Genetically Modified Foods Their Impact Biology Essay


Genetically Modified Foods are now being marketed as the crops of the future. Foods are readily available in produce, meat and milk, and biotech companies can make it happen. This supply of food equals an economic gain to agro-chemical companies such as Monsanto and Novartis. Even though Genetically enhanced foods will always be available regardless of drought, they prove to be a health risk since they do not provided the same nutrients as their natural counterparts and there is not enough scientific data regarding genetically enhanced foods.

Genetically modified foods have emerged as a topic of debate and controversy in recent years. As agricultural technology grows at an accelerated rate, the presence of "enhanced" and/or modified foods becomes more omnipresent at grocery stores and on dinner tables. However, this rise has been met with concern by many people who fear that the new "frankenfoods" will have environmental, ethical and human consequences that the proponents of such items are as yet dimly aware. This argument will explore the environmental implications of genetically modified foods. In particular, the impact of genetically modified "frankenfoods" upon soils, plants, animals of all sizes, and the human consumption of either the genetically modified products themselves and the creatures which have consumed these foods in the wild. In the final analysis, while genetically modified foods can be seen as a resourceful means of addressing famine, improving preservation techniques, and possibly nutritional deficits among the underfed, it is also a new advance that can lead to pain and to unethical food standards in food science.

Both sides of the on-going debate argue that genetically modified "frankenfoods" have enormous impact upon the soil in which they grow. For example, supporters of genetically modified foods insist that these organisms actually eliminate the need for potentially toxic pesticides since they are generally more resistant to environmental damage (5). In contrast, critics argue that these new agricultural products are actually a method of introducing more, not less, pesticides into the equation, as many of the new "frankenfoods" are designed to withstand higher doses of herbicides and pesticides - herbicides and pesticides, incidentally, created by the largest pesticide/herbicide companies, such as Monsanto and DuPont Novartis. That being said, however, the same source from which the above statement is drawn also confidently asserts that new transgenic strains are constantly being developed for "increased chemical resistance" to the synthetic products of the aforementioned business entities (1).

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Batalion writes that a study done in the late 1990s found that the GM bacterium "klebsiella planticola" killed essential soil nutrients by depriving the soil of the nitrogen it needed; the same study confirmed that the self-same genetically modified bacterium actually destroyed nitrogen-capturing fungi. Batalion also notes that still another study found that certain genetically modified soil microbes actually killed wheat plants when introduced to the soil previously nourishing them (1). Given that the production of genetically modified "frankenfoods" also includes (at least in many instances) the development and production of synthetic bacteria and microbes, these two studies seem to corroborate the environmental lobby's long-standing objection to the widespread harvesting of genetically modified food staples.

Of course, anything that impacts upon local soils is also most likely to impact upon local plant life. Perhaps the most obvious effect that genetically modified foods have upon local plant life is the fact that these modifications can unwittingly create "super weeds" wholly resistant to insect pests. Because of this, not only are the insects which once fed upon these formerly edible (and now toxic) plants unable to do so, but these plants (perhaps the more accurate nomenclature is simply to call them weeds) can growth and flourish to such an extent that they over-run the natural ecosystem (Hanson & Halloran, para.43-44; Batalion, no.20). When one considers that there are only so many nutrients available in the soil (and this presupposes, of course, that genetically modified microbes have not already done terrible damage to the nutrients typically found therein) then it becomes clear that other plants will be effectively "pushed out" of the way in the battle for finite ecological resources. Therefore, leaving aside the fact that plant invasions could also conceivably take place in such circumstances where genetically modified "frankenfoods" are introduced into the wrong ecosystem (1), the grim reality is that species of plant life upon which depend a great many other living organisms (insects most of all) might recede into oblivion simply because they cannot keep pace in the Darwinian struggle. Needless to say, if one envisions the environment as a chain linking together all living organisms in a mutually-sustaining and mutually-reinforcing "conga line", then a loss of any of the links will be debilitating upon a host of other species, as well.

As touched upon in the previous section, genetically modified "frankenfoods" hurt insects at least as much as they hurt local soils and plant life. To wit, recent studies have uncovered evidence that the compounds found in genetically modified plants are lethal to "beneficial" insects such as lacewings (4)(1) and honeybees (1). Moreover, other studies indicate that Monsanto's Bt cotton has negatively impacted bee populations exposed to the genetically modified produce while still other studies have revealed that genetically modified materials existing in the natural world are inimical to ladybird beetles (1). The evidence appears to be damning and, even though genetically modified foods may help scientists devise ways of feeding the hungry while simultaneously streamlining the efficiency of the agricultural process, the negative fall-out is such that the costs may simply be too great for such measures to continue. Genetic research shows that many weaknesses in plants, animals and humans have their origin in tiny imperfection in the genetic code. Therefore, the random damage resulting from gene insertion will inevitably result in side-effects and accidents. Scientists have assessed these risks to be substantial (6)(7).

