Modifying the genetic make-up of food is a concept which has been around for centuries. Farmers have successfully improved food supply through cross-breeding different plant and animal varieties to develop organisms that yield more, taste better and tolerate harsh conditions. In modern times, this has not always been welcome. The Pure Food Campaign (PFC) was established in 1992 as a coalition of restaurateurs, farmers, animal welfare, environmental and consumer groups opposed to genetic engineered food. Around the same time, the U.S. Agriculture Department stated that it would not regulate production and shipping of Flavr Savr, which is a genetically engineered tomato from Calgene Inc. in addition, more than 1000 chefs in the United States announced that they would boycott bio-engineered food. There are genuine concerns with regards to Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). These comprise of environmental pollution, health risks and threat to biodiversity. On the other hand, proponents of bioengineered foods argue that they are inexpensive, durable and healthy. This essay prevents the reasons why the Pure Food Campaign and one thousand chefs would be against bioengineered food.
First, bioengineered food has been proven to cause health issues and may also have unpredictable consequences. Genetically engineered food is associated with allergens. This is evidenced by the fact that children, particularly in Europe and the U.S. have developed allergies to foods such as peanuts that are life threatening. Researchers agree that introducing a gene to a plant may result in a new allergen or elicit an allergic reaction in individuals who are susceptible. For example, there was an abandonment of a proposal to include a genre derived from Brazil nuts into soybeans (Whitman 2). This is because it was believed that the resulting product would cause unexpected allergic reactions. If bioengineered food is to be considered as safe, it has to satisfy the public that is has no connection with increased allergic reactions, carcinogens or antibiotic resistance. There are unknown effects which bioengineered food may have on human health. According to Ewen and Pusztai (1353) and Pusztai (1), genetically engineered potatoes have noticeable effects in the intestines of rats. Although there needs to be further research, it is better to avoid unforeseen problems than err on the side of caution. This is because genetically engineered foods have not been proven to be harmless or safe for human consumption. Another human health-related fear associated with genetic engineering of food products is the possible transfer of genes which are resistant to antibiotics into the stomach. The process of bioengineering uses markers that may be resistant to antibiotics (Kaplan 1). These resistant markers may transfer their characteristics to pathogenic gut bacteria. This may reduce the effectiveness of drugs taken against microbial activity (Dona and Arvanitoyannis 167). Consumption of genetically modified foods may elicit the expression of genes which cause chronic diseases. Susceptibility to hypertension, multifactorial polygenic diseases, cancer and diabetes varies according to genetic susceptibility, which may be altered after consumption of genetically engineered foods.
Secondly, bioengineered crops pose the threat of genetic pollution. There is a real danger that GMOs may be spread to the soil as well as to other animal and plant life. This may trigger irreversible genetic contamination. Plants which are genetically engineered may pollinate with other plants. This makes them genetically engineered also. GM crops that have incorporated pesticides in the genetic make-up may kill more than the targeted insects and produce an unanticipated chain reaction of negative consequences. Some crops may spread herbicide resistance to weeds. These weeds then become “super-weeds” that could be extremely difficult to control. “Super viruses” may also be created through the interaction of viral resistant plants with other plants. There is also the danger of the threatening of biodiversity when single; mono-crops are taken into foreign ecosystems. A major problem width this is that once mutant genes develop, the process cannot be reversed. When modified traits are passed to non-target organisms, a new strain that was never planned for in the laboratory emerges. For example, in North Dakota, studies show that for 80% of the wild canola plants that were tested, there was at least one transgene. In Japan, there was a new amino acid which is not found in nature that was created by modified bacteria. This amino acid was used in protein drinks and caused serious metabolic and mental damage to many people before it was banned in Japan (Urban 1). This was also evidenced by the death of monarch butterflies, which died after consuming milkweed which had been cross-pollinated with biotechnology corn and rendered toxic.
The third reason why the Pure Food Campaign and one thousand chefs would be against bioengineered food is that there are economic concerns regarding the lengthy and costly process of introducing bioengineered food to the market. Agri-biotech firms wish to register profits on their investments. However, since many plant genetic technologies are patented, these companies wish to avoid patent infringement which may result in serious financial settlements. Consumer advocates are also worried that the presence of these patents may result in high costs for seeds. If this happens, farmers may not be in a position to purchase the seeds from bioengineered crops. This may affect farmers in third world countries in an adverse manner. This further contributes to the widening of the gap between the poor and the rich (Verma 2). Patent enforcement may also prove to be difficult; this is because cross-pollination may happen without the knowledge of the farmers. Scientists who are proponents of genetically modified foods argue that the problem of patent infringement may be overcome by introducing a “suicide gene” into GM plants. This is where plants would be productive for only one season. However, this would mean that farmers would have to buy new seeds every season. This would be financially detrimental to poor farmers as well as developing countries.
The fourth reason is that bioengineered food is not labeled as consumers and activists would prefer. If these foods are not labeled, it would be very difficult for the consumer to identify genetically modified products. The consumer has a right to know the contents of what is being sold to them. In the United States, for example, labeling of GM food is a major issue. While agribusiness industries feel that labeling should be made voluntary, consumer interests groups are calling for mandatory labeling (Verma 2).
Although the concept of modifying plants and animals for increased yield, increased strength, disease resistance etc has been present for a long time, in recent years, it has been done in a more precise manner. This has led to a major debate regarding genetically modified foods and their suitability for consumption. Pure Food Campaign (PFC) and other interest groups are against genetically engineered food because of a number of reasons. These are health problems such as allergens and increased susceptibility to diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and cancer; genetic pollution; economic challenges as well as non-labeling of GM products. Undoubtedly, there needs to be more substantiated research on the effects of GM foods than what exists today.
Dona, Artemis, and Ioannis Arvanitoyannis. "Health Risks of Genetically Modified Foods." Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition 49.2 (2009): 164-175. Print.
Ewen, S, and A Pusztai. "Effect Of Diets Containing Genetically Modified Potatoes Expressing Galanthus Nivalis Lectin On Rat Small Intestine." The Lancet 354.9187 (1999): 1353-1354. Print.
Kaplan, David M. "What’s Wrong with genetically modified food?" Ethical Issues of the 21st Century 3.2 (2004): 1-15. Print.
Mitchell, Paul. "Interview with gene scientist, Dr Arpad Pusztai." World Socialist Website. Version 1. wsw.org, 6 Mar. 2000. Web. 24 Feb. 2014. <http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/1999/06/gmo-j03.html>.
Urban, Shilo. "8 Reasons GMOs are Bad for you | organicauthority.com - Organic Living." Organicauthority.com Organic Living. Version 1. organicauthority.com, n.d. Web. 24 Feb. 2014. <http://www.organicauthority.com/foodie-buzz/eight-reasons-gmos-are-bad-for-you.html>.
Verma, Charu. "A Review on Impacts of Genetically Modified Food on Human Health." The Open Nutraceuticals Journal 4.1 (2011): 3-11. Print.
Whitman, Deborah B. "Genetically Modified Foods: Harmful or Helpful." Discovery guides 3.4 (2000): 1-15. Print.