Comparing Organic Foods With Genetically Modified Foods Biology Essay

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1. Buying organic foods can help in the preservation and conservation of the natural environment. This results in a reduced level of pollutants in the ground soil, thereby resulting in richer soil with stronger topsoil, thereby preventing soil erosion and also leading to healthier crops.

2. There is research to indicate that organically produced food items can be more nutritious and is therefore healthier for us than conventionally produced food. The principal reason for this is the lack of pesticides and insecticides used in the production of organic foods. This enables the crops being grown to increase their production of photochemicals such as antioxidants and vitamins, thereby raising the crops' resistance to bugs and weeds.

3. The lack of pesticides in our food can also aid our health, as studies have indicated that such pesticides are linked to health conditions ranging from headaches to birth defects and even cancer.

4. Organic farming, due to the lack of chemicals in the production cycle helps to support biodiversity, encouraging a much wider range of plants and animals, leading to a healthier, more balanced ecosystem.

5. Organic processed foods do not contain hydrogenated fats, contrary to processed non-organic foods.

6. The farming methods involved in the process of organic farming help to ensure that animals' diet is kept wholly natural and they themselves are kept and raised in a free-range environment.

Negative benefits where organic food is concerned:

1. Firstly, due to the lack of artificial preservatives and the fact that organic food is not irradiated, it may have a tendency to go off much more quickly than non-organic produce, especially in the case of fruits and vegetables.

2. In general terms, organic food items tend to be much more expensive than non-organic produce

(Collins, 2010)

Source 2:

Organic food:

Organic food means food grown without most artificial fertilisers or pesticides and in a way that emphasises crop rotation, making the most of natural fertilisers and ensuring that the life of the soil is maintained. Animals are kept in ways which minimise the need for medicines and other chemical treatments.

(Dunham, 2008)

Source 3:

Specific chemicals found in food

Hormonal growth promotants - used to enhance meat production (growth) in livestock

Antibiotic resistance - the use of antibiotics in animals and its impact on antibiotic resistance in humans

Endosulfan - how it is used to control insects in crops

Nutrients in food - naturally occurring and added forms

Nutrients are water, fats, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and trace elements found naturally in food. These are necessary for maintaining life, bone and tissue growth and repair, and keeping you in good health. Nutrient deficiencies and/or excess can lead to abnormal growth and development, serious medical conditions, and poor health.

Nutrients are permitted to be added to some foods:

• To reduce the risk of nutrient deficiencies in some groups of people this may be caused by low intakes of a particular nutrient

• Where research supports an increased level of a nutrient for a specific health benefit

• To make those foods that are considered to be substitutes for a primary food similar in nutritional content

• To add back those nutrients that may have been lost through processing

• To improve the shelf life of a product.

Specific nutrients in food

Iodine - overcoming a lack of iodine in our diet

Folate and folic acid - for healthy growth and development of blood cells and nerve tissue

Trans fatty acids - current intakes and health implications

Additives in food - what they are and why they are used

Additives are used in foods for a number of reasons, including:

1. Preserving the food to make it safer for longer on the shelf or in the fridge

2. To improve the taste or appearance, for example, by the use of flavours, thickeners and colours.

The Food Standards Code (this is the joint food law between Australia and New Zealand) says which additives can be used and in what foods.

Food additives - find out about the additives used in our food

Food additives - the list of additives allowed in New Zealand

Specific additives used in food

Aspartame - a sweetener for foods and drinks

Intense food sweeteners - can replace sugar to sweeten food and drinks

Mono-sodium glutamate (MSG) - brings out the flavour in food

Benzoate, sorbate and sulphite - used to preserve food

Nitrates and Nitrates - used to preserve food

Synthetic colours - used in highly coloured foods

Hemp seed oil - regulations governing its use and sale in New Zealand

Natural toxins - harmful poisons in our food

Natural toxins are chemicals that occur naturally in food. Some commonly eaten foods contain natural toxins.

