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The world today offer a wide variety of food products that ends up in the hands of consumers who dwell on the manufactures description on their content, nutritional value and the possible risks they may pose to their health. One of food products that consumers need to know about their nature are the Genetically Modified Foods (GMO`s) which are produced through consequent alteration of the genetic sequence of the DNA of a species. This technological advancement in food production presents a lot of ethical questions and possible safety issues which the consumer need be aware of before going for the products. One of the ways to overcome consumer resistance to genetically engineered foods is to clearly label products especially fruits and vegetables derived from transgenetic plants. This paper explores the diverse ethical and social dilemmas that are linked with GMO`s in food supply markets that customers need to know. The paper will focus on both positive and negative technical aspect of genetic modification on foods and some of the laws relating to their production and use so that customers can make their own stand towards their use. Specific view is that GMO`s should be labeled so that the customer after being informed about them is left with the ultimate decision of choice whether to use them or not.
Genetically Modified Foods are not the same as foods produced from natural grown crops through normal breeding methods as put by some manufactures. The foods crops are modified through genetic engineering that enables them attain both growth and maturity fast. Farmers are able to produce these crops cheaply since they are more resistant to strains of bacteria or insecticides. The crops are produced through taking long strands of DNA and inserting into other species of cells making it possible for the new cell to carry along useful traits. The new cells that merge are known as genetically modified organisms (GMO`s), achieved through stages of; extraction, gene cloning, gene design, transformation and backcross breeding. Today, people consume about 100,000 different genes daily, and the DNA is efficiently broken down into the human intestinal system.
In USA, soybeans, corn and cotton are among the most common genetically produced crops (GM crops in USA, 2001). These crops are modified with the intention of tolerating herbicides, resisting pets, increasing nutritional value, improving color and flavor and providing a longer shell life. This does not come in handy without some alteration: a gene from the bacterium bacillus thruingiensis (Bt) is inserted into the plants which consequently stimulates production of toxic protein that repels some insects such as caterpillars.
With the future of genetic engineering seeming to be bright, its application has been applied in application of some of the widely consumed food crops such as the bananas. The world today has bananas from which human vaccine against infectious diseases like Hepatitis B can be extracted, fruit and nut trees that yields earlier, fish that matures more fast and plants that generate more plastic with exceptional properties.
Benefits of Genetically Modified foods.
Consumers wishing to use food products from genetically modified food have the right to know the advantages associated with them. One advantage that surpasses the rest is their nature to grow and mature fast ensuring a steady food production. It should be put in consideration that estimations show that a child dies after every two seconds in the world due to starvation. Besides, others are malnourished which makes it important to embrace such technology. Through it, corn production has increased by 333%, wheat by 136% while protein providing foods have increased to 300%. Corn for instance has varied uses besides acting as food yet it can not produce on its own without human intervention owing to its tight husk that bars the corn kernel from escaping and reaching the soil to germinate. The crop is also susceptible to pest and diseases and thus genetic modification favors its production (GM crops in USA, 2001).
Genetic modification in food production has offered a solution in our environments where the soil salinity has continuously increased owing to the decreasing water table and hence rendering it infertile. decline in soil productivity in countries that need a diminished land for agriculture would lead to acute food shortages if the GMO`s with genes of tolerant plants species like mangrove are not adopted to supplement the natural crops.
Further, there is known medicinal advantage associated with their use. People in developing countries where technology to store vaccines for quite a longer period lacks can benefit by acquiring immunization through eating these foods as part of their diet according to Dr. Charles Arntzen. Transgenic potato plants have already been developed which have successfully verified capacity to immunize mice against bacteria that causes diarrhea (Thomashow & Michael, 1999).
Negatives Aspects of GMO`s
Consumption of food products originating from modified plants exposes human beings to some risks. Without labeling, unsuspecting customers can end up purchasing modified products which in some circumstances were not initially meant to be for human consumption. Consumers need to know of the various products that come up in the name of GMO`s. StarLink for example is a GMO corn product that is designated to be pigs food, but has often found its way to food store for humans. The companyââ‚¬â„¢s stand against labeling is owed to the fear that such laws would hurt their sales when people avoid modified foods (Thomashow & Michael, 1999).
The worldââ‚¬â„¢s largest supplier of genetically modified seed for crops is Monsanto. Surprisingly, its one of the larger producers of pesticides and herbicides against the believe that GMO`s requires less herbicide and pesticide. Eva Cheng online article titled "Genetically modified food: Bush promotes a `biological time bomb,'" she discusses the way large corporations are pushing modified foods and how many scientists agree they are dangerous. 75% of GM crops are genetically manipulated to be herbicide tolerant (but usually only to brands produced by the same multinational corporations) and to be cultivated with heavy doses of the designated herbicide so that everything else is killed but the GM crop (Cheng, 2003). The use of pesticides and herbicides in fields has been well documented as unhealthy due to the many ways it effects the environment as well as human consumption when the food product is eventually eaten and still contains traces of the chemicals.
A major ethical consideration about the genetically modified foods is about the amount and quality of testing preformed on the foods. Genetic engineering is a relatively new field of science, and the long term results of modification are not clear.
Another ethical concern raised in the use of genetically engineered crops is the safety of those who consume the final product. The Bt toxin that is used in most non-herbicide resistant strains of genetically modified plants was taken from the Bt bacteria. This toxin is designed to kill pests that eat crops, to replace the use of pesticides. Since the Bt toxin is inside the actual plant, there is no way it can be washed off or removed before human consumption. Allergies and other responses have been found in many people who eat these foods. These people with food allergies towards engineered are left with no alternatives as the use of genetically engineered crops spread and no labeling is preformed (Thomashow & Michael, 1999).
Laws on Genetically Modified Foods in the United States
Many countries in world have laws that ban the sale of genetically modified foods or require the labeling of foods that have been genetically altered. Large agricultural companies have however used their financial backing of members of congress to prevent any laws restricting modified food from passing. The FDA is one of the United Statesââ‚¬â„¢ oldest consumer protection agencies. It regulates over $1 trillion worth of products sale annually. It is also a public health agency, in charge with protecting American customers by enforcing the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act and several related public health laws (FDA, 2003).
Since the process of testing the safety of GM foods by the FDA is voluntary for as long as the new product is not significantly different from its traditional counterpart, it is not surprising that if most of the products sold in the market now is categorized as substantially equivalent and safe by their manufacturers. These products could have too few health and environmental safety checks and therefore too much information being covered to the public. A report by the Consumer Federation of America Foundation concluded that this flexible law by the FDA includes huge loopholes that could allow a potentially dangerous GM food to enter the food supply but still left the FDA blameless if that food is found to be unsafe (CFAF, 2003).
There are many ethical issues related to the growing and consumption of genetically engineered crops. They hold potential to greatly increase the nutritional value of food as well as the productivity of crops, while at the same time provide many safety as well environmental concerns. These decisions need to be looked at by all of humanity since everyone is directly affected by the choices. While each person can read these details and come to different conclusions on the value of genetically engineered foods as well as the ethical choices being made by the companies in charge of producing these foods. The ultimate choice on genetically engineered foods should be placed onto a well informed consumer not held in the dark by those in power of the government and large corporations which may not have the general publicââ‚¬â„¢s interests as their primary goal.