Gm Foods In Usa Biology Essay


Organic farming has been shown to provide major benefits for wildlife and the wider environment. The best that can be said about genetically engineered crops is that they will now be monitored to see how much damage they cause.

In 1999 in the US more than 40% of corn, more than 50% of cotton, and more than 45% of soybeans were genetically modified crops. [1] It is also maintained that at least 60% of products found in US supermarkets contain Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) [2] . From the above statistics it can clearly be said that GMOs have become part and parcel of the eating habits in America, with all the repercussions this may have in the life of Americans. Indeed, the products of Genetically Modified Food Technology have become a subject of great concern and controversy in the society. On the one hand, there are those who purport that genetically modified foods are harmful for people and as a result they ferociously support that production should cease immediately. On the other hand, there is this part of the population who maintain that Genetically Modified Foods (GMFs) could be the solution to many feeding problems of our contemporary society, whether it concerns the developed or developing world. The question that arises is where does the truth lie?

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But before anything else, let us define the term. GMFs are crop plants created for human or animal consumption using the latest molecular biotechnology techniques. [3] These plants come from seeds which have been modified in the laboratory to enhance desired traits, such as increased resistance to herbicides or improved nutritional content. What really happens is that as all organisms contain DNA, whether plants or animals, this DNA can be modified and transferred from one organism to another. [4] For example, we can exchange genes between fish and tomatoes in order to achieve the best traits for both species. As a result, it can be said that GMFs contain chemical molecules that are normally foreign to the original organism and can cause various and different effects on the organism to which they are introduced. Some of these effects might be unknown even to the scientists that created them, consequently many people claim that not enough tests are conducted to ensure that they are safe when consumed.

Apart from the health issues which arise, fear, doubt and lack of faith on the part of consumers, there are a number of questions that remain unanswered which have an immediate impact on the American society and which cast doubt as to whether the production of GMFs should continue. Given that 94% of Americans, which is the overwhelming majority, believe that Genetically Modified Food should be labeled, [5] the question that prevails is whether this is done effectively and efficiently by authorities so that the rights of consumers are respected. Obviously, it is the right of Americans to know whether the food they choose to eat is really organic or genetically modified. Yet, are GMFs safe for the environment in which they are planted and further generations are going to live? Finally, one last question that arises is what the repercussions are of the production and availability of GMFs in America.

The aim of this paper is to explore and analyze the consequences of the production and consumption of GMFs on the American people. In particular, I am going to review the effects on the average American on a number of areas, looking also at effects in other parts of the world. To that end, I have consulted a number of articles available in electronic sources and I have taken an interview from the biologist at our school so as to have the scientific opinion of an expert in the field. The study of literature revealed interesting information on the issue and helped me acquire a vast knowledge on its socioeconomic and political dimensions.

2. The rationale behind GMFs:

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Farmers are breeding traditional plants with the desired traits; however, this procedure is time consuming and won't always have the desired effects. For this reason GMFs are used since they can give very fast the traits farmers want. These are the traits and benefits that consumers gain in theory, according to research and tests.

Some of these traits are:

1. GMFs are resistant to herbicides: So, when herbicides are sprayed to kill weeds the crops won't be affected. The quantity of herbicides that is used is lowered. Like this both the environment and the farmers will benefit. Previously, farmers had to spray multiple times with weak herbicides for the weeds to die and the crops to remain unharmed. Evidently, this has a significant positive impact on the cost of production of crops that can then be sold at cheaper prices to consumers.

2. Delay of fruit decaying after harvesting: Thanks to this trait, food will decay slower and so it will be easier to be transported or stored for a longer time, so that it can then be sold to the developing countries or consumed locally.

3. Cold/draught tolerance: This trait allows plants to avoid harm by a sudden frost or a long period of draught. This will prevent farmers from losing their production because of sudden and unexpected adverse weather conditions. In addition, the tolerance of GMOs will give the opportunity to farmers in the developing countries to cultivate crops in a less friendly environment that would normally destroy the crops.

4. Another benefit is the inclusion of high amounts of vitamins and nutrients in GMFs: This entails a lot of benefits for the Americans at large. In essence, it means that they will develop stronger organisms and will be able to withstand diseases and will have greater stamina and energy due to the consumption of vitamins. An illuminating example is that of the "golden rice project", in which amounts of vitamins and nutrients are concentrated in rice.

5. Development of edible vaccines: These are weakened or dead bacteria that when injected into the body prepare it to destroy the bacteria that have infected tomatoes, bananas and potatoes. This will allow medical research to focus on other areas of medical treatment, especially in the development of vaccines that can aid the betterment of the living conditions in the developing countries. As such, American scientists will have one more opportunity to make a strong contribution to the welfare of the world at large.

6. GMOs produce their own insecticides and pesticides: Thus, farmers will not have to spend more money for insecticides and their farms will be protected. As a result, money will be saved and excess production can be supplied to the developing countries to save the millions that starve daily. [6] 

7. Resistance to viruses: There are crops created so that they will be able to defend themselves in case a pathogen enters and an infection is caused. Hence, less money will be spent on treating the diseased plants and less will be wasted because of the destruction of the fields from the disease.