Natural toxins in commonly eaten foods

Naturally occurring food contaminants - what they are and how you can avoid them

Natural contaminants are chemicals present in the environment that are either part of a food's natural growing conditions or are unable to be controlled by intervention.

Natural contaminants could also be bacteria or viruses. For example, sewerage may contain Norovirus that can contaminate shellfish growing areas and cause food borne illness if these shellfish are eaten raw or insufficiently cooked.

Foods likely to contain contaminants usually have special recommendations for how much you should eat or particular storage or handling requirements. One example is mercury in fish.

Mercury - present in most seafood and of greatest concern for pregnant women

Acrylamide - by-product of the cooking process

Arsenic - present in seafood and plants from our soil, water, air, fertilisers and other chemicals

Arsenic in hijiki seaweed - adds to people's risk of cancer if regularly consumed

Phytoestrogens - safety for young children who drink soy based infant formula

Other contaminants found in our food

These contaminant substances (from both natural and manmade sources) have been found in some foods.

Benzene - present in some flavoured drinks

Bisphenol A - low levels in plastic baby bottles are safe

Chemicals from plastic packaging and wrap - low levels not a health risk

Dioxins - by-products from industrial and thermal processes

Lead - levels in some cornflour led to a recall in 2004

Melamine - information for consumers

Reuse of plastic bottles

Semicarbazide - low levels found in some glass jar seals

Sudan 1 - cancer causing, non-food red dye found in some chilli powder

Toxic residues present in wild animals

Residues of some toxic substances can be found in wild animals and may cause harm. If you gather your own food from the wild you need to be aware of the risks from toxic residues. The toxic residues may have arisen from man-made chemical or microbiological hazards placed in the wild animal's environment.

Residues of poisons in food animals

(Anonymous, 2009)

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Flavor Enhancers

High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) - flavor enhancer

Derived from cornstarch, usually a combination of 55 percent fructose and 45 percent sucrose. Treated with an enzyme that converts glucose to fructose, which results in a sweeter product. Used in many mass-produced foods including soft drinks, baked goods, jelly, syrups, condiments (like ketchup), fruits and desserts.

Many believe HFCS to be addictive. Coupled with the prevalence of HFCS across so many products, many believe this contributes to a subconscious desire for everything we eat to be sweet.

High consumption of fructose may contribute to weight gain, diabetes and increased risk of heart disease, particularly in men. In addition, the fructose may alter the magnesium balance in the body, resulting in accelerated bone loss.

Artificial Sweeteners - flavor enhancers

Substances that impart sweetness to foods but supply little or no energy to the body; also called non-nutritive or alternative sweeteners.

Artificial Sweeteners (Aspartame, Acesulfame K and Saccharin) cause behavioral problems, hyperactivity, allergies, and are possibly carcinogenic.

MSG (monosodium glutamate) - flavor enhancer

MSG is the sodium salt of the amino acid glutamic acid and a form of glutamate. Used to intensify meat and spice flavorings in meats, condiments, pickles, soups, candy and baked goods.

Asians originally used a seaweed broth to obtain the flavor-enhancing effects of MSG, but today MSG is made by a fermenting process using starch, sugar beets, sugar cane, or molasses.

MSG causes common allergic and behavioral reactions including headaches, dizziness, chest pains, depression and mood swings; also a possible neurotoxin.

Coloring Agents

Artificial Colors - coloring agents

Artificial food colors are described as one of the most dangerous additives. More than 90% of food colorings now in use are manufactured. The numbered colors, called synthetic colors, are made from coal, tar or petroleum.

There are studies that suggest artificial color have an effect on children's behavior and of course, they can have an effect on our health and how our bodies function. Artificial food colors have been linked to allergies, asthma, hyperactivity and are a possible carcinogen.

