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Genetically modified foods
Genetically modified [GM] foods are produced as a result of altering the DNA of an organism. It is usually done through applying a technique called Genetic Engineering which refers to the removal, modification or addiction of genes to a DNA molecule of an organism for the purpose of changing the information it contains. By changing this information, genetic engineering changes the type or amount of protein an organism is capable.
The pros and cons of genetically modified foods remain controversial among many people. The modification of the food crops will ultimately give the crops completely new or improved qualities but on the other hand, its side effects on human health and the environment still remains unclear.
There are many advantages to genetically modified food. GM food can be modified to overcome any potential problem. For example, they can be made to be resistant to many diseases, weeds, pests and herbicides which will guarantee a safe harvest and reduce cost for farmers because, there is no need to use chemical sprays. Another benefit associated with GM foods is, improved food quality. A tomato for instance can be engineered to stay fresher for longer, thereby extending its shelf life in the supermarkets.
There is always a high demand for food, especially in third world countries. GM technology enables crops to be engineered, to withstand weather fluctuations e.g. flood and drought, grow faster and have more nutrients. This could be the solution to third world hunger because; drought and floods are quite common in these countries. With the help of GM technology, their crops will not be destroyed so easily after every drought or flood. In the case of malnutrition problems, iron and other minerals can be added to the crops to eradicate malnutrition.
Most people are vaccinated against many potential diseases. In the future, foods could be modified to make edible vaccines. This will help to make large scale immunisations against diseases, easier, painless and more accessible.
Despite the many advantages to genetically modified foods, there are also many disadvantages. A worrisome issue in GM foods is that, since it is a new technology, it is impossible to know all the future risks, because, it has not been in use for many years. The benefits of new technologies can be well understood after it existed for long. For example, forty years ago, it was thought that, the invention of nuclear power was the best solution to world's energy problems but now we know the full benefits and risks of nuclear power.
Another potential downside to GM technology is the impact it could have to human health. The new added genes in food could be resistant to certain antibiotics. That means, if those foods are consumed, it can alter the effectiveness of the antibiotic. It can also trigger an allergy in humans, if a gene is taken from a food that causes allergies to some people and put in another food that does not, then there is a possibility that the host organism might cause allergy as well. In addition to that, normal toxicology tests do not work for food, for this reason, scientists can't prove whether genetically modified foods are 100% safe. The other issue that has received a great deal of debate is the use of bacteria and viruses to modify GM foods because; there is a fear that there will be an outbreak of new diseases.
The other disadvantage involving genetically modified foods are the effects it has on the environment. If pollination occurs between genetically modified plants and non-genetically modified plants, there is a possibility of spreading the plants in to the wild, where they could compete with other plants and eventually upset the balance of nature, as these plants will dominate. Plants that are resistant to chemical herbicides could pollinate with weeds, in contrast to what genetically modified plants could prevent, new and stronger sprays would have to be developed to eliminate these weeds.
Genetically modified foods include different genes inserted in different ways. This means that, the safety of GM foods should be assessed on a case-by-case basis and it is not possible to generalise their safety.
GM foods on the international market have passed risk assessment tests and are not likely to cause any risk for human health, In addition, no effects on human health have been reported so far in relation to GM foods consumption in the countries where they have been approved.
The regulation of GM foods varies in each government. In some countries, GM foods are not yet regulated and in general, there is no a legally binding international regulatory system in place. However, several international organisations are involved in overlooking the process.
In conclusion, genetically modified foods have the potential to solve many of the world's hunger and malnutrition problems, and to help protect and preserve the environment by increasing yield and reducing reliance upon chemical pesticides and herbicides. However, there are many challenges ahead for governments, especially in the areas of safety testing, regulation, international policy and food labelling. Many people feel that genetic engineering is inevitable and vital for the future and that its enormous benefits can never be ignored. On the other hand, people must be vigilant and carry out the process with caution to avoid causing unintended harm to human health and the environment.