These are some of the major benefits that GMOs and GMFs bring to the American society and the rest of the world; yet, do these benefits outweigh the negative effects of GMOs and GMFs to allow their expansion and proliferation? [7] 

3. Arguments against GMFs:

Despite their benefits, GMOs and GMFs are subject to great controversy around the world and in the United States in particular. As already stated, contenders of GMOs and GMFs use a number of arguments that point to the effects of these products on various areas, be they economic, environmental, health, social and legislative.

3.1. Impact on the economy

There was an incident in which weeds cross-breaded with GM plants produced new weeds, which acquired the gene of resistance to herbicides, creating the "super weeds". Because of their resistance, herbicides that were used by farmers to kill these weeds did not work. These weeds had been grown in farms causing farmers to use more and different chemical cocktails of herbicides to face these "super weeds"; they even tried to get rid of them with bare hands. Disappointed, some farmers were even forced to abandon their farms. This incident caused major problems to farmers since they lost a fortune to get rid of the super weeds but also because of the crops they lost, leading many of them into poverty. This incident occurred in Georgia, Carolina, Tennessee and other parts of the southern US. [8] 

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Genetically modified crops are made with terminal technology. This is a bioengineering process called Technology Protection System which makes the seeds of the crops produced sterile in order to protect the intellectual property of the producer company. [9] Because of this sterilization of the plants, farmers will not be able to continue cultivating the seeds of their own plants but instead will have to buy more seeds, costing them a considerable amount of money each year. In this way, the farmers become dependent on the producer company of the seed. This dependence of the farmers on the seed producing company creates a situation which makes the farmers obligated to follow the rules that the producer company sets. So if the company raises the prices, the farmers will have to pay in order to restock. This leaves them with only two choices: The first is to choose to buy the seeds from the producer companies at prices they have no influence on. The other alternative is that if the farmers refuse to buy these seeds and instead turn to traditional seeds, the products they will grow will be smaller, more insecticide will have to be sprayed and the chances for less resistant products will rise, increasing the possibility for crop failure. Evidently, this increases the costs of production for farmers, who then have to sell their products at higher prices. Instead, if they want to be competitive in the market they have to sell their products at prices that are as low as those of the genetically modified ones, in order to appeal to the general public. If farmers decide to follow this strategy in the market, there is a high chance that they will suffer from severe financial losses, since the higher cost of production will reduce their profits significantly.

So in both cases the farmers are the ones that will lose and probably be exploited by companies that have a stronger bargaining power. In addition to the United States, this situation was observed in much higher proportions in India where farmers became indebted to companies and ended up losing their lands because of crop failure. This drove them into a very bad state of poverty, which resulted in devastating psychological stress. Thousands were the Indians who committed suicide because of their debts. [10] 

3.2. Impact on health

There are scientists that claim that GMFs can be consumed without the fear of harmful effects on humans. However, it can be said that this stands true only for the short term because GMFs exist in the market for the past 30 years. Therefore, nobody can attest to the harmlessness of GMFs since it is too early to see whether there are long-term effects on the human organism.

To measure safety scientists have concluded tests and experiments on animals, rats in particular. In one of these experiments they fed rats with GM corn only to find that these rodents developed indigestion. [11] Because there is a correlation between rats' organisms and the human organism, scientists came to the conclusion that humans may in the near future demonstrate similar symptoms by consuming GMFs. Of course there is the part of critics, on the other hand, who claim that there is no relationship between the organism of a rat and a human and as a result we cannot reach safe conclusions.

To make matters worse, a lot of health problems have emerged to the population at large because of the consumption of GMFs. During the 1980s, one genetically engineered amino acid caused a major epidemic in the United States. This new disease was named eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome. The medical term refers to the higher levels in cell count in the body (eosinophilia) and myalgia indicating muscle pain. The symptoms call for coughing, rashes, physical weakness, pneumonia, breathing difficulties, hardening of the skin, mouth ulcers, nausea, shortness of breath, muscle spasms, visual problems, hair loss, difficulty with concentration, and paralysis. As a result, 10,000 people got sick, 1,500 were permanently disabled and 100 died. [12] 

Obviously, questions arise if we want to approach these findings with a critical eye. In particular, are scientists certain that this disease was the result of the consumption of GMFs only? How can we be sure that these people were eating other foods, which were infected by some virus that could bring about these results? Despite these arguments, one thing is certain: at the end of the day it has been carved in the minds of people that GMFs may accidentally bring about a new disease and of course they adopt a negative predisposition towards this new type of fabricated food.

Other reports claim that a lot of allergies among children have been recorded and they have been attributed to the consumption of GMFs. To illuminate this further it has been claimed that children in the US have developed life-threatening allergies on GM foods, like the Brazil nuts. [13] This led to the cancelation of an experiment programmed in which scientists would transfer genes from peanuts in soybeans.

3.3. Impact on the environment

The problems that are caused not only affect humans, their health and the economy but also the environment.