Nitrates & Nitrites - color fixatives

Nitrates and nitrites (potassium and sodium) are substances made up of nitrogen, oxygen, and various other organic and inorganic compounds. They are naturally present in a number of foods, but are also used as color fixatives in cured and processed meats (i.e. bacon, bologna, frankfurters) and in some types of smoked fish (i.e. salmon, tuna).

Nitrates and nitrites combine with natural stomach saliva and food substances to create nitrosamines, powerful cancer-causing additives.


Hydrogenated Oils (aka Trans Fats or Trans Fatty Acids) - preservative

Hydrogenation - the process of adding hydrogen gas under high pressure to liquid oils to turn them into solids at room temperature - increases the shelf life and flavor stability of foods containing polyunsaturated fats.

Sodium Benzoate - preservative

Sodium Benzoate is used as a preservative, effectively killing most yeast, bacteria and fungi. It is used primarily in foods such as preserves, salad dressings, carbonated drinks, jams, and fruit juices. It is also found naturally in cranberries, prunes, greengage plums, cinnamon, ripe cloves and apples.

Moderately toxic by ingestion, this chemical has caused birth defects in experimental animals. Known to cause nettle rash, and aggravate asthma.

Calcium Disodium EDTA (Ethylenediamine Tetraacetic Acid) - preservative and sequestrant/humectant (aids in water retention).

Used as a food additive to prevent crystal formation and to inhibit color loss. Used in canned and carbonated soft drinks for flavor retention. Also used in dressings and mayonnaise as a preservative.

Often added to foods - particularly meat, poultry and fish - to help retain moisture and soft texture.

May cause intestinal upset, muscle cramps, kidney damage, and blood in urine. This additive is on the FDA priority list of food additives to be studied for mutagenic, teratogenic, subacute and reproductive effects.

Sulfur Dioxide - preservative

A gas formed when sulfur burns, this preservative is used to preserve a variety of foods, including fruits and vegetables, alcoholic drinks, dried fruits.

Sulfur dioxide, as with other sulfites, may cause allergic and asthmatic reactions.

Sulfites - preservatives

Sulfur-based compounds that are a natural by-product of fermentation. Most wines contain low levels of sulfites, which are used to protect wine from oxidation and to kill off bacteria. Sulfites are also used to clean and sterilize equipment and barrels, and may sometimes be sprayed in a vineyard to prevent disease and pests.

(Beechers, 2007)

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Genetic modification

Description: Genetic modification occurs at least through the use of the following techniques: (i) recombinant DNA techniques using vector systems; (ii) techniques involving the direct introduction into an organism of heritable material prepared outside the organism including micro-injection, macro-injection and micro-encapsulation; (iii) cell fusion (including protoplast fusion) or hybridization techniques where live cells with new combinations of heritable genetic material are formed through the fusion of two or more cells by means of methods that do not occur naturally.

Description: Genetic modification shall mean modern biotechnology used to alter genetic material of living cells or organisms in order to make them capable of producing new substances or performing new functions.

(Matthiessen, 2008)

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What are some of the advantages of GM foods?

The world population has topped 6 billion people and is predicted to double in the next 50 years. Ensuring an adequate food supply for this booming population is going to be a major challenge in the years to come. GM foods promise to meet this need in a number of ways:

Pest resistance Crop losses from insect pests can be staggering, resulting in devastating financial loss for farmers and starvation in developing countries. Farmers typically use many tons of chemical pesticides annually. Growing GM foods such as B.T. corn can help eliminate the application of chemical pesticides and reduce the cost of bringing a crop to market

Herbicide tolerance For some crops, it is not cost-effective to remove weeds by physical means such as tilling, so farmers will often spray large quantities of different herbicides (weed-killer) to destroy weeds, a time-consuming and expensive process that requires care so that the herbicide doesn't harm the crop plant or the environment. Crop plants genetically-engineered to be resistant to one very powerful herbicide could help prevent environmental damage by reducing the amount of herbicides needed

