Negative Effects of Genetically Modified Food/Crops
Author: Instructor: Course Title: Date: Negative Effects of Genetically Modified Food/Crops Genetically modified organisms refer to organisms whose genetic components have been changed to produce an unnatural occurrence. Genetic engineering refers to the technology employed in the alteration of the genetic elements, which also facilitates the transfer of genes between related and non-related species. This technology is applied in the production of Genetically Modified (GM) crops/foods in order to meet the desired objectives of the industry operators.
The 1980 US Supreme Court pronouncement on the legal patentability of biological life in the Diamond vs. Chakrabartyn case opened the gateway to genetic engineering (Lex Orbis). There are some perceived benefits of the GM foods industry, both to the producer and consumer, especially in regard to increased food productivity and nutrition. Conversely, there have been reported cases on potential risks to human health and the environment due to GM foods/crops. The harmful effects of GM foods production and consumption cannot be overlooked, due to their impact on human health, the environment and socio-economic operation of a society.
The introduction and widespread use of Genetically Modified (GM) foods has been met with uncertainties in regard to public acceptability due to the confirmed and potential harmful effects of this technology. GM foods are disputable for various reasons, one of them being the adverse effects of these foods to human health. There are concerns over deaths, near-deaths and diseases such as cancer and bacterial infections arising out of GM foods. Human beings need food for survival but it is incongruous to consume potentially harmful food for one’s existence just for survival.
Studies indicate that there have been recorded deaths attributable to Genetic Engineering in foods. In 1989, a genetic modification of the food supplement known as L-tryptophan produced a devastating disease known as the Eosinophilia Myalgia syndrome (EMS). There were about 37 people who died from the ailment, as well as around 1500 who were physically impaired. The GM food supplement was manufactured by a Japan’s chemical company known as Showa Denko, which offered a $2 billion settlement to the victims, but investigations into the product were not carried out.
In addition, initial GM tested products such as Flavr Savr have been reported as harmful to animals, evidenced by the premature deaths of the animals used in these lab tests. Further, in 1996, a company known as Pioneer Hi-Bred, the largest seed company in the US, produced soybeans with the added protein methionine, through splicing Brazil nut DNA into the conventional soybeans (Cummins, Lilliston and Lappe 36). Researchers from the University of Nebraska reported that the use of the GM soybeans may result in fatal allergies to individuals allergic to Brazilian nuts.
Fortunately, the company withdrew the product from the market before any fatalities occurred. Allergenic reactions to GM foods are another area of concern to the consumer public. There has been an increasing rate of food-allergenic individuals in the nation, especially among children, which was confirmed by the Center for Disease Control. The increased alteration of diets contributes to the rising rate of food sensitivity, since GM foods are not comparable to regular foods (Nestle).
Other indications of the allergenic quality of GM foods include the following: A study on GM potatoes with cod genes indicated they were allergenic; two independent studies indicated that GM Bt corn produced allergenic effects, even on the farmers who used genetically engineered Bt sprays to produce such corn; in 1999, York Laboratory researchers discovered a connection between the rise in allergic reactions to soy and the consumption of GM soy. The potential risks of GM foods extend to disease causality and bacterial infections.
Scientists have established a connection between a protein hormone known as GH and a chemical hormone called IGH-1 associated with breast cancer, and in some instances, prostate cancer. The protein hormone GH is injected in dairy cows to facilitate the production of more milk, thus it has been used to boost the productivity of dairy corporations. Genetically modified versions of the hormone have been approved to enhance milk productivity despite warnings by scientists that this GM hormone increases the IGF-1 hormone in consumers, from about 70 to 1000%. Dr.
Samuel Epstein, a University of Chicago doctor and the Chairman of the Cancer Prevention Coalition explained the connection between GH and IGF-1; that the GH induces the malignant conversion of human breast epithelial cell types that eventually leads to cancerous growths. However, the US Food and Drugs Administration rejected the importance of such findings. The proponents of GM foods point to some science reviews which claim that GM crops in the market pose limited risks to human health. GM foods undergo protocol tests to determine their effects on human health as well as their allergenic quality.
These tests have been evaluated by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the result is that the GM foods currently in circulation pose no allergic effects to people. The World Health Organization further maintains that all GM foods in the global market have been approved after passing the necessary risk assessment tests; hence they are not harmful to human health. Additionally, the organization claims that adverse effects of these foods have not been proved among the general public where the GM foods have been permitted thus there should be no reason for alarm (World Health Organization).
However, this position falls short of completely meeting the concerns of consumers, since various scientific studies have reflected negative health effects of GM foods, contradicting WHO’s position. Despite the observation of harmful effects on a minority, GM foods cannot be ruled as completely safe for human consumption. In consideration of all the evidence presented, it is certain that genetic engineering technology presents certain dangers and health hazards that need to be thoroughly assessed before GM foods are absorbed into the global market.
