The debate on the safety of Genetically Modified (GM) foods has raged on for close to two decades now. On one hand of the controversy are people who argue that GM foods are safe and suitable in ensuring that the increasing world population gets adequate food in the face of deteriorating climate and unfavorable production factors. On the other hand, there are a significant number of people who allege that GM foods have negative long-term effect on human beings. Those opposed to GMOs have cited failure by researchers to prove safety and attributed the increment in chronic diseases to the consumption of GM foods. In the face of this controversy, it is important to examine this debate and bring out the facts about GM foods and human existence.
Scientists and agriculturalists began to develop GM foods in the 1990s as a way to enhance food production, reduce the cost of food production, adapt plants to harsh climates, deal with pests and diseases, and come up with new food varieties (Hillstrom, 23). The scientists produce GM foods by altering the genetic blueprint of plants and animal thereby “creating” an organism that has certain characteristics such as naturalized disease and pest resistance (Touyz, 17).
Proponents of GM foods state that the foods have many benefits. The biggest benefit has been the increment in food production by coming up with disease, pest and frost resistant varieties of crops. For instance, scientists have come up with a variety of strawberries that can survive frost thereby ensuring that the crops yield normally in spite of harsh climates (Forman, 45). There are GM varieties of tomatoes that soften slowly and have a longer shelf life as compared to ordinary varieties (Forman, 45). Scientists have also adapted some plans to grow on poor and saline soils that cannot support crop life naturally. For instance, tobacco plants in San Joaquin were genetically modified to enable them grow in the highly saline soil of the area (Nep & Kieran, 510). This move supports production thereby ensuring economic returns for farmers.
Genetic modification technologies allow for the incorporation of certain vaccines in order to prevent dangerous diseases. For instance, scientists have come up with an apple variety that contains a vaccine to prevent childhood pneumonia (wholefoodsmagazine.com). The scientists have also come up with a variety of rice that can help to prevent vitamin A deficiency and, therefore, prevent blindness especially in children (realtruth.org). Scientists have also come up with crops that grow for lesser periods and they can be grown severally all year round.
Scientists have stated that almost all foods have gone through some form of genetic modification and domestication of wild crops. They state that the current maize, wheat, rice and many other varieties of food that are deemed natural have gone through some genetic modification without having adverse effects on human health (Forman, 34). As such, the proponents state that the fears on the safety of GM foods are unfounded. In fact they opine that GM foods enhance the palatability of foods by making them sweeter, less or more spicy and improving their appearance.
The opponents to GM foods have several grounds to oppose the consumption of GM foods. First, they refute the assertion by scientists that GM foods are nutritionally more superior to ordinary foods. For instance, the developers of the genetically modified “golden rice” claimed that the rice had higher level of Vitamin A as compared to ordinary rice (Touyz, 46). However, tests on the rice revealed that the rice was nutritionally inferior to natural rice. Opponents of GM foods have also released several books and publications to the public that refute the nutrition superiority of GM foods.
Scientists opposed to GM foods have stated that GM foods are unsafe for human consumption. They quote that plants grown through genetic modification such as soybeans that are later fed to animals find their way to humans and cause them allergies. Dairy products from animals fed with Bovine Growth Hormone have some health concerns in human beings. A study by Dr. Pusztai revealed that GM potatoes adversely affected the gastrointestinal tract of rats. He stated that the potatoes could have a similar effect on human beings (Forman, 27).
Growing of GM foods has some adverse effects on the environment. Growing of GM foods in areas that would not normally support the crops causes the depletion of soil nutrients and damages the natural setting of the environment. Since the crops require a significant amount of pesticides and chemicals, their growth in certain areas can cause environmental damage. Crossbreeding can at times occur between plants and weeds leading to the development of weeds that are resistant to herbicides (realtruth.org). This necessitates the development of string chemicals that have massive potential to damage the environment.
GM foods have proponents and opponents in almost equal measure. GM crops may be drought, disease, and pest resistant, thereby enhancing food production and security. Some GM foods also contain vaccines that can prevent diseases such as blindness and pneumonia in children. However, these efforts cause countered by the allegations of some Gm diseases posing a threat to human health as attested by some potatoes on the health of rats. The growth of GM foods can also compromise the resistance of weeds causing them to require stronger chemicals that damage the environment. These facts attest to the need for more conclusive research on te suitability of GM foods for human existence.
Forman, Lillian E.. Genetically modified foods. Edina, Minn.: ABDO Pub., 2010. Print.
"Genetically Engineered Foods – Why the Controversy?." Genetically Engineered Foods – Why the Controversy?. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 June 2014. <http://realtruth.org/articles/223-gefwtc.html>.
Hillstrom, Kevin. Genetically modified foods. Detroit: Lucent Books, Gale Cengage Learning, 2012. Print.
Nep, Shauna, and Kieran O'doherty. "Understanding Public Calls for Labeling of Genetically Modified Foods: Analysis of a Public Deliberation on Genetically Modified Salmon." Society & Natural Resources 26.5 (2013): 506-521. Print.
"The GMO Controversy: What You Need to Know | WholeFoods Magazine." The GMO Controversy: What You Need to Know | WholeFoods Magazine. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 June 2014. <http://www.wholefoodsmagazine.com/columns/consumer-bulletin/gmo-controversy-what-you-need-know>.
Touyz, L.z.g.. "Genetically modified foods, cancer and diet: myths and reality." Current Oncology 20.2 (2013): 34-39. Print.