The world population is vastly increasing and genetically modified foods are meant to help the number of ways in which help support the food supply of the booming population. There are many advantages of genetically modified foods these are shown below:
Disease resistance: Plant diseases are often caused by fungi, bacteria and other viruses. Genetically engineered resistance to these types of plant diseases are currently being created which will be very beneficial for farmers, who loose thousands of crops due to various diseases.
Cold tolerance: Many sensitive seedlings cannot live through frost conditions; the introduction of a cold water fish has been created for plants such as potatoes, his will help potatoes and many other plants which this antifreeze gene has been created for to tolerate cold temperatures. Cold temperatures also cost farmers great losses in sensitive plants that cannot tolerate the weather.
Pest Resistance: Developing countries are mostly affected with the loss of crops due to insect pests, and to avoid insect pests eating their crops, farmers result to using large quantities of chemical pesticides. Many consumes refuse to buy foods that chemical pesticides have been used on. Genetically modified products such as B.t. corn helps eliminate the use of chemical pesticides and due to this, the corn is more consumer friendly.
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Herbicide tolerance: Many farmers use large amount of herbicides to reduce or destroy weeds, this is very time consuming and is costly for the farmers. Crop plants that are genetically engineered to be resistant to a very powerful herbicide with have major affects on the environmental, as by reducing the amount of herbicides will prevent environmental damage. For example, Monsanto has created a strain of soybeans genetically modified to be not affected by their herbicide product Roundup. (www.biotechknowledge.monsanto.com/biotech/knowcentre.nsf) A farmer grows these soybeans which then only require one application of weed-killer instead of multiple applications, reducing production cost and limiting the dangers of agricultural waster run-off. (The use of cytochrome P450 genes to introduce herbicide tolerance in crops: a review (pesticide Science. Vol 55, No 9, pp 867-874, Sep 1999)
Pharmaceuticals: Many different medications require special storage and are expensive to produce and store, this makes it difficult for third world countries as they do not have the storage to facilitate the medicine or cannot afford to purchase them in the first place. Edible vaccines are being created through genetic modification which researchers are working on to produce, which will be much reliable to store, ship and afford, benefiting third world countries.
Drought tolerance/salinity tolerance: As the population is growing so rapidly and more housing is being built than crops, eventually farmers will be in the position to grow crops which are in an unsuited area. 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. (Peroxidase activity of desiccation-tolerant loblolly pine somatic embryos ( In Vitro Cellular & Developmental Biology Plant, Vol 36, No 6, pp 488-491, Dec 2000)
Nutrition: In third world countries the most reliable food source is rice, the main problem with rice is that it lacks all the nutrients needed. For example, blindness due to vitamin A deficiency is a common problem in third world countries. Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Institute for Plant Sciences have created a strain of "golden" rice containing an unusually high content of beta-carotene (vitamin A). (Genetic engineering towards carotene biosynthesis in endosperm (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Institute for Plant Sciences) The "golden" rice was funded by a non- profit organisation called Rockefeller Foundation and plans to offer the rice for free to any third world country that asks for it.
Phytoremediation: There are many problems with soil and groundwater pollution across the world and genetic modification can help solve this problem. Many people believe that genetically modified plants are all grown as crops, but this is not the case. Plants such as poplar trees have been genetically engineered to clean up heavy metal pollution from contaminated soil. (Phytodetoxification of Hazardous organomercurials by genetically engineered plants (Nature Biotechnology, Vol 18, No 2, pp. 213-217, Feb 2000)
Criticisms of GM
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Over the past decade there have been many criticisms of genetically modified foods. Public interest groups, environmental activists, professional associations, government officials, religious officials and scientists have shown concerns in genetic modification. There are three categories in which genetically modified foods have been related to. These are environmental hazards, human health risks, and economic concerns.
Reduced effectiveness of pesticides: In the past mosquitoes showed to have resistance to certain pesticides which were eventually banned. Many people are concerned that insects will become resistant to crops that have been genetically modified to produce their own pesticide. (Whitman, D. (2000) Genetically Modified Foods: Harmful or Helpful?)
Unintended harm to other organisms: The concern for monarch caterpillars has been a controversial issue for many years now. B.t. corn caused high mortality rates in monarch butterfly caterpillars. Monarch caterpillars consume milkweed plants, not corn, but the fear that is that if pollen from B.t. corn is blown by the wind onto milkweed plants in neighbouring fields, the caterpillars could eat the pollen and perish. (Transgenic pollen harms monarch larvae (Nature, Vol 399, No 6733, p 214, May 1999). Many people have also worry about many other organisms and it will take several years of testing to find out what other organisms have been affected by genetic modification.
Gene transfer to non-target species: There are concerns that weeds will cross breed with plants that are engineered for herbicide tolerance, this will result in the transferring of herbicide resistance genes from crops into weeds. Monsanto also had a problem with interbreeding and filed lawsuits against farmers. Monsanto claimed that farmers had been using Monsanto's genetically modified seeds without paying royalties straight to Monsanto. Whereas the farmers insisted that they never used any genetically modified seeds and that their crops had been cross-pollinated from fields that were very close to them.
Human health risks
Unknown effects on human health: The introduction of genes into foods plants can have negative unexpected impacts on human health. A recent article published in Lancet examined the effects of GM potatoes on the digestive tract in rats.(Safety of genetically modified food questioned: Interview with gene scientist, Dr Arpad Pusztai (http://www.wsws.org/articles/1999/jun1999/gmo-j03.shtml) This study claimed that there were appreciable differences in the intestines of rats fed Gm potatoes and rats fed unmodified potatoes. Yet the critics say that this paper, like the monarch butterfly data, is flawed and does not hold up to scientific scrutiny.(The Lancet scolded over Pusztai paper (science, Vol 286, p 656, Oct 1999).
Allergenicity: A proposal to incorporate a gene in form Brazil nuts into soybeans has been abandoned because of the fear of causing unexpected allergic reactions. (Identification of a Brazil-nut allergen in transgenic soybeans (New England Journal of Medicine, Vol 334, No 11, pp 688-692, 1996) the proposal was abandoned as there was a growing concern on the negative effects on human health. Especially after many individual including children developed life threatening allergies to peanuts.
Genetically modified foods are now seen as a profitable return on investment for many companies. The introduction of genetically modified foods was to help feed the growing population and those third world countries suffering from poverty but genetically modified plants are being used as a profit making scheme by many business. A new problem which has arisen is genetically modified plants are being patented, which is a big concern for agribusinesses. Consumers are concerned that this will raise the price of seeds and third world companies will be affected as small farmers will not be able to afford these seed for genetically modified crops, bring larger inequalities between the rich and the poor. Non profit organisations such as the Rockefeller Foundation have helped third world countries by offering free genetically modified products and it is hoped that many more companies can follow in the Rockefeller Foundations footsteps.
There has been research to show that a gene called the "suicide gene" was being researched by Monsanto, this would mean that every season framers would have to buy new seeds and the suicide gene seeds would only last for one season. This would again affect third world countries and it would be unaffordable for farmers to buy new seeds each season. In an open letter to the public, Monsanto has pledged to abandon all research using this suicide gene technology. (http://www.monsanto.com/monsanto/gurt/default.htm)
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