The world today offer a wide variety of food products that ends up in the hands of consumers who dwell on the manufactures description on their content, nutritional value and the possible risks they may pose to their health. One of food products that consumers need to know about their nature are the Genetically Modified Foods (GMO`s) which are produced through consequent alteration of a specie's genetic DNA chain. This technological advancement in food production presents a lot of ethical questions and possible safety issues which the consumer need be aware of before going for the products. One of the methods to rise above consumer opposition in using modified foods is through clear labeling of products in particular vegetables and fruits originating from genetically modified crops. This paper explores the diverse ethical and social dilemmas that are linked with GMO`s in food supply markets that customers need to know. The paper will focus on both positive and negative technical aspect of genetic modification on foods and some of the laws relating to their production and use so that customers can make their own stand towards their use. Specific view is that GMO`s should be labeled so that the customer after being informed about them is left with the ultimate decision of choice whether to use them or not.
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Genetically Modified Foods are not the same as foods produced from natural grown crops through normal breeding methods as put by some manufactures. The foods crops are modified through genetic engineering that enables them attain both growth and maturity fast. Farmers are able to produce these crops cheaply since they are more resistant to strains of bacteria or insecticides. The crops are produced through taking long strands of DNA and inserting into other species of cells making it possible for the new cell to carry along useful traits. The new cells that merge are known as genetically modified organisms (GMO`s), achieved through stages of; removal, cloning of genes, designing, transforming and backcross breeding. Today, people eat approximately 100,000 dissimilar genes day after day, breaking down the DNA into their bodies.
In USA, soybeans, corn and cotton are among the most common genetically produced crops (GM crops in USA, 2001). These crops are modified with the intention of to adopt them resist pests and herbicides and to increase value in nutrition, flavor and color while providing a longer shell life. This does not come in handy without some alteration: a genetic material from the bacillus thruingiensis (Bt), a bacteria, is inserted into the plants which consequently stimulates production of toxic protein that repels some insects such as caterpillars.
With the future of genetic engineering seeming to be bright, its application has been applied in application of some of the widely consumed food crops such as the bananas. The world today has bananas from which human vaccine against infectious diseases like Hepatitis B can be extracted, fruit and nut trees that yields earlier, fish that matures more fast and plants that generate more plastic with exceptional properties.
Benefits of Genetically Modified foods
Consumers wishing to use food products from genetically modified food have the right to know the advantages associated with them. One advantage that surpasses the rest is their nature to grow and mature fast ensuring a steady food production. It should be put in consideration that estimations show that a child dies after every two seconds in the world due to starvation. Besides, others are malnourished which makes it important to embrace such technology. Through it, corn production has increased by 333%, wheat by 136% while protein providing foods have increased to 300%. Corn for instance has varied uses besides acting as food yet it can not produce on its own without human intervention owing to its tight husk that bars the corn seed dispersal to the soil, thus no germination. The crop is also susceptible to pest and diseases and thus genetic modification favors its production (GM crops in USA, 2001).
Genetic modification in food production has offered a solution in our environments where the soil salinity has continuously increased owing to the decreasing water table and hence rendering it infertile. decline in soil productivity in countries that need a diminished land for agriculture would lead to acute food shortages if the GMO`s with genes of tolerant plants species like mangrove are not adopted to supplement the natural crops.
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Further, there is known medicinal advantage associated with their use. People in developing countries where technology to store vaccines for quite a longer period lacks can benefit by acquiring immunization through eating these foods as part of their diet according to Dr. Charles Arntzen. Transgenic potato plants have already been developed which have successfully verified capacity to immunize mice against bacteria that causes diarrhea (Thomashow & Michael, 1999).
Negatives Aspects of GMO`s
Consumption of food products originating from modified plants exposes human beings to some risks. Without labeling, unsuspecting customers can end up purchasing modified products which in some circumstances were not initially meant to be for human consumption. Consumers need to know of the various products that come up in the name of GMO`s. StarLink for example is a GMO corn product that is designated to be pigs food, but has often found its way to food store for humans. The company's stand against labeling is owed to fearing that the quantities sold would be affected negatively when the products are avoided (Thomashow & Michael, 1999).
Monsanto is one of the leading company supplying modified plants to farmers. Surprisingly, it also leads in herbicides and pesticide production against the believe that GMO`s requires less herbicide and pesticide. Eva Cheng online article addressing on food from GMO`s- Bush promotes biological time bomb, exposes how big corporations advocates for GMF whereas most scientist disapproves them as fit for human consumption. 75% of these crops have genetic manipulation to tolerate herbicides while being cultivated under heavy dosages of the selected herbicide such that the rest of other plants die off leaving only the GM plant (Cheng, 2003). Use of these chemicals in large amounts in agricultural lands is well known to be health hazard in both human and the environment. Traces of these chemicals find their way to the human system when the food is consumed. A chief ethical contemplation concerning these foods is on analytical tests carried on these products considering that the field is relatively new and the know how to come with precise results is still questionable.
An additional concern that often comes up in using genetically modified crops is the consumer safety. Bt bacteria where the toxin used to make the plants resistant to herbicides is meant to kill pests eating crops in place of using of pesticides. The Bt toxin get incorporated in the plant and its fruits and thus cannot be eliminated through washing when customers are eating the products. One of the direct effects witnessed is allergy among other side effects to humans who consume these foods. These people are however disadvantaged owing to the fact that they can unknowingly continue using these foods if they are not labeled (Thomashow & Michael, 1999).
US Genetically Modified Foods Laws
Many countries in world have laws that either do not allow the sale of GMF for human consumption or require that if such foods exists, they are well labeled to clearly indicate that the have been genetically engineered. Such laws are meant to protect unsuspecting customers into falling in he traps of GMO`s food companies. Due to greed and self interests, huge companies in the practice are using fiscal backings from congress members to stop enactment of laws that restrict modified food from going through. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is among US` long time protection agencies for consumers. Estimates show that above $1 trillion value of products annual sales are under regulation.FDA is also in charge of the public health agency mandated to protect American customers through enforcement of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act and a number of other associated public health laws (FDA, 2003).
Given that the practice of testing whether GM foods are safe by the FDA is a voluntary process so long as these new products are not considerably dissimilar from their original equal, it goes out handy that many of the products found in the market would still be put in this category and to a large extent be considered as safe and equal by their manufacturers. Most of these foodstuffs could be having little safety towards health and environment and consequently a lot of information being sheltered from the consumers. A statement delivered by the Consumer Federation of America Foundation found this flexible law by the FDA to include major inconveniences allowing for possible hazardous GM food to find entry to the food supply but still left the FDA untarnished were the food to be found unsafe (CFAF, 2003).
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Sale and consumption of genetically engineered crops raises a lot of ethical questions that customers have the right to know of. While these types of crops contribute to enhanced food constant supply, they are also known to present with many human safeties as well environmental concerns. The surrounding conditions of their nature need to be well known by all people so as to give them a good stand in making decision choices while going for them. Customers who get conversant with these facts surrounding GM foods will conclude differently from their former perceived idea on them as well as gauge the ethical standings of the companies manufacturing these foods. The final choice on GM foods should be left on a decision of a well-versed consumer rather than large corporations and some government beneficiaries who lack the common public's interests as their key goal.
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Thomashow & Michael F. Before the U.S. House Science Subcommittee on Basic Research http://www.house.gov/science/thomashow_100599.htm, 1999