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They are foods that are engineered by isolating genes or proteins from microorganisms and inserting them into other organisms. These methods are drastically y different from conventional or traditional breeding methods. An American company, Monsanto had developed the first genetically modified weed killer, which was called Round Up and later on herbicide resistant crops, these crops can be sprayed indiscriminately with herbicides, but in the process destroy bugs, leaving no farmland insects alive, all of which are of importance to bring about a balance in the ecosystem.
2. Where can Genetically Modified Organisms be found?
Genetic engineering has been introduced into foods including food ingredients, plants and also animal feed. "Genetically modified foods available, or about to appear, in U.S. markets include tomatoes, squash, yeast, corn, potatoes, and soybeans (which are used in 60 % of all processed foods, such as bread, pasta, candies, ice cream, pies, biscuits, margarine, meat products and vegetarian meat substitutes). Genetically modified organisms are also used to produce cheeses and canola oil. In a few years it may be almost impossible to find natural food" (John.J.B).
3. Can Genetically Modified foods have harmful effects?
Genes are the blueprints for every part of an organism. Genetic engineering is the process of artificially modifying these blueprints. By cutting and splicing DNA-genetic surgery-genetic engineers can transfer genes specific to one type of organism into any other organism on earth.(Fagan.J.B,1996).Many of these proteins have never been found in human food in such high amounts previously and therefore their health effects are not known. New toxins and allergens have been identified as an effect on humans, loss in bio-diversity in crops, and the general disturbance of the ecological balance also contribute to the negative and harmful effects of Genetically Modified Organisms.
Through genetic engineering, scientists have created rice enriched with Beta-carotene also known as pro- Vitamin A, which is a compound that our bodies can convert into Vitamin A. This genetically modified rice is known as 'golden rice'. Scientists believed that this so called 'golden rice' would assist in combating a common malnutrition problem of Vitamin A deficiency in developing or poorer countries, especially in pregnant women. The problem associated with this is that the side effects have not yet been extensively researched and very large quantities of the enriched rice in order to supply the body with the value it is designed fro. Also the uptake and absorption of Pro-Vitamin A depends on the proteins, fats and oils all of which are lacked in poorer consumer's diet, therefore Pro-Vitamin A would ultimately be excreted undigested through the body of many people (The false promise of genetically Engineered Rice, 2000).
During the first trial of GM foods on humans which was conducted by the Newcastle university for the UK Food Standards Agency, volunteers were fed on GM hamburgers and milkshakes containing GM soya and had showed genetically modified genes in the stools, which could be from the herbicide resistant gene. The genetically modified DNA survive the passage through the small bowl in the human body (Would you like Frankenfries with that?, 2002). Consumers have been eating GM foods for years and only recently effects have been studied on human beings and biotechnology companies have said that GM foods are safe.
4. Testing the Safety of Genetically Modified Foods
It is very important to conduct tests for genetically modified foods, before it could be placed on the market. Tests conducted on genetically modified foods include testing for toxins, allergen and reduced nutritional content. Genetic engineering introduces new material into a food it is very important to conduct tests on genetically modified food with the same rigour as that of natural foods. "At present, regulations in most countries governing the safety testing of genetically engineered foods focus almost entirely on health hazards that can be anticipated from the characteristics of the unmodified organism, and the gene source. However, accidental introduction of allergens and toxins through genetic manipulations and unintended alterations in nutritional value resulting from genetic manipulations constitute a very real source of health risk from genetically engineered foods. Therefore safety testing should be structured in such a way as to detect and eliminate products that contain these hazards" (Fagan, 1996).
There have been mixed reactions on the acceptability of genetic engineering or genetic modification. Majority of the public are unaware of the foods that have been genetically modified as a food product can contain even a single genetically modified ingredient, enzyme or organism that may not be disclosed to the public. The European Union (EU) Agriculture Council has released a new Regulation on Genetically Modified Food and Feed that no GM food will be allowed unlabelled in the food market. All GM food and food ingredients, including highly processed derivatives such as sugar, refined oil and starch, produced from genetically modified organisms (GMOs), will have to be clearly labelled. Another separate new regulation will set up a thorough 'traceability' system in order to follow food and food ingredients consisting of, containing or produced from GMOs across all stages of the food processing and distribution chain till the final product. This will provide consumers with a chance to choose what they purchase and
eat (Brussels, 2002).
Genetically modified foods and organisms should be eliminated and banned until there is such substantial proof available that these GM foods are safe for consumers and the environment. Also labelling in our country should be made mandatory for all products containing GM food, ingredients or any other GM component. This will also enable people to have a choice in the products of which they purchase. My personal belief is that it is also unethical to transfer animal gene to a plant species as this upsets the natural ecosystem in the environment, which will soon lead to the deterioration of natural foods as the world becomes more reliable on GM foods.