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Genetically modified food can be defined as plants and animals whose genes have been modified through the meticulous process of genetic engineering (Nottingham, 2003). This allows scientists to come up with crops and livestock that do not exist naturally but can possibly benefit humans in terms of their health (Freedman, 2009). The idea actually came from the intention of overcoming one of the globe's biggest issues, poverty. Scientists begin to think that with the help of genetic engineering, both medicinal and nutritional values of food products can therefore be enhanced. However, there a few issues regarding GM food that counteracts its benefits on human health. Degenerative diseases, allergies and other serious long-term effects can also be caused by consuming genetically modified food (Sateesh, 2008). This essay mainly discusses on both the advantages and disadvantages of GM food on human health and how one side outweighs the other.
Through biotechnology, food composition can be altered in a way that benefits human health in terms of nutritional values. This could be done through a number of different ways and increasing the levels of amino acids that improve the bioavailability of minerals is considered to be one of them. Amino acids such as cysteine, have said to increase the bioavailability of iron and zinc within the body (Bouis et al., 2003). Minerals such as iron and zinc exist more in meat products compared to plant foods (Bouis et al., 2003). Because of this, people who could not afford meat products and only depend on plant-based food may develop possible mineral deficiencies. This can be solved by artificially increasing the concentrations of these essential amino acids in plant foods, with the help of genetic engineering (Bouis et al., 2003).
Reducing the levels of antinutrients found in food materials was also said to have an effect on its bioavailability of minerals (Bouis et al., 2003). Antinutrients can be defined as naturally-occurring compounds that have the ability to lower the bioavailability of essential nutrients by either altering its chemical structure to form a less active component, or by interrupting the digestion and absorption of the nutrients (Lehane & Billingsley, 1996). Therefore, lowering the levels of these antinutritional compounds could possibly result in a greater access to minerals for the body to benefit from (Benarde, 2007). However, this method was believed to be unreliable to scientists due to the fact that antinutrients was proved to play vital roles in plant growth and its absence would lead to crop failure (Bouis et al., 2003).
Other than nutritional benefits, GM food also offers a number of medicinal benefits that have said to have a great impact on the quality of human health. Recombinant therapeutic proteins obtained from the genetically-modified organisms has been said to contain medicinal values that can be used to treat various types of diseases (McKeon, 2003). Polymerase chain reaction technologies and the development of efficient expression vectors have allowed scientists to retrieve proteins from transgenic bacteria and even plants (Rudolph, 1996). The proteins can be in the forms of antibodies, recombinant enzymes or even essential human proteins that have the ability to perform mechanisms that aid in diagnosis and treatments of diseases as well as nutritional enhancement of food products such as baby formulae (McKeon, 2003). Recently, scientists have been attempting to come up with ways to produce proteins from transgenic expression targeted at different tissues (Sang, 2003). This way, more diseases (occurring in different parts of the body) can be diagnosed and even effectively treated by the use of these recombinant proteins.
Beside the possible health benefits listed above, GM food was said to have negative impacts and even lethal effects on the quality of human health. One of the most common would be the possible allergic reactions caused by the consumption of a number of genetically-modified food products. The transfer of a gene from an allergenic source will lead to the encoding of allergenic proteins (Kuiper & Kleter, 2003). For instance, it was proven that some GM soybeans consist of proteins derived from Brazil nuts that was said to increase its nutritive value (Kuiper & Kleter, 2003). If patients suffering from nut allergies are not well-informed about the product, consumption can lead to severe allergic reactions and maybe even death.
The concerns of GM food basically revolve around the dangers of DNA structure alternations during the process of genetic engineering on the health of consumers. A number of studies through animal testing have shown that GM food may lead to the development of cancerous cells, reproductive problems and birth defects as well as severe liver problems (Sateesh, 2008). Lab rats that were given GM potatoes to feed on had shown excessive cell growth in the lining of their stomach, which if not controlled, will most likely result in the rise of tumours (O'Shea, 2009). GM soy on the other hand, was proven to have cause changes in the testicles and sperm cells of male rats as well as death of over half of the offspring of the female rats who were fed with GM soy (O'Shea, 2009). The explanation on how genetic engineering is causing these awful aftermaths still remains unknown at this point due to the fact that only minimal research regarding these issues had been conducted right up until today. This is exactly what makes GM food hazardous to the quality of human health; its unpredictability and the uncertainty of the products' health effects on human beings.
From the pros and cons listed above, it seems that the health benefits of GM food have slightly outweighed its possible drawbacks. Nutritional enhancement through the techniques of genetic engineering has made the increase of bioavailability of essential minerals within the body possible (Bouis et al., 2003). Proteins derived from successfully-modified organisms were also said to have healing effects that could be used in treating diseases (McKeon, 2003). However, before consuming such products, the risks of GM food should also be fully-considered. Whether or not the health benefits offered are worth the risks of getting severe health problems, should be thought over by each person individually. If a normal and affordable balanced diet could keep a person healthy and away from diseases, why must it be replaced with something this risky and controversial?