Genetic food modification is the laboratory process of artificial alteration of the genes in the DNA of a food crop or organism majorly used for human consumption, using the novel science and biological techniques based on the molecular and structural composition of food crops or organisms (Freedman 4). Genes carry genetic information that is key determinants of the trait that an organism will have; traits like color, disease tolerance, disease susceptibility, among other traits. Through recombinant DNA technology, the gene makeup of an organism and characteristics can be altered or be injected in another organism. With the knowledge that modification of these plants majorly involves the enhancement of desired traits which enhance resistance on herbicides and increase nutrients content. The main processes involved are conventional plant breeding which appear to be time consuming and appreciable levels of inaccuracy. Genetic engineering is also applied to rapidly create plants with exact gene modification. Genetically modified foods, though characterized with some downside, serve a coruscating role of supplying food to the ever growing population.
Genetically modified foods have become one of the most fundamental sources of food in the present world. This is due to the fact the current population is rising and hence the need to meet the ever increasing demand for food. Besides, climatic patterns and trends due to aspects like global warming have to an appreciable extent changed with the rains increasingly becoming hard to predict. As a result, farmers are not able to plan their calendars properly and efficiently and hence it results poor agricultural practices and low quality food production. The change in the current life style based on 24 hr economy and aspects of industrialization has also propagated the enhancement of the genetically modified food. Despite a lot of controversies concerning the issue of genetically modified food the rapid increase in population has made it more essential in curbing food shortage and enhancing food security. This can be seen from the efforts of genetic engineers to produce early maturing crops. For instance though a process called somaclonal variation, plants like sugar cane that regenerate relatively faster that the plant from which they were engineered can be produced (Applewhite 512).
At present, elucidations have been placed on the need of producing disease resistant plants and animals that are resistant to various diseases as a means of ameliorating the ongoing global food insecurity. Genetically modified food crops and animals are exemplary survivors of a vast number of ailments. Production of animals and plants that are drought resistant is one of the overarching notions behind genetic modification (Freedman 31). The plants are made resistant to microorganisms and macro organisms like fungi, bacteria and viruses that cause diseases. This, in turn, increases the crop production. As Freedman argues, genetic approaches as plausible in producing animal and plant that are disease resistant, for instance production of cows that resistant to the mad cow disease (31). Similarly, the population of the world is growing rapidly, and more land is required for housing instead of farming and food production. This has led to diversification since most farmers are forced to utilize lands that are not suitable for farming like the arid and semi arid areas hence the need to grow plants that can with stand long periods of drought.
In addition, some GM organisms and plants are designed to be cold resistant to the extent of producing sensitive seedlings that can survive frost. This is achieved through the introduction of antifreeze proteins, with insight from the antifreeze protein found in cold-water fish, to plants like tobacco, rice and potato (Khanna and Daggard 488). The anti-freezing mechanism of this protein involves thermal hysteresis and re-crystallization inhibition (Khanna and Daggard 488). The gene produced by incorporation of the antifreeze protein is cloned into both binary and ordinary plant expression vectors for use in genetically engineering food crops that are resistant to extremely low temperature (Khanna and Daggard 488).
Most importantly, genetically modified foods are characterized by high nutritional value required for robust health. This is clearly seen in the genetically modification of rice whereby it is genetically engineered to contain additional minerals and vitamins apart from starch which is known to contain (Ahmad, Pichtel, and Hayat 184). To top it off, through inoculation Zinc level in rice has been increased as a means of enhancing availability of this micronutrient that is much needed for maturation of the reproductive organs in women (Ahmad, Pichtel, and Hayat 184). Further, reduction and prevention of malnutrition which occur due to lack of adequate nutrients in food have since been curbed, thanks to GM foods.
According to Forman, genetically modified food exhibit extended food shelf life (41). The plants are generated using classical microbiological methods that enable them to remain tastier for a long period of time, hence reducing waste as a result of spoilage. In most cases, food products are often sold in far remote areas from their production cites there emerges a scintillating need to improve the shelf life of these food products. Genetic modification provides plausible means through which food can be transported to distant places without worry of the perishability of the foods. Again, through genetic modification, antimicrobials can be produced which can then be incorporated into packed foods. Such organisms are the placed on the surface of the packed food, surfaces where noxious organism use as growth sites (Ahvenainen 51).
GM plant and animals are famous for their outstanding abilities to resist pests (Freedman 36). As a result, chemical pesticides are not used for pest control making the produce safe for human consumption. As a spill-over benefit, environmental pollution that would have been otherwise experienced if the pesticides were used is minimized. Moreover, crop losses from insects and pests are reduced resulting to financial savings and improved standards of living. Worth noting is the fact that genetic modification also capacitates incorporation of edible vaccines in foods. Such vaccines help in preventing diseases in humans with an extended role of enhancing the shelf life of these foods. Through genetic engineering, some food plants with a health benefits have been produced through novel techniques that utilize DNA markers (Yaniv and Bachrach 237). For instance, protein is an essential component in the humans’ diet. They are made up of amino acid and scientist can add the essential genes of amino acids to food crops to make the plant protein more nutritionally complete (Forman 42).
According to Ferry and Gatehouse, the generation of plants tolerant to extreme environmental conditions facilitates the usage of marginal soil in agricultural purposes also may enhance the survival of such plant during periods of drought and floods (17). These measures in conjunction with convectional breeding and other useful agricultural practices may lead to an increment in food production, which in turn, may cope with the anticipated increase in population. Also, it may lead to the conservation of environment and better management of environment that can result to better and favorable climatic pattern.
Furthermore, vegetables and fruits like bananas and potatoes have been developed to contain drugs and vaccines. Such fruits have been genetically modified carry vaccines against illness such as hepatitis B and Norwalk’s disease. This method has proven to be cheap in terms of storage and accessibility. Besides, it is less expensive in transportation and administration.
