Benefits of Genetically Modified (GM) Foods to Human Health
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Published: Fri, 01 Jun 2018
Genetically modified food, also known as GM food refer to foodstuff such as animals or plants that had their genetic makeup altered to make them grow bigger, stay fresher and other benefits that will make human life more simple. The concept of genetically modified (GM) foods has existed for many years. Cross-breeding of plants, such as different types of corn, has been applied before with the purpose of transferring a desirable trait from one plant species to another (Whitman, 2000). However, a substantial amount of time is required to obtain a specific result. This is because all of the genes are pooled together and numerous attempts are required for the production of offsprings with the preferred trait. Tomatoes are the first GM crop introduced to the world. Tomatoes developed by Monsanto came into the market in 1994 after approval by the US FDA.
In 2008, US FDA “consultation procedures” on bioengineered foods were completed by a total of 111 bioengineered food products. According to Grocery Manufacturers of America, genetically engineered plants are the ingredients for between 70 percent and 75 percent of all processes foods available in U.S. grocery stores (centerforfoodsafety.org, n.d.). Advocates of GM foods such as economists, scientists, researchers hail from various sectors, as well as from agricultural and food industries.
Although genetically modified foods arises many concerns regarding its safety and consequences of consumption, the real question posed by the society is whether these GM foods should be banned for the benefit of mankind.
Even if GM foods have been known to trigger allergic reactions and toxicities, is environmentally hazardous and costly, it should not be banned because it is confirmed to be beneficial to human health, environmentally friendly and able to improve the quality and quantity of yields.
This report is mainly focused on the benefits of GM food towards mankind. The reasons why GM foods should not be banned are as conveyed in this report. The comments and personal views of numerous professionals are included in this report to show the evident benefits of GM foods. This report is not confined to any particular region or country but is assessed from a global point of view. This is due to GM foods being present in almost all countries worldwide. Additionally, to fulfill ever-increasing needs of humans, conventional crops are genetically being replaced by GM crops.
Benefits to human health
GM food brings many advantages to mankind. First of all, GM food that was engineered genetically is able to sustain favorable human health and enrich the wellbeing of its consumers. This is because it can remove the malnutrition problem faced by the current world and GM crops can be modified to become edible vaccines to reduce vulnerability towards diseases. Malnutrition problems can be solved by introducing GM foods enhanced with nutrition that humans are lacked of, such as vitamin D and iron that will cause rickets in children or osteoporosis in aged adults as well as iron deficiency. Susceptibility to a certain disease can be reduced if edible vaccines are added into the GM foods such as the GM banana (Whitman, 2000). Hepatitis B can be prevented by eating such genetically modified bananas.
2.1 Solves malnutrition problems
Genetically modified foods can remove malnutrition problems faced by mankind today. Vitamins and minerals can be inserted into GM crops such as GM rice to make humans healthier. GM rice contains high amounts of Vitamin A compared to non-GM rice. The enhancement of vitamin A in GM rice will be able to result in the treatment of diarrhea in infants to be significantly easier as well as reducing the likelihood of chances of humans being diagnosed with night blindness (Gola, 2005).
The other malnutrition problem often faced by humans is iron deficiency. According to the World Health Organization (2009), approximately two billion people prove to be tested positive for iron deficiency. As such, researchers have invested in GM rice by intensifying the iron content in polished rice to solve the iron deficiency problem. The genes that were inserted into the GM foods have a positive effect on the accumulation of iron in the rice kernel that causes the GM rice to contain 6 times more iron compared to the original variety (ScienceDaily, 2009).
2.2 Some GM crops possess medical advantages
Some GM crops are modified to become edible vaccines that can reinforce the immune system of humans. Some GM crops have been inserted with DNA sequences encoding for antibodies into their genome (Dickinson, 2009). This enables the crops to produce antibiotics in their cells. GM crops such as banana, tomato and potato have been altered to contain bacterial or rotavirus antigens. Large scaled immunizations can be made by introducing edible vaccines to patients, rendering the vaccinations of these diseases considerably easier, painless, and accessible. Per se, antibodies contained in such GM foods will be able to enhance the immune system of human bodies to combat against pathogens when consumed orally. Therefore, it will not be uncommon in the near future when humans can merely ingest GM tomatoes instead of waiting in line to see a doctor.
Hazards to human health
Opponents of GM foods claim that GM foods are potentially risky to human health. They assert that GM foods will trigger allergenicity in the human body should it be eaten. There is a possibility that a new allergen will be created and result in susceptible individuals exhibiting symptoms of allergic reactions when a foreign gene is introduced into a crop. Though so, this affirmation is weak.