In the "super weed" case, GM weeds run loose into the wild mixing with the normal weeds and combining their DNA into their descendants. Because of this, all the weeds in the area had the genetically modified DNA, causing all of them to develop resistance to herbicides. What would happen if that "super weed" species managed to spread over a larger area? This would mean that the weed as we know it would become extinct. By pollination larger and larger areas would be affected and in an extreme possibility, all weeds worldwide would carry the modified gene, changing the species forever.

Another example is that of when researchers tried to make petunias twice as colorful by doubling the pigment gene. They ended up producing plants with no pigment at all. What would be the consequences if the gene for no pigment was pollinated into other petunias and, on a larger scale, the species of the petunias changed forever into non colored? What might the consequences of that be for the species itself?

This was an example based on the case of the super weeds and a scenario on the petunia attempt. Similarly, other flora species could be harmed and altered with severe problems on the ecological balance. Also, there are cases that GM genes get to the wild and cause damage to non-pest organisms. This is the case of the Monarch Butterfly, which it is claimed that it has been harmfully affected by the BT toxin that some GM crops produce, leading to its disappearance.

The Monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus , was nominated in 1990 as the national insect of the United States of America and already was the state insect of Alabama, Idaho, Illinois, Minnesota, Texas and the state butterfly of Vermont and West Virginia. The Monarch butterfly is known and admired for the immigration travel that it does. It lays its eggs on milkweed plants that usually grow near corn fields as weeds. The caterpillars feed on the leaves of the milkweed in order to grow. The BT toxin is produced by the genetically modified corn in order to kill those insects that feed on the corn but through pollen, this toxin travels to the leaves of milkweed plants. A large amount of pollen with the toxin is consumed by the caterpillars of the Monarch butterflies along with the leaves. Although the BT toxin is selective to kill some specific insects, laboratory researches have shown that a large quantity of this toxin is capable of killing the caterpillars. This could lead not only to the extinction of some species that will be harmed directly, but also the extinction of those plants or flowers that are pollinated by these insects.

Through pollination, which is the transfer of pollen from a male plant the female part of another plant, genes may travel outside the fields into the wild, affecting entire areas and passing on the genetically engineered gene to their descendants. Consequently, many species of plants could be affected and so their differences and uniqueness as a species will be eliminated turning only into the one that has the GM gene. For these reasons, both flora and fauna could be harmed, endangering many species not only in the US but also in the rest of the world.

3.4. Impact on legislation

In the United States, people's concern about GMFs centered round the issue of how much information they should be given before they buy a GMF. Many of them were afraid of this new kind of food and were cautious with what they were buying. There was a feeling that the government "made" the people buy genetically modified products against their will. This led to the passing of a law about labeling products of genetic modification, so that the public could make an informed choice as to whether it should buy a GMF.

Until then, the legislation was unclear and stated that only the GMFs that differed from the natural counterparts had to be labeled. So if there was a GM product that had the same characteristics as the product in its non-GM form it did not have to be labeled, preventing the customer from knowing what food he bought. But even in the cases that the firm that sells its GM product decided to label it, according to FDA guidelines, it could not be labeled as genetically modified but instead genetically engineered. [14] 

3.5. Ethical questions

There are also questions that can not be answered or proved. Do we have the right to take organisms that were created by nature and alter their entire existence? By which right can a human change the basic structure of another organism going against the decisions of nature? Is it not through evolution or selective breeding in which the genes of an organism would take time to adapt correctly to the environment? [15] Should we instead "force" genes to evolve through genetically modifying techniques, with unknown long term effects.

Even though "plant rights" have not been accepted and still are at a debatable stage, it is considered morally wrong by the Swiss government to demote the dignity of plants and the arbitrary killing of flora. As the Swiss committee said, some genetic engineering would not be an unacceptable insult to plant dignity, but it would be if genetic modification caused plants to "lose their independence". A sign of such an insult would be in the case of the terminal seed in which humans interfere with the plants capacity to reproduce. [16] 

4. Conclusion

Genetically modified foods can have adverse effects on the environment and people but at the same time they save the lives of all the people in countries of the third world that are in need of food. If genetic modification stops, hopes for thousands of people that their lives depend on the success of these projects will fade. It would be a morally doubted answer to say that we produce in a place of the world, like some states in the US, these products in order to save lives in another place, because then lives are threatened in the place of production. So only producing genetically engineered food for developing countries might reduce the problems but it will not solve them, since another will be created else were. With the terminal technology, for example, the chances of environmental disasters through pollination are reduced a lot. But at the same time, because of the terminal technology, farmers may be led into bankruptcy.

There are still many flaws in the production and management of genetically modified products, like possible health issues that can not yet be predicted or the toxins produced by the engineered plants killing non pest organisms. Most likely, in the future if some of these problems will be dealt with and genetic modification will be a technology that will be able to truly save lives without being based on other peoples suffering. But at the current state it is hard to take sides on the scale and that is why debates on genetically modified food still go on. Even though at the current state it is still doubtable, genetically modified food technology has the capability of giving solutions to many problems, some of which are close to their solution today but most of them will be solved in the future.