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Genetically Modified and Organic Foods: Pros and Cons

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Biology
Wordcount: 4237 words Published: 21st May 2018

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“Without modern food production methods, the world food shortage would be in even more of a crisis today.” The controversial issue regarding organic and modern mass production methods such as genetic modification, chemical additives and irradiation is a big issue in the global food industry. The global food shortage crisis is gaining momentum as the world is exposed to environmental disasters and the devastating effects of global warming. A solution may come from the growing Genetically Modified (GM) food industry or are the long term effects of GM food too much of a risk. They are increasingly penetrating the market and are replacing the natural, organic foods. Technology has taken over our lives and lifestyles and GM foods are evidence of a desperate attempt to keep up with the crippling population growth worldwide and the lack of equal food dispersion thereof. The controversy of the issue is weighted by the reality of the global food shortage crisis.

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What are Organic Foods?

Over the years the term has changed to accommodate the new species of crops and varieties of animals. The original definition would be food that has not been altered in any by the use of technology or man-made activities. The foods have been grown in naturally fertilised soil, meaning that there is an absence of chemicals such as pesticides or herbicides. The crops then grow naturally by photosynthesis and they are then harvested, processed (cleaning, etc.) packaged and distributed. There are very limited amount of chemical additives such as preservatives, colourants, flavourants despite popular beliefs but they are not exposed to irradiation or radurisation. In terms of livestock and animal produce, the animals are nurtured for in a natural environment such as one that resembles their natural habitat. They are free to roam around and salvage food such as free range chickens are allowed to roam and peck for food. The animal feed is not pumped with synthetic growth hormones or antibiotics or genetically modified organisms.

Organic foods are supposed to be the biological, natural and traditional crops or animals that have been around since the dawn of time. Customary farming styles have changed but the organic principles have stayed the same.

Fresh organic food

This classifies food that has not been processed and is sold at produce store such as Everfresh, Fruit & Veg City or small stales. The produce is bought from independent, small scale sellers that are usually the farmers of the produce. This usually categorises fresh fruit and vegetables but it can be used to classify fresh meat. However in today’s technological society, fresh produce is not always organic. Loose fruit and vegetables are also in produce stores so the best way to identify organic produce is by reading labels. Another indication of organic produce is knowing what seasons the fruits or vegetables usually grow and are harvested. Price is also an additional indication. Organic produce is usually more expensive.

Processed organic food

These foods are found in grocery stores such as Spar or Woolworths. These foods have a high percentage of organic foods and do contain a limited amount of non artificial flavours or additives. The foods are preserved using natural preservatives such as high amounts of salt or sugar. They are also under strict restraints regarding their processing. They may also tend to be more expensive and have a shorter shelf life than non-organic processed products.

Pros and cons of organic production

The organic food industry has boomed by 70% worldwide and in some countries a higher percentage of people have tapped into the organic food industry due to health concerns and the alleged health benefits of organic food. The pros and cons are the issues that consumers are weighing every time they go shopping or order a meal or consume something. The organic food industry capitalise on the fact that their food is a lot healthier than GM foods or non-organic foods but that is not always the case.

Pros of organic food production

Organic food is generally good for the environment and our health but this varies according to the farm style, produce and scale of the farm. There are several reasons for this.

Organic farms do not use synthetic fertilisers, pesticides, insecticides, herbicides or chemicals when farming. This means that the crops can develop their own natural photochemicals via photosynthesis and protect themselves from insects and weeds. This means that they are naturally fortified with antioxidants, minerals and macro and micro vitamins. They have to fight off their natural “predators” and this environmental stress ensures that we will consume crops with more vitamins and antioxidants without the health risk of chemical residues.

The use of manure and compost is economical and completely natural.

The lack or minuscule use of artificial chemicals means that there is a much lower risk of contracting illnesses introduced by the unnatural chemicals. For example pesticides are known to have detrimental effects on our health ranging from minor discomforts like headaches to breast cancer. The chemicals are also damaging to developing foetuses (as the pesticides cross the placenta and their immune system is undeveloped) and pregnant women (as their organs and body systems are already under stress). They can also cause Parkinson’s disease.

Antibiotics are not used in animal farming feeds meaning that their meat or produce do not contain the antibiotics but they use their natural immune systems to fight diseases. The antibiotics can cause long term health complications. The antibiotics used are very similar to ones used for human use thus means that the body will receive an over dose will cause harmful bacteria in our body to evolve and mute into a new drug resistant species.