The assessment criteria for these products should also be revised with reference to case studies and reports highlighting potential harms of genetic modification (The Economist 19). Consumers should also be fully aware of the type of products displayed in the market in order to make informed choices. Genetic modified foods and crops have also been frowned upon for their potential negative effects to the environment. There are concerns over the toxicity levels in the soil due to genetic engineered farming, leading to soil pollution and destruction of plant and animal life.
Despite the positive effects of genetic engineering technology in boosting food supply to the public, the application of this technology raises the use of chemicals and bio-engineered products in farms, hence the environmental degradation. It is essential to support a food crop production system that maintains environmental standards rather than ruin them, thus maintaining the spirit of environmental conservation. The GM crop industry advocates for this technology on the grounds that genetic engineered seeds and plants are helpful to the environment by decreasing the amount of chemicals used in farms.
However, most of the GM agricultural products have a high chemical resistance, which in turn increases rather than decreases the use of herbicides or pesticides with toxic effects to the farms. The GM crop industry seeks to profit from the sale of more products, and these include seeds as well as pesticides and herbicides. In light of this issue, it is conceivable that the industry intends to sell more genetic engineered agricultural products as well as chemicals; hence environmental safety is a challenge if farmers rely on these products, since they go hand in hand with great use of herbicides/pesticides.
According to environmental scientist, R. J. Goldburg, scientists expect that the use of herbicides will triple due to GM agricultural products (Goldburg 647). An example of a company in this industry is Monsanto, which is a world leading corporation in the production of genetic engineered seeds as well as the herbicide known as Roundup. The herbicide glyphosate, also called Roundup, has damaging effects to plant and animal life. The US Fish and Wildlife Service indicated that Roundup poses a threat to 74 endangered species; it affects natural processes in plant life such as photosynthesis.
Further, the herbicide decays in the soil but it leaves deposits on the crops harvested for the consumer. Glyphosate, which is the main component in Roundup, is harmful to humans, and has led to numerous cases of illness among farmers. Various scientific research projects also indicate the harmful effects of GM products to the soil; these include the research carried out by Oregon scientists which indicates the GM microorganism, klebsiella planticola killed vila soil nutrients and rendered it sterile.
Similarly, in 1997, it was established that Rhizobium melitoli, a GM bacterium, released toxins in the soil that caused pollution. The Environmental Protection Agency also expressed its concerns over the matter, but these microorganisms are still in operation. The Oregon research also indicated that some of these microbes killed wheat plants when introduced into the soil. Other indicators of the environmental effects of GM products include the creation of super weeds and super pests; plant and animal invasions; destruction of forests; the death of beneficial insects and genetic pollution.
GM elements such as Bt endotoxin have been reported to stay in the soil for about 18 months and could be transported to other wild plants, thus forming super weeds, resistant to beetles and butterflies, and this process affects the balance of nature. Super pests are created when common pests like budworms and cottonboll worms develop immunity from toxins due to repeated exposure. Research indicates that cottonboll worms have developed immunity from Bt sprays used in organic farming (Tabashnik, Gassmann and Crowder 199-202).
Plant and animal invasions threaten the existing species and result to the imbalance of nature. Emerging GM strains can induce bio-invasions into plant or animal life, such as the invasion of the kudzu vine, which is an exotic plant from Japan with rapid growth. The damage to forest life is yet another justification for the claims against the production of GM foods/crops. GM trees have developed a resistance towards chemical sprays thus when spraying is carried out in a forest with GM trees, they survive but the plant life around them are killed.
Unlike rainforests or tropical trees that support animal life such as fungi, insects and birds, GM trees are flowerless and sterile; hence they cannot support forest life in its entirety. Research further demonstrates that GM components destroy beneficial insects in plant life such as the monarch butterfly larvae which feeds on milkweed. In 1997, New Scientist reported that the proteins found in genetically modified canola flowers could potentially harm honeybees (Pain) Additionally, genetic pollution is another negative effect of GM production on the environment.
Genetic pollution is facilitated by the transfer of GM pollen through rain, wind, birds or insects, and it becomes difficult to contain since unlike chemical pollution, it does not decay. The government of Thailand terminated field assessments for Bt cotton from Monsanto after the Institute of Traditional Thai Medicine established genetic pollution of nearby plants (GRAIN 1-7). In the face of the controversy around GM technology and its effects on the environment, the supporters of the technology advocate that it offers a solution to environmental strain caused by overpopulation.
