences into living organisms where they would not normally be found raises fears that we are somehow creating Frankenstein-like versions of corn or unleashing something that we will not be able to control." (Main schein, J. (01-01-2000). Who's in Charge of the Gene Genie. The World & I, 84.
) The main reason that genetically engineered food could be dangerous is because there has been no adequate testing to ensure that altering genes that perform an apparently useful function as part of that plant or animal is going to have the same effects if insert into a totally unrelated plant or animal. Cross-breeding by farmers and evolution by Nature, has always involved gene transfer between similar species, not completely different species like a fish and a potato and that is alarming to the public. It may be that in the long term genetically modified food could provide us with benefits and be a safe alternative, but we cannot know that at this time due to the lack of safety testing. All over the world, scientists, ordinary citizens and farmers have raised concerns about the rush of GE technologies in our food chain. While some are completely against it, others are urging more cautious approaches. Regardless, they all want the ability to actually determine that GE technologies are proven safe for consumption.
There have been all sorts of campaigns and actions around the world in protest. Britain has taken measures to stop anti-GM protests by creating two political commissions to advise and monitor the effects of genetically modified foods and crops. After investigation by the British government GM foods were found to be unharmful. They did inflict a "public health surveillance network." This group will report any problems, such as things from allergic reactions to deaths.
As the government prepared and released this information the British Medical Association released an anti-GM report. They were concerned about long term health problems GM foods could cause. This group called for a moratorium on planting GM crops until there is scientific proof of effects of GM products. In this report they also called for strict labeling of all GM products. The Mexican Senate has also taken measures to ensure the public knows what they are eating. The Mexican government has passed a bill that requires all genetically modified products to be labeled.
This bill does not require a halt in producing these GM foods and products. It asks manufactures to identify and provide information about their product. Another country that is requiring labels on GM foods is the United Kingdom. Since 1998 and before, campaigners in the UK have been putting increasing amounts of pressure on supermarkets and trying to raise awareness with consumers. The new bill now requires restaurants and supermarkets to identify any products, meals, or foods that have been genetically modified.
This gives consumers the right to boycott such products as they wish. In Australia, a panel of people who did not have prior knowledge about genetic engineering, delivered a report to the president of the Australian Senate. After hearing views of experts on both sides of the argument, the Senate is now acting to require labeling of GE Food and to generally take a more precautionary stand on genetically modified foods being sold to the consumer. The long term effects of eating these genetically modified foods are truly unknown. Even if there was some way of testing the long term affects to humans, animals and the environment, we still may never know the total benefits or problems which may come from these modified genes unless we take a chance to try them.
It may be that genetically modified food can benefit us a great deal, but we cannot know that at this time because not enough testing has not been done. Most scientists do claim that GE food may be very safe, but mention that the long term effects are still unknown. So the question given to you the consumer is "To eat or not to eat" these genetically modified products. Bibliography Wilson, C. (06-01-1005). Nutraceuticals.
Food in Canada, 84 Author not available. (04-05-2000). Mexican Senate Votes to Require Labeling foods Containing GM ingredients. Economic News 7 Analysis on Mexico.
Maienscheim, J. (01-01-2000) Who's in Charge of the Gene Genie. The World & I. Gavaghan, H. (05-25-1999).
Genetically Modified food: Britian Struggles to Turn Anti GM Tide. Science. : government says labels needed... Medical Post. pp. 53 Author not given.
(03-02-1999) UK GM food debate heats up.