Sunday, February 5, 2012

Genetically Modified Foods

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Genetically Modified Foods

18 7 Americans are killed and 5,000 left permanently disabled from a fatal blood disorder, after consuming a toxin produced by genetically modified food.

1 Genetically altered “snowdrop potatoes” found to have a viral promoter that damages the organs and immune systems of mammals.

001 60% of all processed foods (bread, ice cream, meat products and candies) in U.S. markets include genetically modified soybean products.

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The future Superpests, superweeds, and mutated organisms will be created.

These facts illustrate during the past decade, the largest experiment in human history has begun with humans as the guinea pigs and the world’s ecological system as the test site (Torr 11). Despite the few positive effects from the making and growing of genetically modified foods, these foods are harmful to human health and society.

To assess the damages that genetically modified (GM) foods pose to the world, people need to familiarize themselves with what genetically modifying food is. To genetically engineer something, scientists have to change the DNA of the living organism through various “genetic surgery” laboratory techniques. All organisms have genes, made up of DNA, which is the blueprint for everything in the living organism. Recently engineers in molecular biology have figured out ways to cut and rejoin strands of DNA using enzymes. Scientists have also learned that the only way to change the cells is to attach the enzymes to highly infectious viruses. The virus inserts itself into the cell, which incorporates the enzyme into the strands of DNA. The cell starts to copy the enzyme and at times the virus, thus infecting the DNA and changing the cells of the organism (Genetic). This may sound exciting at first, but closer examination exposes that politics and money are taking priority over potential dangers. The irony is that the world already has the ability to feed the world’s population without the need of high-yielding GM foods. Also, scientists have the ability to change the traits of organisms through a natural modification procedure. One way is through selective breeding, which has the same outcome as genetic engineering. In selective breeding the desired trait of the plant or animal is bred and hopefully passed into its offspring. Another way to duplicate the genetic approach is through grafting, a process whereby the trunk or branches of a plant well suited for growing in a climate but vulnerable to pests and disease can be cut off. The trunk or branch can then be attached to a plant where conditions aren’t always right, and the disease or pests are unknown (Cobb 18+). Time and effort are the only drawbacks to these processes. In genetics there are countless side effects such as the use of highly infectious viruses and gene mutations leading to toxins or allergens.

Although high risks are taken by geneticists to achieve their goals, there are a few possible needs for GM foods. One is that the human population is growing at an astonishing rate. Therefore, the agriculture land once used for farming is now being developed in order to house the growing population. Genetically engineering crops and food comes into play when farmers can grow foods in less then ideal conditions and create crops with higher yields in less time. Another factor is that scientists can create foods with longer shelf life. This means that they can be picked, shipped, and distributed without the worry of them spoiling before retail sale. One example of this is the Flavr Savr tomatoes created a few years ago. Scientists learned how to turn off the genes that created the rotting problem after the tomato is picked. Instead they can be picked green, and then transported, allowing the tomatoes to ripen and stay ripe for up to 10 days � plenty of time for sale in any rural market (Keynes). Pests and disease are one more reason that GM foods are produced. They have inserted a gene into most agriculture crops that produces its own pest control agent, eliminating the need for spraying.

The answers to these needs are not solved without the concern for the well being of the world. These feasible solutions to our problems have many negative results. The Flavr Savr tomato was injected with a gene to adjust its normal function. There is no way to tell if the gene, virus, or enzyme will eventually have the same effects when inserted into a totally unrelated species. Most likely, these changed genes (proteins) would prove safe for human consumption (Emmerson 5). Many of those crops that can create their own pesticides actually produce hundreds of times more toxins per acre than does an application of the same toxin sprayed directly on the plants.

Genetic manipulation can increase the chances that the plants will develop toxic or allergy-causing compounds. This leads to the harmful effects of GM foods on the human society. Therefore, it should be the obligation of experts to examine the GM foods before making them available to the public in order to avoid harmful effects. For example, when some people who are allergic to peanuts eat GM products such as tomatoes (which were injected with similar peanut genes) they are affected by the allergens of the peanut from the tomato.

This problem leads to the most widely debated issue over GM foods, the need for labeling. Labeling is vital to food-allergic individuals, who need to know when their purchases are potentially dangerous. Since most GM foods are indistinguishable in appearance from non-GM foods, most consumers will not know what they are buying. The FDA tries to cover up as many GM foods as they can. They follow the regulations but twist the moral issues. Existing FDA regulations mandate that companies label sweeteners added to canned vegetables by conventional methods. Yet the sweeteners added to the vegetables by genetic engineering do not have to be labeled. Another topic that the FDA has pushed aside is the labeling of animal genes added to plants used as food. Most religious individuals, who follow strict dietary laws, have seen no steps taken to accommodate their beliefs and restrictions (Torr 150+).

With the increased use of GM field crops, the environment is subject to genetic pollution. There are countless ways that pollen can be carried, thus inflicting turmoil between organic farmers and genetic farmers. Birds, bees, insects, wind and rain carry the GM-pollen across acres of fields and mixes the pollen with organic plants. Environmentalists are considering an “allowable limit” of genetic pollution of non-GM foods. They have to set up a limit because it can’t be stopped or controlled. Once these crops are grown and released into the ecosystem, it is impossible for them to be cleaned up or recalled to the labs. All genetic mutations will eventually be passed to future generations of plants (Cummins).

For the most part, the information about GM foods has a positive affect on society. This is partly because the biotechnology revolution is occurring before our eyes, and the number of commercially successful products is still quite small. However, the number of genetically modified foods reaching our plate is on the rise, and before eating, consumers should take a brief look at the already proven and likely hazards of GM foods. The issue of genetic modification technology and its use in food production is a sensitive and controversial topic. Public debate should be encouraged to enable an understanding between the organic and inorganic consumers.

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