Disease resistance There are many viruses, fungi and bacteria that cause plant diseases. Plant biologists are working to create plants with genetically-engineered resistance to these diseases

Cold tolerance Unexpected frost can destroy sensitive seedlings. An antifreeze gene from cold water fish has been introduced into plants such as tobacco and potato. With this antifreeze gene, these plants are able to tolerate cold temperatures that normally would kill unmodified seedlings

Drought tolerance/salinity tolerance As the world population grows and more land is utilized for housing instead of food production, farmers will need to grow crops in locations previously unsuited for plant cultivation. Creating plants that can withstand long periods of drought or high salt content in soil and groundwater will help people to grow crops in formerly inhospitable places

Nutrition Malnutrition is common in third world countries where impoverished peoples rely on a single crop such as rice for the main staple of their diet. If rice could be genetically engineered to contain additional vitamins and minerals, nutrient deficiencies could be alleviated. For example, blindness due to vitamin A deficiency is a common problem in third world countries.

Pharmaceuticals Medicines and vaccines often are costly to produce and sometimes require special storage conditions not readily available in third world countries. Researchers are working to develop edible vaccines in tomatoes and potatoes

What are some of the criticisms against GM foods?

Environmental activists, religious organizations, public interest groups, professional associations and other scientists and government officials have all raised concerns about GM foods, and criticized agribusiness for pursuing profit without concern for potential hazards, and the government for failing to exercise adequate regulatory oversight. Concerns about GM foods fall into three categories: environmental hazards, human health risks, and economic concerns.

Environmental hazards

Reduced effectiveness of pesticides

Just as some populations of mosquitoes developed resistance to the now-banned pesticide DDT, many people are concerned that insects will become resistant to B.T. or other crops that have been genetically-modified to produce their own pesticides.

Gene transfer to non-target species

Crop plants engineered for herbicide tolerance and weeds will cross-breed, resulting in the transfer of the herbicide resistance genes from the crops into the weeds. These "superweeds" would then be herbicide tolerant as well.

Human health risks


Many children in the US and Europe have developed life-threatening allergies to peanuts and other foods. There is a possibility that introducing a gene into a plant may create a new allergen or cause an allergic reaction in susceptible individuals. Extensive testing of GM foods may be required to avoid the possibility of harm to consumers with food allergies.

Unknown effects on human health

There is a growing concern that introducing foreign genes into food plants may have an unexpected and negative impact on human health.

On the whole, with the exception of possible allergenicity, scientists believe that GM foods do not present a risk to human health.

Economic concerns

Bringing a GM food to market is a lengthy and costly process. Yet consumer advocates are worried that patenting these new plant varieties will raise the price of seeds so high that small farmers and third world countries will not be able to afford seeds for GM crops, thus widening the gap between the wealthy and the poor.


Genetically-modified foods have the potential to solve many of the world's hunger and malnutrition problems, and to help protect and preserve the environment by increasing yield and reducing reliance upon chemical pesticides and herbicides. Yet there are many challenges ahead for governments, especially in the areas of safety testing, regulation, international policy and food labeling. Many people feel that genetic engineering is the inevitable wave of the future and that we cannot afford to ignore a technology that has such enormous potential benefits. However, we must proceed with caution to avoid causing unintended harm to human health and the environment as a result of our enthusiasm for this powerful technology.

(Whitman, 2000)

Source 7:


Radurization is the process of pasteurization by the use of radiation. It primarily used to treat foods that have high moisture content and a high pH. The microbes that are targeted are mainly spoilage organisms. Meat and fish are the foods for which this process is mainly used. For dryer, acidic foods, yeasts and molds can be denatured.

(Delincee, Unknown)

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Taken from: 'Dictionary and Thesaurus of the English Language'

Organic: grown without the use of artificial fertilizers or pesticides.

(Geddes & Grosset, 2002)

Source 9:

Processed foods contain a lot less nutrients and are loaded with empty kilojoules.

(Tehini, 2009)