Category Archives: Science

Genetically Modified Foods – Is it Worth the Risks?

For over ten thousand years farmers have allowed nature to enhance their crops’ taste, hardiness and productivity using natural reproduction. This crossbreeding was used by farmers to produce and better final crops. During the last century, this ancient technique was sped up with the help of more accurate, scientific attempts to oversee the breeding and selection process. Fortunately, new scientific developments are making it possible to create crops with far greater precision and far greater diversity than ever before. These crops are known as Genetically Modified Foods.

Genetically modified foods are produced by plants or animals that have had their genes changed in the laboratory. All living organisms have chromosomes, which are made up of deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA for short. DNA is the chemical building block of all life (AgBiotechNet, 2003). By altering the genes, scientists can manipulate and modify the characteristics of an organism. Singling out a gene is a complicated process. First the DNA is broken down into gene-sized pieces using restriction enzymes (www.balwynhs.vic.edu.au). Next, the pieces of DNA are inserted into bacterial cells using DNA Ligase. These cells are cloned and stored in a DNA library. Genes are discovered using radioactive tags, and once a bond is formed, the gene can be identified and decoded. Using these this scientific practice, genes from other living organisms can be inserted into plant or animal DNA with impressive results (Labeling Genetically Modified Foods). The first transgenic crop created in 1983 was a tobacco plant that was resistant to herbicide. Ten years after that, tomatoes in which the ripening was delayed, were introduced in the U.S. market. It wasn’t long before the European market started selling genetically modified tomato paste.

Modifying genes to create useful crop takes a lot of work. Science has developed a number of techniques aimed at splicing a desired gene with a plant. One technique makes use of a soil bacterium, Argo bacterium tumefaciens. This microbe, dubbed the first genetic engineer, has evolved the ability to insert stretches of DNA into plants (Aqua Bounty Farms). The bacterium can cause disease in some plants by inserting its DNA into the plant cell. Once the plant cell is infected, the bacterium’s DNA can easily attach itself to the plant chromosome. Scientists get Agro tumefaciens to deliver genes of their choice. Another technique use is biolistics. This technique uses a high-pressure helium gas to fire the desired gene into plant cells. The foreign DNA is carried on tiny little pieces of gold-like particles. Examples of food modified by this method are wheat and rice. Another method scientist’s use relies on protoplasts method. These allowed plant cell that have had their tough walls removed. This gives the foreign DNA easier access to the cell interior. Once the DNA is inserted into the plant cell, these are grown into plants. Seeds harvested from these laboratory plants are put onto the market and are ready for purchase. All of these techniques depend on the remarkable fact that many plants can be regenerated from a single cell or small piece of plant tissue.

This technology begins with the scientists who create it and continually to modify and establish new techniques to help the genetic modifying process better. Farmers then take these processes and apply it to their crops to develop their GM food. This food then is distributed to the retailers who then sell the product to the consumers where it has an affect to all who buy this food.

The interest of scientists are to continue to develop the methods and for the benefits of creating a technology to improve our food to make it healthier and more efficient in yields. They also look at this as a chance for profit in creation of something ground-breaking.

The farmers (including animal farmers) in most countries are being forced to bear responsibility for any harm that might have been caused by genetic foods. While the farmers are being forced to take responsibility for their actions the risk just might be worth it for some farmers. The fact that farmers will be guaranteed a yield of fruit and vegetables by farming genetic foods might outweigh the consequences (Labeling Genetically Modified Foods). This way they will profit year after year not matter the weather conditions and no disease or insect will be able to ruin their harvest.

While there was an incident a couple of years ago with animal feed corn being mixed in with taco shells. The Texas Company was sued and had to pay for the cleanup of the contaminated cornfields. The Agriculture Department’s settlement with the Texas Company that mishandled gene-altered corn, portrayed three months ago as a stringent crackdown designed to send a message to other potential violators, actually involved a no-interest $3.5 million government loan to help clean up the cornfields (AgBiotechNet 2003). This shows that the government is actually interested in this technologies advancement here in the United States.