The proponents of genetic engineering argue that the technology is beneficial to the environment since it presents a solution that prevents further depletion of the environment as the world population rises. It is evident that overpopulation has caused negative effects on the environment, due to the constant struggle for land, water, fuels and other resources necessary for human existence. For this reason, supporters of this technology view it as the means to support the food requirements of the world as a whole while aintaining the status of the environment. GM food production has the potential to support the growing need of food supplies in the present world, but its damaging effects to the environment cannot be ignored since they pose long-term risks, that impact on future generations. These destructive effects on the environment, plant and animal life have been scientifically proven, thus they are not negligible GM crop production definitely introduces harmful effects to the environment and its inhabitants, making it an unsafe means to support food demands.
The collaboration of core organizations in the environmental sector should be established in order to forge a way that incorporates stringent environmental standards in the GM food industry. Such organizations include the US Food and Drug Administration and the United Nations Environment Programme. There are a lot of concerns in the GM food industry, with some risks already identified while some remain to be discovered, hence there should be more emphasis on safe food production strategies rather than a technology filled with uncertainties (Krech 580).
The other argument against genetically modified foods arises out of the negative political, social and economic implications of the industry to modern society. The extensive application of biotechnology in food production will change established farming drastically, the strongest effect being on the indigenous farmers, and eventually the consumers. GM food production requires patenting, and the large corporations in this sector will eventually push the indigenous farmers out of their farms, while they control food products and prices.
Advocates against GM crop production argue that his industry will displace farmers out of their livelihoods, since they face the risk of being bought out by large multinational companies that can pursue genetic engineering from a large-scale level. The control of the GM food production industry by large corporations amounts to bio-colonization, which by extension refers to the power that bio-technology controllers possess in the current and future market. The ability to control genetic components as well as agricultural resources is the source of so much power, for its food production.
Indigenous farmers in the U. S. are currently self-sufficient in food production, but with the advancements in the GM food industry, more and more people will be dependent upon these industry controllers for food. These industry controllers may be referred to as the bio-colonizing companies, which will possess a lot of decisive power in the world economy due to their control of genetic and agricultural resources. Agricultural workers will also be greatly afflicted with the transfer of control in the industry from individuals to corporations or governments.
The result will be displacement of farmers from their economic activity by more powerful forces, leading to a high rate of food dependency from companies and the government (Committee on the Impact of Biotechnology on Farm-Level Economics and Sustainability 206). Unfortunately, the WTO, World Bank and GATT provide regulations that facilitate large-scale and foreign interests at the expense of local economies, which further impede self-sufficiency in those countries. Another socio-political issue of concern is the debate on the labeling of GM foods.
Proponents of GM foods argue that these foods are similar to regular foods thus the need for labeling is unnecessary, but a counterargument is that with the potential risks of GM foods, consumers should be fully aware of the contents of their foods in order to make informed choices. The consumer has the right to be informed of the ingredients in his/her food, irrespective of the safety or harmful levels of the food. Some parties argue for genetic engineering in food production as the solution to world hunger and other economic problems that arise out of food shortages.
The proposition is that GM foods can be produced even under harsh soil and climatic conditions since they can be engineered to withstand such conditions. For this reason, most lands that have previously not been utilized for farming can now be made useful, and eventually solve the problem of overcrowding on the fertile lands. According to the proponents, this move is expected to increase food productivity, thus solving two problems at the same time; the scramble for resources and food security. However, such an argument fails to consider the bigger picture in regard to autonomy in food production among local farmers and regions.
It is clear that the GM food industry is controlled by large corporations and governments, hence they would in turn control productivity and supply on the international front. In this regard, indigenous farmers as well as small economies do not achieve food security; rather they become more dependent on multinational companies. In summary, genetically engineered foods raise a lot of questions and concerns among the public due to the insufficient information regarding the sector and the potential harm it presents to the people and the environment.
There are proponents with valid perspectives who argue for and against the concept, but it is important that the benefits of this technology are weighed against the risks, in order to determine the true value of the industry to consumers (Ackerman). Positive effects include increased food supply and control of overpopulation in fertile lands, but these benefits are overshadowed by the numerous reported and unreported harmful effects of genetic science in food production.
From health complications to environmental degradation and negative socio-economic impacts, the GM food production industry is potentially catastrophic in the present time and in the future ahead. Works Cited Ackerman, Jennifer. “FOOD: How Altered? ” National Geographic Magazine. (2002). Web. 18 March 2011. Committee on the Impact of Biotechnology on Farm-Level Economics and Sustainability. Impact of Genetically Engineered Crops on Farm Sustainability in the United States. Washington, D. C. : National Academies Press, 2010: 206-207. Print. Cummins, Ronnie, Ben Lilliston and Frances Moore Lappe.
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