Growth hormones are not used in animal feeds or pumped into their bodies. This means that they will develop naturally and mature when they are biologically supposed to. The health effects of these can only be truly seen in the long term but some are evident today. Girls and boys are maturing before their time and there are more random hormonal, birth and growth defects than before.

Additives and preservatives such as Monosodium Glutamate (MSG), hydrogenised fats, colourants and artificial sweeteners are not present in organic foods. They have been proven to be detrimental to human health.

The lack of synthetic pesticides means that organic farming in not harmful to indigenous wildlife. It encourages vast range of biodiversity and a balanced ecosystem.

Crop rotation promotes soil nutrition and a diversity of crops to grow. The nutrient demand varies according to the plant and this means that the soil has time to replenish itself or by the use of nitrifying plants or “cover crops” such as legumes and beans or clovers. They also introduce new, beneficial insects to the ecosystem to kill off pests.

Crop rotation also promotes a stronger top soil therefore reducing soil erosion ad harmful chemicals from being washed into rivers and streams hence contaminating valuable drinking water and lower levels of heavy metals from polluting, clean drinking water.

Animals are in a free range environment meaning that they will develop muscles and strong bones and immune systems and their natural diet will enable them to live healthy, normal lifestyles.

Organic farms produce less waste and are more energy efficient and use less energy.

Organic farms do not need highly skilled workers or very expensive equipment.

Cons of organic food production

Despite the numerous benefits there are some concerning problems with organic foods but they too vary according to the farm produce and the size of the farm.

The shelf life of organic foods is much shorter than GM or mass produced products because the lack of additives and preservatives decreases their shelf life (especially fruit and vegetables).

Organic foods are a lot more expensive than commercial or mass produced foods in some cases 50%-100% more expensive. The organic industry marketing is largely based on the health benefits of organic food so some products may claim to be organic but do not meet the standards and cheat people out of their money.

The limited amounts of chemicals will still have detrimental effects in the long term.

There is said to be no proven results that there is a substantial difference between nutritional benefits with organic foods and fortified commercial foods such as commercially grown cereals or juices.

The natural manure used may contain harmful bacteria such as the E. coli bacterium which is fatal to human health if not treated. The farms also give off of gases (e.g. methane) that are harmful to the environment.

Organic foods are not produced on a very big scale such as mass scale production so their yield is much lower and would not be able to keep up with high demand for food. Hence the expense.

Organic foods may not look as appealing or appetising as commercially grown products or GM foods.

Crop rotation is not subject to organic farming and it is not as energy efficient as it claims. No-till farming is a commercial farming technique and uses the least energy. (The process however uses herbicides to clear the land eliminating the need to till or manage the land.)

The farming styles may be too outdated and need improvement to adapt to the changing environment.

Organic farming may not ensure food security to a mass population or sustain food fashions or trends. It is heavily dependant on seasonal change and weather so supplies are inconstant.

Organic farming is tedious and hard work and requires space.

What chemicals are used to aid the production and supply foods?

Additives and preservatives are used largely in mass production products. They are added to food products to enhance taste, colour, and texture or to preserve the food in order for it to have an increased shelf life. This makes the food more aesthetically appealing and or even taste better than usual. They are substances that are purposely added to food during the handling, processing or manufacturing stages of food. This is a selling gimmick but some additives are beneficial but they also have negative health effects. Examples of additives are Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is one of the most common additives in savoury foods and tartazine (E102) is a yellow colouring also used in a variety of products. They are known to cause or aggravate allergies or even respiratory problems like asthma.

Functions that the chemicals perform

MSG enhances the flavour and taste of savoury foods. It is a white crystalline substance that dissolves well into a variety of foods. It causes allergic reactions like swelling lips and vomiting.

Tartazine (E102) is used to colour food yellow, like in margarine. It has been linked with asthma and hyperactivity in children.

Additives generally:

  • Are effective against combating a variety of microorganisms
  • Are not toxic to humans and animals (if taken in the right dosage)
  • Are Water soluble (dissolve well in water)
  • Add nutrient value
  • Are not damaged by temperature changes or bacteria
  • Do not affect the natural components of food. (Flavour, aroma, etc.)
  • Are economical

What is genetic modification?

Genetic modification is the process of technologically changing the genetic information of an organism to achieve a desired result. The biotechnology used or genetic engineering to create genetically modified crops or Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) entails extracting desirable genes from one organism and fusing them with another to create a new, improved breed or species of plant. The GM crops are then cultivated and introduced into the market. The traits make them more desirable and penetrate the market easily. They are therefore cheaper, last longer and have an enhanced nutritional value. In animals it enhances their productivity and quality of feed and produce (hormones, etc).