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The loss of insects means a concomitant loss in pollination (that is, after all, one of the wonderful functions that bees serve) and it also means that what does harm to insects can very easily, if introduced into the ecosystem in sufficiently large quantities, do harm to larger mammals, as well. A recent study involving genetically modified potatoes found that, when these potatoes were spliced with DNA from the so-called "snowdrop" plant as well as with a viral promoter known as CaMV, the hybrid plant created was poisonous to mammals - albeit experimental rats (2)(1). But the fear that CaMV creates among critics of genetically modified agricultural produce is not limited just to the fact that it can be combined and recombined with other plant DNA to create a virulent toxin - although this is certainly very important. Rather, critics are concerned also by the fact that CaMV is para-retrovirus. That is to say, it has the capacity to reactivate dormant or moribund viruses and/or create new viruses. In a fascinating insight, biologist Mae Wan-Ho concludes that transgenic crops which contain CaMV 35S or other similar, recombinogenic "promoters" should be withdrawn from commercial production. Wan-Ho then goes to add that crops containing transgenic DNA should be strictly forbidden from being used as a consumptive product for humans or animals (1). Wan-Ho's warning is certainly well-intentioned and sound, and it deserves the full attention of food producers, scientists, microbiologists and politicians everywhere.

Needless to say, the implications of having products on the market containing para-retroviruses are fairly staggering. If the critics are correct - and there is no evidence available to refute them - then viruses which human beings thought they had eradicated long ago may return with renewed vehemence simply because agricultural producers are seeking new ways of improving crop yields. Just as the current avian flu scare has brought to light stark prospect that the influenza epidemic of 1918 could become reanimated in a new, maybe deadlier, form, para-retroviruses in the food chain could reanimate viruses capable of doing terrible harm in a world ill-prepared to confront them. In any event, while the odds remain in the favor of humanity, the mere existence of CaMV and other recombinogenic promoters raises the specter of pandemics developing just when humanity thought it had overcome them.

Thus far in this paper, a great deal of time has been devoted to the potentially devastating consequences of genetically modified "frankenfoods" upon local soils, plants, and insects and, of course, mammals. As noted, every ecosystem is a complex interplay between many different actors. If some or many of these actors are destroyed, then the long-term health and viability of the ecosystem is called into question. While humanity is often considered (at least by environmentalists) to be more of a parasite than a help, human beings nonetheless constitute an important part of the planetary ecology; we are, after all, animals ourselves. Beyond that, if we are to ensure the long-term success of our species, we need to appreciate how our capacity to manipulate the world around us presents not only opportunities but also threats that can do terrific harm. At the top of this list (or very near the top of it) sits genetically modified foods - the very "frankenfoods" many of us believe can cure hunger but which can also imperil our health. In the following brief section, a cursory overview will be provided of the academic research on the matter and how many scientists are convinced that genetically modified produce is not something we should embrace.

In his comprehensive study, Nathan Batalion writes that Monsanto's rBGH, a 1990s growth hormone designed to produce more "productive" dairy cows, actually created (or had the potential to create, to be more accurate) an increased risk for various cancers in human beings. Just as conspicuously, a number of tests done on laboratory rats confirmed that RBGH absorption resulted in internal organ damage among mammals and increased the likelihood of Leukemia. Furthermore, approved "GM" products such as Monsanto's "Roundup" (used on genetically modified soybeans, corn and canola) were all exposed as carcinogenic (1).

The most frightening thing about the new "GM" "frankenfoods" of the twenty-first century, however, is that the health threats it creates are so numerous. That is to say (and here we return momentarily to our earlier discussion about para-retroviruses) genetically modified foods, because of the transgenic materials they harbor, can "mix" with the genes of various viruses to create enormously powerful "super-viruses". Batalion writes that CaMV, which is used extensively in the "Round UP" soy of Monsanto, in the "Bt-Maize" of Novartis and in many genetically modified canola products, is capable of making DNA from RNA (it is self-perpetuating, in other words) and it has the potential, or at least Batalion seems to infer as much, to create viruses frighteningly similar to HIV and Hepatitis B in their features (1). If that is true - and again, there appears little if anything to refute it - then genetically modified foods may offer one more means by which the AIDS virus can be transported to unsuspecting persons. The scientific facts indicating a change and aggressive course of action for banning GMO's increases everyday. This opposition is necessary because living organisms are highly complex and genetic scientists cannot accurately determine all of the negative or positive effects with the introduction of genes into living organisms. This is the case for even the simplest of bacteria, and most importantly the complex DNA schematic of plants and animals.

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To conclude briefly, this paper has outlined the environmental consequences of genetically modified "frankenfoods" upon soils, plants, insects, mammals and human beings. The paper has argued that while genetically modified foods may create greater productive capacity throughout the agricultural sector, and while they may be more resistant to the environmental depredations that are the bane of other produce, they also appear to heighten the dangers to other forms of life - and can even lead to the mass extinction of species in severe cases. As a result, it is fair to end by suggesting that humanity has much more learning to do before it embraces this newest technology. GMOs might help to solve a lot of the challenges humankind is facing in the near future, including solving the famine world wide, dealing with the pollution and even with the global warming. Still we need regulation, and organizations and governments should give the regulation based on the best scientific knowledge.

Before liberating or banning the industry we need more science and development to make the decision based on the best information possible. It takes time to get reliable scientific answers and therefore we have to calculate the pros and cons of using or not using these products keeping in mind the possible risks involved in this new technology.