Abstract Genetically modified (GM) foods have been around for quite some time. Chances are, just about everyone has eaten some type of GM food product. With the new and developing technologies that the biotechnology industry has to offer, the GM food market has risen in leaps and bounds. A genetically modified food is a food that has had its genetic make-up altered in some way by DNA technology. It can involve the transfer of genes from one organism to another or be sprayed with a genetically designed pesticide. The characteristics of the product may or may not remain the same depending on which genes have been altered.
Some changes that are often seen include their color, flavor, texture, and their ability to resist insects and tolerate herbicides. The use of this science has given rise to much conflict in the public sector and has scared many consumers. As biotechnologist's, it is our job to educate the public and inform them of the risks or lack of risks in genetically modified foods. Introduction With a growing world population and the race to be the first to develop the next technological break through, the area of genetic manipulation has become a popular area for discovery. The agricultural industry is very open and excited for the introduction of new technologies that will provide them with a much higher yield and an overall better quality product. Many of the suppliers that use these agricultural products have become skeptical and cautious when buying from the farmers due to the media and government regulating bodies.
The most powerful body that will make or break this field is the consumers. If people will not buy the products at the store, then the market for GM food will dissolve. In this paper we will discuss some of the risks and benefits of genetically modified foods and hear positions in favor of, and in opposition to such products. Positions and Discussion 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. Perhaps one of the best advances is GM foods.
By altering one or a few genes scientists can create a more user friendly and helpful organism. 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 inserted 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, which 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 Genetic Engineering 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 of GMOs. 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 non-harmful. 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. I think the US could learn from the policies of other countries. A committee like the one in Britain would allow authorities to get involved with the details of biotechnology and they would become very educated on the details of how things work. Based on this new system, better, more educated decisions could be made on behalf of the general population. 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 foods or organisms 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 the consumer is "To eat or not to eat" these genetically modified products.
Next to human risks, which I will address later, are the issues surrounding the environment. There are many potential risks on the environment posed by genetic modification of food products. GM food critics say that releasing GM food crops could cause cross- pollination between non-GM foods creating new "dangerous" types of plants. One such possibility has been called a "super weed." This super weed with its genetic novelty could become more resistant to herbicides and pesticides. Independent studies have shown that cross-pollination occurs at distances greater than 10 meters (Ag rEvo '99). Some scientists recommend sterility to keep this issue under control, but long-term sterility can never be 100% (Holden '99).
Super weeds could wipe out natural flora by competing and disturbing the natural biodiversity. Wiping out plants that animals rely on could lead to species dying out. New crops, such as, roundup ready soy beans have been designed to accept heavier doses of pesticides. These chemicals and other harmful farming treatments could find their way into our water and food supplies. This could lead to resistant insects and / or the extinction of useful insects that we rely on for our balanced ecosystems.
At an extreme perspective, this could turn our land into a biological desert. In the future, our genetic engineering will provide food quality improvements. These improvements may include better tasting and healthier foods. Crops can now be produced with fewer pesticides while increasing the crop's abilities to fight pesticides and disease. Genetically modified crops encourage new farming techniques preserving precious topsoil, reducing greenhouse gases, soil erosion and runoff. GM crops increase yield, food production on farmlands and provide more for the increasing population globally.
This increase can be felt tremendously by starving third world countries. Developments can also allow for agricultural development in areas that have been difficult in the past. GM foods can suit Australia's climate and tolerate water, temperature, and saline extremes. The modified food products can also be an effective tool for cancer research and vaccines. With these new improvements, new foods could be introduced (Monsanto '99) to compete in domestic and export markets. Risks and benefits need to be outlined for the public to see to promote a sense of honesty and build an educating trust.
PROS- A new strain of genetically engineered rice grows grains that contain an abundant supply of vitamin A forming compounds. This could end blindness and death from malnutrition in third world countries. Genetically engineered food sold in supermarkets is always approved by the FDA. Genetic engineering of foods can help reduce the dependences on chemical pesticides. Thus, leading to less harmful effects on people and the ozone layer.
As a result of genetically engineered foods, there are large quantities because the crops have a greater resistance to insects, disease and drought. New and better tasting foods can be brought to the market. CONS- Already a genetically engineered food supplement, genetically engineered tryptophan, has been believed to be connected to some fatalities. Gene transfers could result in creating new pathogenic bacteria and viruses. Major insect pests could evolve bio-pesticide resistance. Bt is a soil bacterium that produces toxins to kill insects and is vital to organic growers.
Plants developed to contain a gene for Bt toxin could cause insects to become resistant to it, wasting the world's most important biological pesticide. Major companies are using genetically engineered foods while refusing to test or label for harmful side effects. The FDA does not seriously investigate new genetically engineered crops for health risks. In 2000, Kraft recalled it's taco shells distributed mainly in Taco Bell because genetically altered corn not approved for human consumption was mixed into the nation's corn supply In 1998, US Dept. of Agriculture researchers injected the human gene that governs growth into a pig embryo. The gene was supposed to create a pig that would grow faster and larger.
Instead the pig's metabolism was altered. He was an excessively hairy, lethargic, cross-eyed animal that never stood up and suffered from arthritis. Society may be the hardest to convince that GM foods are a good thing. Most of the general public is in favor of genetic engineering in general, but are more concerned with GM foods because they are not informed of the benefits or risks involved.
Looking at it from this perspective, the major concentration should be labeling of GM foods. If the public is educated as to the effects of the ingredients then they can look at the label to see what is in the product and make their own "educated decision." In May 1999 foods containing more than 2% GM ingredients were required to be labeled. These foods were divided into groups. The first group was "substantially different" products. These are products that are totally different from the original or traditional product. The second group is the "substantially equivalent" products.
(5) These have the same major properties as the original, but with slight differences that produce a minor result in the product. Again, the lack of communication and awareness between consumers and producers is what causes the franken food scare. In conclusion, I believe that there is a need for GM foods not only in the US, but globally as well. The risk assessment provides an outline of consequences and benefits. Ultimately it will be up to the consumer to make a choice at the store to eat or not to eat. It will be as simple as choosing between Bud and Bud Light.
Both are beer, but one is modified slightly to produce another variety for the consumer to choose based on the ingredients (calories). I do think that some long-term effects may not be seen for a while, but that is the chance that is taken on every new product in any area of life. We need to build a trust between the producers and the consumers. This trust will be based on openness and communication. For the religious critic, I would point out that the only reason we need genetic modification is because of the fall of man. When God created the earth there was not a need for disease curing or a lack of nutrition.
We are called by God to go and redeem the earth for Christ. I think this includes helping to rid the world of the horrible diseases and "thorns" under our feet. Only when we accept all the credit does this research become a disgrace to our creator. I believe that God reveals technology to us when it is his will. 1. Wilson, C.
(06-01-1005). Nutraceuticals. Food in Canada, 84 Author not available. (04-05-2000). 2. Mexican Senate Votes to Require Labeling foods Containing GM ingredients.
Economic News 7 Analysis on Mexico. Maienscheim, J. (01-01-2000) 3. Who's in Charge of the Gene Genie? . The World & I.
Gavaghan, H. (05-25-1999). 4. 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) 5. Hol dredge; "Should Genetically Modified Foods Be Labeled?" 6.
Bioethics Statement of Principles; web > 7. In Class Discussions.