Genetic modification is a complex practice laws need to be implemented such as the South African GMO Act (1997) that controls and monitors activity regarding GMOs. It is administrated by the National Department of Agriculture consisting of committee members from government bodies.

GM was introduced to reach the high and strenuous demands for food because of the rapidly exploding global population. The food shortage crisis has however worsened over the years and people are turning more towards GM products as a faster and cheaper solution as opposed to conventional or organic products. There are concerns about health effects and are GM foods just as detrimental if not worse than commercial mass produced products.

Is it the “baddie” that its reputation suggests?

Despite the widespread support for GM foods there is a large community that strongly feels that they will cause more problems than solutions and that they are just prolonging the list of causes of human death.

Arguments in favour of GM products:

  • It is an advancement of traditional breeding to keep up with the increasing food demands.
  • GM crops use fewer chemicals than commercially grown or mass produced crops making them just as health as organic foods.
  • They have a high yield and their yield is constant.
  • There is no sound evidence that GM production has an undesirable effect on the environment.
  • Developing countries need the crops to feed their populations and are adopting the technology or receiving it as aid from first world or developed countries.
  • It is quick, cheaper and less maintenance than wide scale farming or organic farming as it needs less space and fewer costs (chemicals, manure etc.)

Arguments against GM products:

  • There is a scarcity of scientific testing results of the short term or long term effects of GM products.
  • There is not enough technology and funding in the world to sustain everybody in the long term.
  • The GM foods may contain versatile toxins unknown to man at the present time.
  • GM crops will lead to a lack of biodiversity and a decrease the indigenous crops or animals having a negative environmental effect.
  • They could increase susceptibility to allergens.
  • The alterations of genes could also alter genes in our own bodies and pass them on to further generations.
  • There are major ethical issues regarding GM foods.

It is unclear as to whether or not GM foods are as bad as they are said to be but they seem to be the only working solution so far to combat the food social shortage global crisis. The need for GM foods is clear but the risk of eating genetically altered food is too high. The luxury of eating new fruits like grapples is inviting but the price of future generations health is alarming. GM foods are becoming a hazard posing as a luxury but if their constraints are limited they could serve a beneficial purpose such as alleviating the food shortage crisis. Genetic modification could be a food fashion or fad but judging by its popularity it is here to stay.

What is radurisation?

Radurisaton, also known as irradiation is the treatment of food using very short light or radio waves. This improves the foods shelf life, safety and its suitability. Electromagnetic radiation is the umbrella term for the different types of waves used scientifically. The Gamma rays are the shortest waves in the electromagnetic spectrum and they are used to irradiate the food. The rays infiltrate deep into the food and kill bacteria or insects as their biological cells are sensitive to the radiation. The waves can also retard potatoes from sprouting. The waves are generated by a specially treated metal called Cobalt 60 that is encased between double layers of metal rods; because of the dangers of gamma rays the radurisation takes place under strictly controlled conditions. Different dosages are used according to the desired effect, if food is to be pasteurised than the dosage is less than equipment that needs to be sterilised.

It is very popular and it is authorized by a number of international organisations such as the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) and the American Medical Association. It is locally supported by The Department of Health. According to Act 54 of 1972 (in South Africa) all irradiated foodstuffs must be labelled properly showing the Radura symbol and only if approved by the Minister of Health or the Director General. The maximum dosage is 10 kiloGrey, exceeding this will be violating international regulations.

The Radura Symbol

What foods are irradiated?

There are a variety of foods that are irradiated especially raw or highly sensitive foods that can be contaminated easily. They are divided into different classes starting from 1-11; the higher the class the more complex the application (the table attached illustrates this). A few of the common food stuffs are:

  • Wheat
  • Maize
  • Spices and herbs
  • Fruits (e.g. strawberries)
  • Vegetables (e.g. cauliflower)
  • Meat (raw or frozen)
  • Poultry
  • Fresh garlic
  • Honey
  • Tubers, bulbs and roots (e.g. potatoes)

What are the pros and cons of irradiation?

Pros of irradiation:

  • It eliminates or reduces the amount of disease causing organisms in the food and other harmful bacteria. (e.g. salmonella, E. coli, listeria, etc.)
  • It replaces the use of potentially harmful chemicals used to fumigate insects from crops.
  • Irradiation meets international and national quarantine standards.
  • It extends the shelf life of food especially raw fruit and vegetables, meat and poultry.
  • It is a safe and effective method for treating food.
  • The food does not become radioactive.

