Biotechnology and its recent advances in medicine and food have been remarkable. However, it is also marked by controversies that include true public benefits, future security and the fear of unknown. An essential point of information is to understand the source of controversy and estimate the consumer demand, and thus build appropriate public policies. An important aspect to consider in this area is Genetically Modified (GM) Foods. There is an aversion by consumers to GM foods due to the fear of wellbeing on consumption. There are some misconceptions regarding GM foods and some concerns that need to be addressed as soon as possible. These would allow the Government to identify and create policies, like labelling GM foods, such that there would be welfare of public as well as utilisation of GM technology in food and agriculture (Lusk et al., 2005).
The reasons for initiation and development of GM foods are manifold. The primary reason for the progress of GM foods is to deal with the global food crisis. With the growth of world population, the production of food also has to increase, and biotechnology has helped farmers to yield 311.8 million tons more food in the last 15 years. It has not increased yields but has also reduced the resources required and also helped small farmers to get more yields from the smaller farms. The growth rates of some GM crops are 3 to 5 times higher than normal crops, thus providing food security. The use of pesticides was reduced by 521,000 pounds with the use of biotechnology and GM foods. It can thus reduce water pollution by the run-off pesticides. The quality of food can be improved significantly by genetic modification. For example, Golden rice was developed as a source of vitamin A in the enhanced rice for the people of under developed countries in Africa. Therefore, biotechnology - Gene Modification Technology - has provided higher yields, higher productivity of crops along with the improved quality and sustainability of agriculture (ISAAA, GMO brief 2012).
However, there are concerns that were unidentified during the development of GM foods. One the most important research that needed to be done was to study the long term effects of consumption of GM foods. The clinical trials of GM foods are not long term studies, and do not represent the entire population, nor does it consider the fact of allergies and other unknown effects of eating GM foods over a long period of time. There are certain other aspects that need to be studied during the risk assessment and regulation of GM foods. The welfare of the consumer and the farmers cultivating the GM crops need to be understood completely (König et al., 2004). Similarly, the effect of GM foods on the environment also needs to be studied. It has to be studied that the genes introduced in the GM crops do not escape the environment or affect the ecosystem of the surrounding areas. These concerns are the fear of unknown, the environmental impacts of GM foods are yet to be fully understood and therefore GM foods should be used sparingly and in green houses designed only for GM crops and agriculture (Frewer et al., 2004).
It is commonly said that the opposition for GM foods is due to the misconception of the consumers. The claims made in the opposition of GM foods are qualitative and they do not have any quantitative assessments indicating the same (Gaskell et al., 2004). There are other factors that include scrupulous behaviour by the GM manufacturing companies, which seek maximum profits from GM technology. These companies do not carry out thorough clinical trials and complete risk assessment before implementing GM technology. They also do not supply these beneficial technologies in a cost-effective way to developing countries of Africa and Asia. The benefits of GM foods are much higher as compared to the risks involved; and these risks are being reduced by new DNA technologies and our understanding of biology (Gaskell et al., 1999). Thus, there are strict regulations of GM foods across the world. Many countries including Europe and USA have stopped or reduced the use of GM foods from the market. The proper labelling of GM foods has become mandatory in many countries. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has established an entire wing dedicated for GM foods. It provides regulations and addresses the important questions about the evaluation of GM foods, safety of GM foods and the labelling of GM derived products (Maryanski [FDA], 1999).
Finally, it is important to mention that genetic engineering is one of the best tools for a sustainable and effective future of agriculture and food. However, there are few factors that need to be addressed by research before the use of GM foods. The important aspects to be considered are genes escaping in the environment and food safety. Hence, biotechnology has indeed resulted with a valuable method for meeting our future food requirements, with real and practical solutions.
- Lusk, J., Jamal, M., Kurlander, L., Roucan, M. & Lesley Taulman, L. (2005). A Meta-Analysis of Genetically Modified Food Valuation Studies Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics, 30 (1): 28-44.
- König, A., Cockburn, A., Crevel, R., Debruyne, E., Grafstroem, R., Hammerling, U., Kimber, I., Knudsen, I., Kuiper, H., Peijnenburg, A., Penninks, A., Poulsen, M., Schauzu, M. & Wall, J. (2004). Assessment of the safety of foods derived from genetically modified (GM) crops. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 42, 1047–1088.
- Frewer, L., Lassen, J., Kettlitz, B., Scholderer, J., Beekman, V. & Berdal, K. (2004). Societal aspects of genetically modified foods. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 42, 1181–1193.
- Gaskell, G., Allum, N., Wagner, W., Kronberger, N., Torgersen, H., Hampel, J. & Bardes, J. (2004). GM Foods and the Misconceptions of Risk Perception. Risk Analysis, 24 (1) 185-194.
- Maryanski, J. (1999). Genetically Engineered Foods. Statement of Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (FDA) to the Subcommittee on Basic Research. Retrieved from http://www.fda.gov/newsevents/testimony/ucm115032.htm
- Gaskell, G., Bauer, M., Durant, J. & Allum, N. (1999). Worlds Apart? The Reception of Genetically Modified Foods in Europe and the U.S. Science, 285, 384-387.