Genetically Modified Food Essay Conclusion
Genetically modified foods have recently garnered more attention as the issue becomes a hotly debated and popular subject. Several environmental organizations and public interest groups have actively protested against Genetically Modified Foods (also, Genetically Modified Organisms or GMOs) for various reasons. The main question many have asked is, “should we support or oppose GMOs?”
Deborah Whitman sheds some light on this subject and does an excellent job summarizing the issues involving GM foods in her article “Genetically Modified Foods: Harmful or Helpful?” Whitman presents numerous advantages and criticisms for GMOs.
In my opinion, the advantages of GMOs versus the cons are overwhelming. Although some believe GM foods impinge on consumers’ health, I believe this is de minimis–so small or minimal in difference that it does not matter. In order to understand my opinion on this issue, I submit that I am no scientist; merely an interested student.
Although GMOs are often the subject of controversy, a number of people do not understand exactly what they are and why their use is debated. GMOs are foods derived from genetically modified organisms. The term GMO is used to refer to crop plants created for human or animal consumption using the latest molecular biology techniques. These plants have been modified in the laboratory to enhance desired traits such as increased resistance to herbicides or improved nutritional content. The enhancement of desired traits has traditionally been undertaken through breeding, but conventional plant breeding methods can be very time-consuming and are often not very accurate. However, genetic engineering can create plants with the exact desired trait very rapidly and with great accuracy.
What are some advantages? Most advantages appear to be diminutive; however, they have an enormous impact on our society and food supply. Some of the advantages include pest resistance, herbicide tolerance, disease resistance, cold tolerance, drought tolerance, nutrition, and pharmaceuticals. These advantages are listed below in further detail:
- Pest resistance can be extremely costly, requiring farmers to spend a lot of time and money on pesticides. Additionally, these pesticides bring about numerous hazards and can encroach on consumers’ health. GMOs can help eliminate pesticides and reduce costs. These advantages can mean reduced costs for farmers that are eventually passed along to consumers. Further, crop losses from insect pests can be staggering, resulting in devastating financial loss for farmers and starvation in developing countries.
- Another important advantage of GMOs is the fact that biologists are working to create plants with genetically engineered resistance to plant viruses, fungi, and bacteria. This would also help farmers and others be more efficient and save money.
- An antifreeze gene has been introduced into several plants, giving the plants the ability to tolerate colder temperatures that normally would kill unmodified seedlings.
- Researchers are working to create a strain of “golden” rice that contains several vitamins and nutrients. This is significant because it could improve the diet of populations dependent on rice while reducing malnutrition in countries that don’t have access to other crops.
- GMOs help lower costs for much needed medicines and vaccines that are too expensive for impoverished countries.
Although the advantages of GMOs seem to make the case for their use a “no brainer” at this point, there are several criticisms and concerns. Critics often include environmental activists, religious organizations, public interest groups, professional associations, and other scientists and government officials. Their main concerns are comprised of a belief that private corporations are pursuing profits without concern for potential hazards and a belief that the government is failing to exercise adequate regulatory oversight. Whitman states that GM food concerns generally fall into three categories: 1) environmental hazards, 2) human health risks, and 3) economic concerns.
- The environmental hazards consist of unintended harm to other organisms. For example, a study showed that pollen from Bt corn, corn bioengineered to resist the European corn borer, a crop pest which can cause significant damage to crops, caused high mortality rates in monarch butterfly caterpillars. Although the killing of insects may be the goal in pest resistance, it flows into other unintended species. Additionally, some populations of mosquitoes and other insects may become resistant to crops that have been genetically modified.
- Human health risks are an enormous concern. The main argument against GMOs is that there are several possible unknown risks. Two main concerns are that introducing foreign genes into food plants COULD have a negative impact on human health by introducing a new allergen or that ingesting these foods could cause problems with consumers’ intestines. However, this is up for debate and critics claim that the concerns are not warranted.
- The economic concerns, and probably the most warranted, claim that the process of bringing a GMO to the market is a lengthy and costly process in which companies pursue a profitable return on their investment. The problem occurs when companies patent these new plants and raise the price of seeds.
In conclusion, Genetically Modified foods have enormous potential to save money, eliminate poverty, reduce hunger and malnutrition, and promote innovative practices. Some individuals believe GM foods infringe on the environment and human health, however, I believe these concerns are de minimis and unwarranted. Although we must proceed with much caution and detailed research, technology is constantly pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. Consumers should weigh the positives with the negatives and embrace this innovative process to help rid the world of numerous problems.
1. “GM corn poses little threat to monarch larvae” (Nature, Vol. 399, No 6733, p. 214, May 1999).
2. “Genetically Modified Foods: Harmful or Helpful?” Deborah B. Whitman, 2000.
Found at: http://www.csa.com/discoveryguides/gmfood/overview.php
3. FDA; Federal FD&C Act. See “http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Testimony/ucm115032.htm“
- 8.1 Conclusions on agricultural biotechnology
- 8.2 Conclusions on environment and health effects
8.1 Conclusions on agricultural biotechnology
On the one hand, agricultural biotechnology may be viewed as a complement to conventional agriculture. It is a scientific tool that can aid plant breeding programs and the conservation of genetic resources, as well as improve the diagnosis and treatment of plant and animal diseases. On the other hand, it may be viewed as a dramatic departure from conventional agriculture, since it enables the transfer of genetic material between organisms that would not normally crossbreed.
In fact, agricultural biotechnology is both at the same time, since it cannot stand on its own. To achieve useful results it needs both classical plant breeding methods as well as the information derived from genomics. Agricultural biotechnology has international implications and may become increasingly important for developing countries.1 However, it arose in developed countries, which continue to dominate this technology. Thus research tends to focus on crops with relevance to developed countries rather than to developing countries, which usually do not have the research funding and breeding programs that are necessary for GM technology. More...
1 India, China, Argentina, and Brazil are some of the countries that have active biotechnology development programmes.
8.2 Conclusions on environment and health effects
To date, countries where genetically modified crops have been introduced in fields, have not reported any significant health damage or environmental harm. Monarch butterflies have not been significantly affected. Pests have not developed resistance to Bt. Some evidence of herbicide tolerant weeds has emerged, but superweeds have not invaded agricultural or natural ecosystems. On the contrary, important social and environmental benefits are emerging. Farmers are using less pesticides or using less toxic ones, reducing harm to water supplies and workers' health, and allowing the return of beneficial insects to the fields.
Meanwhile, technical or management solutions have been found to address some of the concerns associated with the first generation of genetically modified crops, such as antibiotic resistance.
However, the fact that no negative effects have so far been observed does not mean that such effects cannot occur. Therefore scientists encourage further research.
FAO supports a science-based evaluation system that would objectively determine the benefits and risks of each individual GMO. This calls for a cautious case-by-case approach to address legitimate concerns for the biosafety of each product or process prior to its release. The possible effects on biodiversity, the environment and food safety need to be evaluated, and the extent to which the benefits of the product or process outweigh its risks assessed. The evaluation process should also take into consideration experience gained by national regulatory authorities in clearing such products. Careful monitoring of the post-release effects of these products and processes is also essential to ensure their continued safety to human beings, animals and the environment.
“Science cannot declare any technology completely risk free. Genetically engineered crops can reduce some environmental risks associated with conventional agriculture, but will also introduce new challenges that must be addressed. Society will have to decide when and where genetic engineering is safe enough” (FAO 2004). More...