Cons of irradiation:

  • There is a minor reduction in vitamin content during irradiation.
  • It cannot improve spoilt foods
  • Foods with a high percentage of fat change colour when they are irradiated.
  • It does not improve or enhance the taste or appearance of the food.
  • It can cause unpleasant flavours in certain foods.
  • Skilled workers can only work with the equipment
  • The equipment is expensive and needs regular maintenance

Analysis of results

Who was interviewed?

I tried to choose a spectrum of candidates raining in age hence affecting their lifestyle choices.

I surveyed:

  • Parents
  • Scholars
  • Friends
  • Members of the Ballito community
  • Children

The results that I acquired are more or less what I had expected. There was an equal balance between the questions as to whether or not people agreed with the statement but I was surprised to see that 5out of the 15 people did not think that there was a global food shortage crisis. A lot of people did not have a vegetable garden which I had thought was a fad and more and more people felt safer when they ate their own produce. 10 out of the 15 people knew what genetic modification was and the same results were obtained when 10 out of the 15 people choose the correct definition for organic food.

There is a trend regarding people being more aware of organic food and how influential food labels are and the effect on the environment. 10 out of 15 people were willing to spend more money on organic foods which is more evidence that organic food is becoming a big part of people’s lifestyle choices.

0 out of the 15 people did not know what the Radura symbol indicated so it shows that there is a lack of consumer knowledge. Ultimately the general result regarding the controversial issue of GM foods relieving the food shortage crisis was that people strongly supported this theory with 10 people choosing yes, 4 people choosing no and one person choosing not applicable.

The following tables and graphs diagrammatically represent a few of the results from the survey:

What are organic foods?

What is Genetic modification?

Number of people who choose the correct definition: 10

Number of people who choose the correct definition: 0

Number of people who choose the wrong definition: 5


Do GM foods influence your food choice?

Do organic foods influence your food choice?

Number of people who choose: Yes


Number of people who choose: No


Number of people who choose: Not applicable


Total: 15

Are you willing to spend more money on organic foods?

Number of people who choose: Yes


Number of people who choose: No


Number of people who choose: Not applicable


Total: 15

Do you have a vegetable garden?

Number of people who choose: Yes


Number of people who choose: No


Number of people who choose: Not applicable




Do you think GM foods could alleviate the food shortage crisis?

Number of people who choose: Yes

Number of people who choose: No

Number of people who choose: Not applicable

Do you believe that there is a global food shortage crisis?

Number of people who choose: Yes

Number of people who choose: No

Number of people who choose: Not applicable

Personal opinion

The information is reliable and valid as people answered the survey individually and they were anonymous and so they felt more flexible and honest with their answers. The results were bias in that all the candidates where from a similar financial background and had access to more consumer information.

The survey results did match with the literature results that I obtained. They were the same in terms of the lack of consumer knowledge and the growing trend of people moving towards organic foods for supposed health reasons. A lot of people thought that the organic farms had a good environmental impact but they were wrong so the information given to the public is not always fact making it misleading.

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Suggestions on how to improve the investigation

The investigation was extensive and needed a lot of detail. I would survey more people and a wider spectrum ranging from a bigger lifestyle differences and income background in order for the results to be more accurate. The length and content of my survey/ questionnaire would be more specified so as to have a fair and set standard of what results should be required from the public. I would use a better organisational method of my information by mapping it out before is started my investigation in order to clearly know what I have to do. My time management would also need improvement in order to have more time to thoroughly go through my work and not be rushed for time. I would research more information in order to have more arguments regarding the investigation.


There is evidence of a global food shortage crisis and it is clear that people have chosen to show a blind eye to the situation or actively combat it. The two major concerns as to whether or not they will alleviate the global food shortage crisis are clear; Organic or Commercial mass produced food. There are counter arguments that there is enough food supplied from the earth but misdistribution and greed have caused food to become scarce. The environment is also more versatile than it used to be due to global warming so extreme disasters and weather patterns are changing landscapes and available or potential farming land is becoming a scarcity. The growing population is also exceeding the environmental capacity to cater for it as there in not enough space to farm as it is cultivated for farming and there is a higher demand for food than there is a supply. The recent recession is also another reason threatening food security and increasing oil prices threaten the transport of foods.

Without the technological advances that man has created to bring about mass produced foods is a solution but a temporary one as repercussions are not yet evident but they will curb the success of mass produced foods. Organic foods do not seem half as damaging but they too cannot sustain the booming population. The question remains as to whether or not to choose organic or GM food but for majority of the world’s population that is not an option so they have to rely on GM foods.

The world would be in even more of a crisis if modern mass food productions but they need to refine their methods and strive to be as close to organic quality as possible, GM is not the answer, more needs to be done.


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