GM foods are genetically engineered to have their allergenic-causing proteins to be removed. As such, they do not contain potentially harmful proteins as compared to non-GM foods such as peanuts, cereals and eggs. Producing hypoallergenic GM foods would be a desired commodity as these foods will possess the ability to notably decrease the danger of adverse reactions. This offers the possibility of consumption by allergen-sensitive individuals, enabling to enjoy the pleasure of being able eat foods on par with normal people (Herman, 2003).
Besides that, GM crops will reduce herbicides on crops that may cause reactions in our bodies. GM crops that are modified to be resistance to insects will reduce the amount of herbicides used by farmers that will cause health problems. Hormonal signaling in human cells has been discovered to be altered by a common weed killer in U.S. (ScienceDaily, 2008). In another case claimed by Gammon (2009), a top selling weed killer, Roundup, has been found to magnify the toxicity in human cells. Hence, GM crops that are enhanced with resistance towards pests are able to completely eliminate the use of herbicides and weed killers, thereby protecting consumers from herbicide-induced ailments.
One of the benefits introducing GM foods is that the plantation of GM crops is environmentally affable. Currently, our world is afflicted with the issue of pollution. To rectify this problem, GM crops are modified to resistance to insect and pest attack as well as to herbicides. Additionally, another process which is applied in an effort to make GM crops environmentally friendly is phytoremediation. Therefore, pollution can be greatly reduced and eventually be eliminated altogether.
3.1 Resistance to insect and pest
GM crops can be genetically engineered to show resistance toward pests. GM crops can be genetically altered to contain a gene which encodes for a specific protein which is toxic to pests. Farmers typically use many tons of chemical pesticides annually. Consumers do not wish to eat food that has been treated with pesticides because of potential health hazards, and excess waste due to agricultural use of pesticides and fertilizers could potentially pollute and harm the environment.
The application of chemical pesticides can be eliminated through the growing of GM crops such as B.t. corn. B.t. corn is engineered to possess genes in their genetic make-up that encode for the creation of B.t. toxin which only specifically responsive to particular species of insect larvae and will not affect others life forms. Other environmentally friendly characteristics of B.t. toxins include biodegradability and safe for other living organisms. Varieties of sugar beet as well as winter oil-seed which have been modified to induce tolerance towards specific herbicides were scrutinized by the Bright project (Black, 2004).
Phytoremediation is defined as the rectification of environmental issues through the usage of plants which alleviate the environmental problem without the need to relocate and dispose contaminant materials somewhere else. Crops of GM foods can be genetically altered to exhibit preferable characteristics, especially the ability of certain plants called hyperaccumulators to bioaccumulate, degrade or render harmless contaminants in soils, water or air (Wikipedia, 2010).
For instance, genes in trees can be manipulated and conformed to absorb more carbon dioxide gas, CO2 and hence, would reduce the risk of global warming. Heavy metal pollution in contaminated soil and groundwater sources can also be assuaged by the use of such plants. Quoting Kochian (2004), “Contaminated soils and waters pose major environmental, agricultural and human health problems worldwide. These problems may be partially solved by an emerging new technology – phytoremediation.”
Pollution and contamination of the soil
Opponents of GM foods claim that herbicide-resistant crops will only encourage farmers to increase the amount of herbicide used as the crops are already immune to the herbicide used and will not be affected. In order to kill pests that will harm the crops, they increase the quantity of the certain herbicide used to eradicate pests extensively. This results in pollution of the soil due to excessive usage of herbicides to kill pests at a faster rate to reduce harm inflicted upon the crops, thereby rendering the piece of land infertile or that crops grown on it may contain traces of pollutants and is hazardous should they be consumed.
However, that claim is merely an assumption. As avowed by Monsanto (n.d.), the application of herbicide-resistant crops is able to decrease the number of herbicide sprays needed to keep pests at bay and this will promote environmentally reliable herbicide usage, even when used in moderation. 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-killers) to destroy weeds, a time-consuming and expensive process, which requires care so that the herbicide does not harm the crop plant or the environment. Crop plants genetically-engineered to be resistant to one effective herbicide could help prevent environmental damage by reducing the amount of herbicides needed.
For example, Monsanto has created a strain of soybeans genetically modified to be not affected by their herbicide product Roundup. A farmer growing these soybeans will then only require one type of weed-killer in moderate amounts instead of multiple types, hence reducing production cost and limiting the dangers of agricultural waste run-off.
