Are GM Foods Safe Biology Essay


Technological advances have seen the recent development of genetically modified food, leading to growing public and professional concerns and debate about the possible advantages and dangers of such developments. Genetic modification (GM), genetic manipulation (GM) and genetic engineering are all refer to the same thing. It uses modern biotechnology to change the genes of an organism, such as plant or animal. A genetically modified organism (GMO) is a plant, animal or other organism that has been changed using genetic modification. GM can change the genes of an organism in ways not possible through traditional breeding techniques. [1] There are two commonly used methods by which genes are inserted into new cells. The transfer may be made using a micro-organism (virus or bacterium), or by shooting genetic material coated on to the surface of microscopic gold particles into new cells. GM techniques introduce only one or a few genes into the crop, in comparison to conventional cross hybridisation, which has the potential for multiple introductions of undesirable genes. [2] 

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Nowadays, a lot of genetically modified crops have been made. One obvious example is golden rice. Golden rice is genetically modified rice that now contains the element beta-carotene which is converted in the body into Vitamin-A. So when we eat golden rice, we will get more of vitamin A. Another example of genetic modification is pesticide resistance rape plants. Scientists have transferred a gene to the rape plant which enables the plant to resist a certain pesticide. When the farmer sprays his genetically modified rape crop with pesticides, he or she can destroy most of the pests without killing the rape plants. Another example is insecticide sweet corn. Scientists have genetically modified sweet corn so that it produces a poison which kills harmful insects. This means the farmer no longer needs to fight insects with insecticides. The genetically modified corn is called Bt-corn, because the insect-killing gene in the plant comes from the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis. The last example here is long-lasting tomatoes. This product came onto the market in 1994 and actually was the first genetically modified food that is available to consumers. Genetically modified tomato produce less substances that cause tomato to rot, thus they can stay firm and fresh for a long time. This is crucial to maintain their freshness especially due to transportation time. [3] 

Based on Alan J. Gray research paper, there are several important point to point out which helped to 'fuel' the flames of the GM controversy. First and foremost is about BSE and 'government science'. Most observers agree that the circumstances in which links were drawn between bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and the fatal human brain disease new variant CJD (Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease) has had a devastating effect on public confidence in science, especially in UK. This incident has made people to be more sensitive with food-related issues and distrust problem toward the government science and the regulatory system. Whatever the outcome of the debate, public largely see that GM foods are going to benefit biotechnology companies or farmers, while we, as the consumers going to take all the risks. It is due to the reason where there is insufficient amount of information about risk and benefits of GM foods are given toward them. The roles of media also play a significant role of GM debate. Scientists always quarrel between them and it is media job to make it as public. Arguments that are more usually rehearsed in the relatively obscure pages of scientific journal have been laid bare for public scrutiny. A second aspect of media coverage is that some sections of media itself have become campaigners. One knows what to expect from a particular source and for these sources journalism departing from the editorial line is rare. On top of that, even the reaction of particular newspaper to the recent very neutral and balanced report from the GM Science Review Panel was actually almost entirely predictable. [4] 

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Scientists do have the reasons why they create so many GM crops products. Generally, GM research is conducted by multinational companies whose the primary aim is to increase sale or revenue. Yet, there are various benefits that we can obtain from the production of GM to both individual and to the population.

First of all, GM technology may increase the nutritional value of food. The clear example is the production of golden rice. As being explained above, golden rice is a best solution for dietary micronutrition deficiencies such as the insufficient input of vitamin A, iodine, iron or zinc which are the cause of morbidity (increased susceptibility to disease) and mortality worldwide. These deficiencies mostly affect predominantly children, thus impairing their immune systems and normal development, causing disease and ultimately death. According to the World Health Organization, dietary vitamin A deficiency (VAD) causes approximately 250,000 to 500,000 children to go blind each year. [5] 

Besides that, GM foods with reduced allergenicity also can be produced. Transgenic varieties of grasses, birch and oilseed rape have been created with reduced anaphylactic activity by susceptible individual. [6] These are mostly used in allergy immunotherapy. It is done by giving a cumulative amount of disease-eliciting allergens with the aim of develop reduced allergen-specific responsiveness. Therefore, it is highly possible to create foodstuffs with similar reduced hyper-sensitivity in reactive people. [7] There is no evidence that, in general, GM food will be more or less allergenic than their corresponding conventional foods. As GM technology involved the transfer of genes that may code for proteins that is not normally present in the target organisms, there are possibilities that a new protein might transfer allergenicity from the host to the new target organisms in specific situations, hence bestow an allergen in a food which an individual was not previously allergic. The allergy issue is getting increased year by year, particularly when the issues are correlated with genetically modified (GM) food. William Yan, head of the office of food biotechnology at Health Canada said that the issue of allergens in foods is highly complex and very unlikely to involve novel or genetically modified foods which have passed strictly safety tests. He then stated that "Genetically modified foods have to be as safe and nutritional as their conventional counterparts. Allergenicity is a key part of novel food assessments. If a GM food contains a new protein that wasn't in that food before, it is tested for toxicity and allergenicity. Because products differ, we ask the developers to do the testing and submit the data. Then we evaluate it." [8] Despite that, there is one case where allergen has been transferred into another food by genetic modification. For this example, methionine-rich 2S albumin was transferred from Brazil nuts into soybeans with the aim to improve the nutritional quality of the latter foods. Since Brazil nut is a known allergic food, research has been done to identify and accessing the allergenicity in the resulting GM soybeans. The result was shown to be positive which indicated that transgenic soybean can cause allergenicity. This study clearly shows that an allergen from a food known to be allergenic can be transferred into another food by genetic engineering. [9] 

Besides that, GM crops such as soy beans, potatoes, corn, rice and tomatoes have various purposes toward the production such as used as to control weeds or insect pests, resist viral infection, produce a thicker skin and last but not least, altered pectin to enhance processing or alter ripening to increase fresh market value. The production of pest and disease-resistant crops may lead to the lower number of pesticides used and at the consequence, will lead to lesser crop residue and significantly lower the chemical pollution that spread to the environment. It may be possible to develop crops that require less water to thrive, or which can grow on saline-polluted soil. Over-population and poverty problems are widely spread throughout developing countries. It happened due to demand of crops exceeded the yield of crop production. It became worse as the yield improvement rate of crops is reaching a plateau while the demand of it increases exponentially. Transgenic crops may help provide a stable and sustained production of high-quality food by increasing the yield, decreasing the need for pesticides, and improving the nutritional quality. [10] 

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On top of possible gains, we also need to consider the number of potential safety issues relating to GM foods. These foods might directly threaten the health of individual consumers by containing allergens or toxics, or producing food of reduced nutritional value. Apart from that, they may pose threats to human populations through the invention of antibiotic resistance and also may also affect the environment by promoting the development and use of herbicide-resistance weeds.

There have been no established cases of food toxicity resulting from GM. Nonetheless, there are several cases which have raised these concerns. One of them involved an epidemic of eosinophilia myalgia syndrome (EMS) in 1989 which resulted in 37 deaths and more than 1500 non-fatal reported cases. These cases have been proved to be linked with ingestion of a specific batch of the food supplement tryptophan manufactured by the Japanese company Showa Denko KK. The tryptophan dimer L-tryptophan was identified as a contaminant and is believed to be the causative agent in EMS. [11]