The retailers are the ones that sell the product to the customers. This is where most people get their hands on GM foods. About 70 percent of the food sold in the United States contains ingredients that have been injected with foreign genes. While some people might argue that inserting genes into the food we eat is bad for our health with it being in so much of our food it will be tremendously hard to completely stop using foreign genes in our foods.

Genes are also being used to change the meats we eat. In the United States it is most widely used with fish. Marine fisheries are collapsing. About 70 per cent of the world’s conventional marine species are fully exploited, over-exploited, depleted or in the process of recovering from over-fishing. A fifth of all freshwater fish are either extinct or endangered. Scientist is using this technology in fish farms to make bigger and meatier salmon. The altered genetic fish grows to maturity faster also making it far more economic for the fish farmers.

The prospect of improving human health and alleviating human suffering through genetic medicine and research is a very big upside. Generic engineering has a lot of potential as far as furthering medicine. Medicine can be genetically implemented into fruit and vegetables to fight disease. It can help fight anything from the common cold to a deadly disease such as cancer. Foods will be in a sense, optimized, as crops will be able to be harvested in any type of weather and will have longer life in the field as well on the shelves in supermarkets. They will be resistant to the pests and diseases which allow them to have greater yields in harvesting which will increase the amount of food supply. [pagebreak title=’ Genetically modified foods 3′]They have enhanced taste and quality. For example, corns taste sweeter when the crop has been genetically modified (howstuffworks.com, 2003). Crops will also have reduced maturation time. This increased food supply can also supply food to the starving third world countries.

Not only will crops will be optimized, animals will be implemented with similar traits. They will have increased resistance, productivity, hardiness, and feed efficiency. There will be a better yield of meat, eggs, and milk. The ability of the transgenic salmon to produce small quantities of antifreeze was sufficiently encouraging to the scientists for the work to be expanded to include other commercially important traits. To the food production industry, rapid growth is probably one of the most interesting traits. Thus, the next endeavour was to produce rapidly growing salmon (Aqua Bounty Farms Inc., 2003). Animal health will be improved as there will also be better diagnostic methods (Office of Science, 2003).

However there are also health risks when it comes to this technology. Genetic manipulation could enhance natural plant toxins by switching on a gene with toxic effects. People with allergies could be exposed to proteins they react to without knowing it. Foreign genes might alter the nutritional value of food in unpredictable ways which could mean bad nutrition.

Supporters of GM food believe the technology could offer cheaper, safer and more nutritious food. However, opponents argue that there are still many unknowns, despite the absence of problems so far. The refusal of the Zambian government to accept genetically modified maize as food aid is just the latest incident to bring attention to GM foods (AgBiotechNet, 2003). There is a very big risk of mix breeding of native plants, which can harm the ecosystem around the globe. Africa, which is mostly in drought being able to grow food without the usual amount of water, is a tremendous gain and has more positives then negative affects. Although scientists have a fear of mix breeding of plants it has not yet taken place. As much as the scientists have predicted that it will happen there has not yet been an outbreak of superweeds taken over the eco system. So the fruit and vegetables will benefit the people more than harm them and their ecosystem.

The biggest issue dealing with genetically modified foods is the labeling of these products. The lack of labeling causes controversy, as some consumers want to know what they are eating.

Genetically modified food is still a developing technology that needs to be thoroughly tested to ensure the safety to our health as well as mother earth. The advantages of this technology can help solve many problems with farmers as well as health issues through the ties with medicine. Crops and animals now have better yields as well been optimized to their full potential. The risks involved are the same involved with regular crops cross-breeding, and there has been no scientific evidence to back up these concerns. The other concern with labeling is one that is easily fixed. The food is safe as it all is FDA approved before it is being available to the public. Genetically modified food has been around for thousands years beginning with cross-breeding. It is not a new process but just an advanced method of achieving the same results with better efficiency.