Improve the quality and quantity
With the population of the world growing substantially each year, significant amounts of stress are placed on resources of land fit for plantation, water, energy, as well as other biological reserves to supply sufficient food whilst sustaining the coherence of the ecosystem. As affirmed by the World Bank and the United Nations, roughly 1 to 2 billion humans suffer from malnourishment, signifying a sign of scarce food supply, low incomes and sparse allocation of food supplies (Pimentel, Huang, Cordova, Pimentel, 1996). Introduction of GM foods have greatly alleviated the problem. GM crops are modified to produce greater amounts of yield and increase the nutritional value in crop-derived foods.
4.1 Solution for world foods crisis
Substantial amounts of yield are able to solve the world food crisis. Desperate pleas for richer, better-off countries to utilize genetic engineering in elucidating famines are a result of thousands losing their lives daily and millions on the verge of starvation. By revising the genetic make-up of plant strains, biotechnology will be able notably lessen world hunger. Crops can be engineered to resist diseases, resulting in the quantity of yield succumbing to disease to decrease. In another case, cold-resistant crops are able to benefit countries enduring from winter the whole year round. Extremely limited variants of crops are able to be cultivated in such countries due to the extreme condition of the environment present. By assimilating a gene enabling the crop to withstand such low temperatures, the range of crops planted will be increased and the amount of crops dying from the coldness is reduced.
4.2 Increase the quality of crops
The quality of GM crops is considerably higher than unmodified crops due to their greater shelf life. When a crop ripens, bacteria and fungi are attracted, further catalyzing the decomposing process. For example, firmer tomatoes possess a higher substance to water ratio, causing them to rot at a slower, much delayed rate. In addition, the exterior appearance and flavor of the fruit are not influenced, the fruit is able to endure longer transportations which require more time, and harvest of the GM crop can be done simultaneously.
Adversaries of GM foods assert that the introduction of GM foods will give rise to economic concerns. Commercialization of GM foods is expensive and time-consuming, and agri-biotechnological companies are keen on ensuring profitable revenue for their investments. As numerous techniques for genetic manipulation and GM crops have been patented, copyright violation is among one of their biggest apprehensions. This will thereby increase the price of seeds to the extent that small-scale farmers and third world countries are unable to afford the cost of these seeds, thereby widening the wedge between the wealthy population and the poor. Though so, this argument is weak and has no sound base.
Farmers stand the opportunity to reap exponential amounts of profit from the cultivation of GM crops. Money is able to be saved on the amounts of pesticides used, and a shorter period of time is required to produce desirable yield. GM foods are precise in their make-up, and unwanted genes can be replaced with preferred genes incorporated with the various benefits and advantages. Such crops are also able to be modified to exhibit resistance towards droughts or tolerance to salinity. With the world population increasing at an alarming rate and more land is required for development instead of plantation, farmers may be able plant crops on land formerly unsuitable for growing of crops. GM crops able to thrive and flourish in unfavorable conditions and extreme environments will then be able to benefit mankind.
Firstly, GM foods should be legalized and commercialized throughout the world. Governments should show their encouragement by funding and investing in research regarding the production and testing of GM foods. Scientists must also expose the benefits and safety of GM food consumption to the public to comfort their doubts regarding GM foods.
In addition, the price of GM foods must be controlled and subsidized by the government. By doing so, GM food can then be afforded by the working-class population. Advocates of GM food should show their support for the legalization of GM foods by purchasing GM food stuffs and spreading news of the benefits of GM foods.
However, research and the creation of GM foods must be closely monitored so that products that might harm its consumers are not created under any circumstances. Numerous safety tests and examinations must be carried out to ensure its side effects are not harmful to human health. By doing so, better prospects for mankind can unfold in the future where world starvation and malnutrition is no longer a crisis, and human health can be maintained through the intake of GM foods.
GM foods have raised much controversy in many nations throughout the world. People are still indecisive in their choice to consume products containing GM foods. It stands to be true that doubts concerning GM foods were widespread when first introduced to the public, but through many years of experimental analysis as well as safety tests, GM foods have been confirmed to be safe for human consumption with numerous benefits as a bonus. In fact, GM foods are essential now in resolving the crisis of hunger and scarcity of food around the world. Acceptance of GM foods are beginning to increase significantly over the years as more and more people are convinced of their benefits in terms of cost, health, and nature.
Therefore, it cannot be denied that GM foods should be legalized for the benefit of mankind. As mentioned in the report, GM foods promote good human health, are environmentally friendly and (). Hence, it is irrefutable that its advantages totally outweigh its drawbacks and that GM foods are the way to go in ensuring a brighter future for us and for the whole world.
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