In spite of the positive containments and the diligent ideas brought about by the genetically modified foods, there are some issues that are not contended and lead to some of its disadvantages. They may cause natural unbalance that is brought about by deperdition of the essential microorganism in the soil due to the change in the microbial flora. Incidentally, when the foods are engineered using genes that are antibiotic resistant, they may consolidate with human and may lead to metamorphosis resulting to failure of antibiotic based treatments (Ticciati and Ticciati 6). Preservation of a variety of genes in one species is also difficult, and this makes the farmer produce only one type of fertile plants at a time (Knutson et al 390). The technology used also may cause unwanted or insignificant degeneration hence may lead to production of low quality food staff (Knutson et al 390). The reception of the genetically modified food has been perceived well and, through it, the food problem has been contained and regulated well. The frequent consumption of these types of food has also led to some health, environmental, socio economic and ethical impacts. However, cases of catastrophic events have never been reported. To this effect, various countries have imposed regulatory measures to control the use and production of genetically modified foods. A good example such regulations is the Gene Technology Act of 2000 that was enacted in Australia to legislate the production of gene engineered animals and plants. This law demands that any individual with the intention of modifying the gene make up of any animal should first carry out an environmental impact assessment to institute whether the intended project will be environmentally savvy.
Although transgenic strategies used to modify the nutritional properties are tremendously beneficial and can be used to address the situation of malnutrition, they can unknown effects on human health have been observed (Knutson et al 390). Genes from non-food sources and the new gene combination may lead to allergic reaction. Allergies and allergic reaction may be pronounced though with varying susceptibilities in different individuals. The modification of genes in food plant may result to the transfer of some allergenic properties from a donor to the recipient. Similarly, most genetically modified food use microorganism as donors whose allergenic potential are either not known or are not tested illnesses like cancer.
The GM foods can lead to degenerative diseases with grave consequences like breast cancer and colon cancer (Ticciati and Ticciati 6). For instance, such diseases are likely to be caused by genetically growth hormones that are injected in the cow. Other ailments include viral and bacterial related ailments. Allergic reaction can also be come as a result of taking GM foods as well as life-threatening anaphylactic shock (Ticciati and Ticciati 6).
With the embracement of genetic modifications of plant an animal, the natural ecosystem of plant animal which has taken millions of years to evolve to their current state is jeopardized (Ticciati and Ticciati 6). Genetic modifications can harm the natural habitats of a large number of plants and animals. Further, the modifications can inevitably lead to elimination of particular plant and animals.
Large-scale production of GM foods impacts devishly negatively on subsistence farmers. Small livelihood farmers have been face high and stiff competition from the big firms in the production of food staff. Since the big firm, base their production largely on genetic engineering, most food staff are durable unlike food produced by small farming. This has led to decline and destruction of Self-Sufficient Family Farms. Production of GM foods has also reduced the application of organic farming thus reducing the production of natural food. Again, GM foods productions also cause pollution and exhaustion of the environment. The chemicals used lead to pollution of soil and increased soil toxicity (Ticciati and Ticciati
6). In addition, the chemicals have water and air pollution hence posing a formidable danger to the human life.
The government of various nations has played a prominent role in production in the GM foods. This is seen through regulations, the environment protection agencies (Carney 124). Governments, in addition, have played a leading role in providing market for these commodities. Hence it generates revenues that can finance government and improve the economy of a nation. However, Governments of various countries as depicted through the creation of some regulations which tend to benefit the government more than the ordinary citizens (Carney 124).
In a nut shell, it is evident that the genetically modified food crops are an excellent source of food to the fast-growing population. It is also clear that when the negative and harmful impacts are minimized and contained wisely, it can lead to better and high quality production of genetically modified food crop. Farmers can also benefit from transgenic crops, however, there must be legal ramifications to ensure that farmers have access to fair competitive terms. It is, therefore, highly recommended that the government should put more effort in regulating and checking the production of the genetically manufactured food for the purposes of taking into consideration of peoples’ health and not putting peoples’ lives at stake. This will enable people to have confidence in the consumption of the genetically manufactured food. The government should also be in line with this so as to enhance the issue of food security. The regulation made should also consider the small livelihood farmers, also should not rule out the basic idea of organic farming.
Ahmad Iqbal, Pichtel,John and Hayat S. Plant-bacteria interactions: strategies and techniques to promote plant growth. Weinheim: Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co., 2008. Print.
Ahvenainen, Raija (Ed). Novel food packaging techniques. Cambridge:Woodhead Publishing Limited, 2003. Print.
Applewhite, Thomas H (Ed). Proceedings of the World Congress on Vegetable Protein Utilization in Human Foods and Animal Feedstuff. Illinois: American Oil Chemists, 1989. Print.
Carney, Timothy P. The Big Ripoff: How Big Business and Big Government Steal Your Money. New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons, 2006. Print.
Forman, Lillian E. Genetically Modified Foods. Minnesota: ABDO Publishing Company. Print.
Freedman, Jeri. Genetically Modified Food: How Biotechnology Is Changing What We Eat. New York City, NY: The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc. 2009. Print.
Knutson Lloyd V., Stoner, Allan K., Beltsville Agricultural Research Center and Friends of Agricultural Research Beltsville. Biotic diversity and germplasm preservation, global imperatives: invited papers presented at a symposium held May 9-11, 1988, at the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, Beltsville, Maryland. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1989. Print.
Ticciati, Laura and Ticciati Robin. Genetically engineered foods: are they safe? You decide. Lincolnwood: Keats Publishing. 1998. Print.
Yaniv, Zohara and Bachrach, Uriel (Eds). Handbook of medicinal plants. Binghamton, NY: Food Products Press, 2005. Print.