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In a contemporary rapid growing society the practices of modern day living seem to have expanded globally. Modernization has taken the form of new technologies and lifestyle practices that not only influence the way we live, work and socialise but also what we eat. The onset of this modernization has a significant impact on our daily intake of foods, which is needed as a source of fuel for our bodies to function normally. Foods that provide this natural source of energy are now being undertaken genetic modernising to ensure an increase in the production of foods and additionally the heath benefits thereof. The apprehension of the view that agricultural techniques are imperative for increased food production as a solution to feed an ever-expanding world population, remains in conflict with the view that genetically-modified foods should be banned until they are proven to be safe for human health as well as the environment. This essay will provide a detailed discussion on these apposing views.
The term GM foods (genetically-modified foods) or GMO's (genetically-modified organisms) is universally used to refer to crop plants created for human or animal consumption by means of the latest molecular biology techniques (Whitman, 2000). In a more detailed illustration, genetically-modified foods may be described as the result of reformed "DNA biotechnological procedures" that allow the genetic composition of an organism to be modified (Schneider & Schneider, 2009:1). According to Schneider & Schneider (2009) the result of this is that the changes that occur in the improved composition consist of elements not found in the original organism.
The procedure of genetically-modified foods has taken a global stance, as advances in the process increase more crops undertake modification. This global eruption of genetically modification in foods has brought forward a number of advantages, but also disadvantages which ties in with the opposing views of this topic.
According to Whitman (2000) the world population has topped 6 billion people and is predicted to double in the next fifty years. Ensuring a sufficient food supply for this expanding population is considered to be a major challenge. The GM food industries have secured to meet this requirement along with other benefits.
Pest resistance is one of the benefits, as growing genetically modified foods such as Bacillus Thuringiensis corn (chemical that protects corn form root worms) can help eliminate the application of chemical pesticides and reduce the cost of bringing a crop to market (Whitman, 2000). This would also ensure less financial strain on farmers as they would not have to continually use pesticides on their crops. Consumers do not like to purchase crops that contain pesticides if this should change consumption would increase, resulting in a better financial gain for farmers. Another benefit is disease resistance. There are many viruses, bacteria and fungi that cause plant diseases that result in bad crops (Whitman, 2000). As a result of this consumers catch these diseases as well therefore plant biologists are working to develop plants with genetically-engineered resistance to diseases.
Unexpected frost can destroy sensitive seedlings therefore an antifreeze gene from cold water fish has been initiated into plants such as tobacco and potato (Whitman, 2000). According to Whitman (2000) with this antifreeze gene, plants like these are able to tolerate cold temperatures that would normally kill unmodified seedlings. The effects of unexpected frost cause crops to die resulting in less production. This would cause a major impact on consumption especially as tobacco is a daily consumer purchase due to the industry's wide faction of consumers.
The ability to offer increased nutritional benefits is another advantage of the genetically modification process. As Whitman (2000) emphasises the onset of malnutrition in many poverty stricken countries poses a dilemma. Many of the people in third world countries depend on a single crop such as rice as their staple diet. However, rice does not contain all the nutrients needed to prevent the causes of malnutrition. Thus according to Whitman (2000) should rice be genetically engineered it would help those in third world countries who cannot afford a decent staple diet, to attain the nutrients needed to prevent malnutrition from this single crop.
There are also additional benefits in the pharmaceutical part as medicines and vaccines are costly to produce and require particular storage conditions that are not readily produced in third world countries (Whitman, 2000). According to Whitman (2000) researchers are thus developing edible vaccines that can be found in tomatoes and potatoes. In this case these kinds of vaccines will make the transportation and storage procedures much easier than normal vaccine injections.
The advantage of the effects of genetically modified foods still brings about the question as to what extent this process impacts the world population. Thus many criticisms arise in answering this question.
The first critique is that allergic reactions may be present in genetically engineered foods and then impact consumers (Kepos, 2009). For example if protein carrying allergic reaction a property is engineered into a crop like corn it could infect the consumer.
Another disadvantage of genetically engineered foods according to Whitman (2000) is that modified organisms could cause harm to other organisms. As Kepos (2009) explains non-targeted species may unintentionally be damaged by a genetically modified plant producing endotoxins (toxins associated with a certain bacteria) intended for a specific pest. For example, almost all insect-resistant plants include a gene from the bacterium Baciullus thuringiensis (Bt), that results in the production of a natural endotoxin that is poisonous to all insects (Kepos, 2009).
The fact that enduring in the genetically modification process is extremely costly is yet another critique. Many new plant genetic engineering technologies and GM plants have been untested, and exclusive rights infringement is a big concern of agribusiness. As Whitman (2000) suggests consumer advocates are worried that patenting these new plant varieties will raise the price of seeds, so high that undersized farmers and third world countries will not be able to afford seeds for genetically-modified crops, thereby expanding the already wide gap between the wealthy and the poor.
The two opposing views offer sound evidence for the reason of their stance. It is clear that those in favour of the genetically-modified food process have full confidence the positive impacts on globalization. For example in the quality-control department of the food processing industry an employee guarantees that genetically modification offers pure quality and agrees that the quality control process is simpler with the onset of GM foods. To illustrate in explaining the quality control process Dennis, Blanchfield & Ward (1980) states "a scientist in the laboratory will examine the product and test them for certain parameters. The laboratory will also examine other ingredients, which having being basically pure chemicals, will present very few problems." (Dennis. etal, 1980:88). They also hold the stance of the economic benefits as they argue that we need GM foods because they will reduce production costs by reducing the need for supplementary chemicals (pesticides and fertilizers) and mechanical inputs for farmers (Schneider & Schneider, 2009).On the other hand consumers and researchers in support of the opposing view, which is against the instigation of GM foods, is strongly against the harmful affects that may be caused to human health and other organisms of nature. The implications on the earth and the affects on human existence seem to be a major standpoint for those against the production of GM foods. To illustrate the topic of increased toxicity should be highlighted. "Genetic modification may enhance natural plant toxins in unexpected ways. When a gene is switched on, besides having the desired effect, it may also stimulate the production of natural toxins" (Kepos, 2009).
As a result of the two opposing views many questions arise, however the question of who initially benefits from the production of GM foods still seizes to be a major concern. In essence genetically modified foods have more advantages than disadvantages. Although there are few disadvantages in counting they are regarded as extreme forms of destruction to consumers and the earth itself. This brings to the forefront equilibrium in impact.
In my opinion with an ever expanding world population humans have little choice but to consume genetically modified foods, as the pricing of organic food is too expensive for daily consumption. However, I do feel that the industry should bring fair prices to organic food so that there is an equal freedom of choice according to the preference and attitudes of consumers. In this case I mean that consumers should have a right to express their stances by having the freedom of choice to purchase organic or genetically modified foods. This can only be done once prices of both GM foods and organic foods reach some sort of equilibrium.
Though there may be many controversies on the topic of genetically modified foods the challenge of feeding an expanding population remains a global dilemma. We are faced with the onset of global warming as well and the affects of the genetic modification process adds pressure to this problem. The opposing views on the topic at hand hold strong stances, and yet we are still faced with the issue of the impacts of GM foods. The questions to ask oneself is to what extremes are consumers and researchers willing to go to in order to find a solution to these problems? Moreover are there any solutions that could ensure relief to both views of this topic? These questions remain puzzling, though it is safe for both the opposing views to agree that science has advanced in its developments and continues to do so today, bringing with it both positive and negative effects on a global population