Genetically Modified Foods – Good or Bad?

by Claribel Rosa Hidalgo on February 21, 2014

Effect of GM Foods. Forcechange. (n.d)

Effect of GM Foods. Forcechange. (n.d)

Recombinant DNA technology is used to alter the genes of plants. These plants are genetically engineered to resist herbicides and insecticides. Principle plants include soybeans, corn, cotton and potatoes. Though genetically modified (GM) foods have short term benefits like improved health, they also pose some long term risks like insect and weed resistance. The use of GM foods is still controversial since not enough is known. The following mentions some of the positive and negative consequence of using GM foods.

There are many good consequences of using GM foods including improving the wellbeing of many. For example, sweet potatoes in Africa are made to resist a virus that could destroy the harvest. There is also rice in Asian countries that are made to have iron and vitamins to alleviate chronic malnutrition (Bawa, Anilakimar 2013). Apart from the health benefits, these plants also have a longer shelf life and supposedly taste better. However, these benefits of using GM foods come with negative long term consequences.

The negative effects of using GM foods include harm to the environment. When plants are genetically modified, there is a chance they can cross pollinate with other plants causing future generations of plants to carry the gene for resistance. Eventually many plants in the area will become resistant (like weeds) and other forms of maintaining crops may have to be found. Pests could also build a resistance to the GM food which means that more pesticides would have to be used. These pests could also decide to feed on a different plant causing the new plant to be in danger and the balance in the ecosystem to be disrupted.

There are some GM foods that are posed as having a positive effect like disease resistant plants like bananas that produce a human vaccine against hepatitis B. These disease resistant plants are accompanied with a potential risk since they have viral resistance. Having a viral resistant plant can lead to the formation of new viruses which would lead to new diseases (Bawa, Anilakimar 2013). Though these virus resistant plants were made with people’s well-being in mind, the long term consequences are negative and need to be considered.

Apart from having negative long term consequences, many of these foods are not labeled as being GM. Manufacturers do not mention which foods are genetically modified which is wrong. They do this because they believe that labeling their food correctly would lead consumers to not buy their products. They may be correct about this but it is a wrong practice that needs to change. There could be some religious groups that would not consume GM foods as well as others that would not feel comfortable consuming it without knowing the long term effects. According to Wohlers (2013) activities at the federal level do not suggest that there will be any regulatory changes taking place regarding the labeling of GM foods. However, there may be some individual labelling done by food companies and individual states. It is important for GM food to be labelled because the consequences of consuming them are still not well known.

There was a study conducted in 2009 to test whether the genes from GM foods would transfer to the bacteria living in the human gut. The study gave the participants GM soy but saw that there was a low transfer rate. The researchers concluded that gene transfer did not occur (Bawa, Anilakimar 2013). There was another study done with pigs to see whether GM food would affect the gut bacteria and tissue. They found that GM food is digested in the same way as normal plant DNA with no probability of it being transferred to tissue or gut bacteria (Sieradzki 2013).  These studies portray that GM foods do not have an effect on humans or animals which would make their consumption safe. Though consumption may be safe according to existing studies, there should be more studies conducted on the long term effects of consuming GM foods.

GM foods should be eaten with precaution. There is still uncertainty as to the long term effects that it has on humans which is why labelling these products is important. GM foods do have a negative effect in the long run on our environment with cross pollination and the possibility of disrupting an ecosystem. There are some positive short term consequences like providing protection against some diseases and improving health for many. Studies also show that GM foods do not affect the bacteria living in our gut. Looking at the negative and positive consequences of using GM foods is not enough to determine whether it should be allowed or not. More research needs to be conducted to determine the long term consequences. This will allow people to have more data to look at to decide if its good or bad.

 

References

Bawa, A. S., & Anilakumar, K. R. (2013). Genetically modified foods: safety, risks and publicconcerns—a review. Journal of Food Science and Technology50(6), 1035–1046. doi:10.1007/s13197-012-0899-1

Forcechange. n.d. [Photograph of two tomatoes] Retrieved from:http://forcechange.com/10079/natural-or-unnatural-require-labeling-of-genetically-modified-foods/

Sieradzki, Z., Mazur, M., Kwiatek, K., Swiatkiewicz, S., Swiatkiewicz, M., Koreleski, J., Goldsztejn, M. (2013). Assessing the possibility of genetically modified DNA transfer from GM feed to broiler, laying hen, pig and calf tissues. Polish journal of veterinary sciences16(3), 435–441.

Wohlers, A. E. (2013). Labeling of genetically modified food: closer to reality in the UnitedStates? Politics and the life sciences: the journal of the Association for Politics and the Life Sciences32(1), 73–84. doi:10.2990/32_1_73


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