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Genetically Modified (GM) Foods

Introduction
Genetically Modified (GM) foods are those food items whose DNA is being changed through Genetic Engineering. Enhancing host plant resistance has been a management tactic for curbing key pest species (Kennedy, 2008, p. 1). Insect-resistant GM crops have the capacity to establish sustainable crops and increase the scope of integrated pest management (Kennedy, 2008, p.1). Biological control, manipulation of pest behavior and host plant resistance have replaced chemical insecticides (Kennedy, 2008, p.4).

GM foods were introduced in markets in the early 1990s. The foods which are mostly modified are derived from plants: soybean, corn, canola and cotton seed oil (Genetically modified ingredients, Institute for responsible technology). Genetically Modified strawberry has been able to resist damage in frost.

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Successful GM crops

‘Bt’ genes or genes transformed through encoding insecticidal proteins from Bacillus thuringiensis have been successfully used in the maize and cotton crops. They have been given the property of resisting the attacks of several kinds of insect pests (Ferre et al, 2008, p.72). The Cryl Ab protein is toxic to the corn borer. Maize has also been given protection against armyworms and rootworms. It is a successful genetically modified crop.

Insect resistance crops

The recombinant DNA technology increases the available resistance traits to obtain insect resistant crops (Kennedy, 2008, p. 5). Breaking up the linkages which confer the undesirable traits to plants is difficult and takes time. Now genes identified in any organism can also be instituted in a plant to produce resistance. The first transgenic plants were produced in 1987 (Kennedy, 2008, p.6).

Modern biotechnology has innovated approaches to plant and animal breeding, production of food, processes like fermentation and production of pharmaceuticals, biopesticides and fertilizers (Toth, 2007, p.115). Genetic engineering for microorganisms, plants and animals have included tissue culture in plants, embryo transfer in animals, monoclonal antibody production and recombinant DNA technology. It has been introduced as a new technology for developing medicine, animal husbandry and agriculture (Allan, 1999, p.6).

GM crops are commonly used in Europe, especially in UK. The first genetically modified food that was commercially grown was the tomato, which was made very much resistant to decaying by the Californian Company Calgene. This Company was allowed to release the tomatoes into the market without any special labeling in 1994. More food is being genetically modified. GM crops have triggered protests from environmental protesters, public interest groups, religious organizations, professional unions and other scientists and government executives. This agricultural business is being condemned for pursuing profit without worrying about its potential hazards. Everyone has got strong opinions about GM foods.

Food safety

Traditional and modern plant breeding can change the nutrient value and the amount of toxic materials or anti-nutrients in the plants, food safety being the main determinant (Toth, 2007, p. 115). A transgenic plant should thereby be assessed for safety before mass production. Safety assessments of plants and foods must necessarily be increased and standardized as more genetically engineered products enter the market. No untoward reaction should occur to the environment and the consumers (Toth, 2007, p. 117). The goal of assessment must not be absolute safety but the genetically engineered crop must be as safe as its traditional counterpart.

Development of plant technology has triggered scientific and ethic issues (Allan, 1999, p. 6). An ethical choice is made to use scientific knowledge in the hope of improving the human condition but some people perceive GM crops as unnatural and disapprove their development. Consumers have a right to know about the product (Toth, 2007, p. 119). Molecular biology should be combined with toxicology, nutrition and genetics to assess the safety of new GM products for the human consumption. GM crops thereby raise ethical issues. Risk management in the laboratory is by containment measures, both physical and biological (Toth, 2007, p. 123).

Genetically Modified crops as an Environmental Hazard

Advocates of GM technology believed that GM crops release lesser amount of chemicals released into the environment (Bell, 2007). They also believed that the GM crops could defy certain pests or diseases and eliminate the need to spray pesticides. Critics were worried that planting large areas with the GM crops led to ‘super bugs’ which were defiant to the toxins added to the crops. Eventually newer toxic pesticides may be required to control these new pests (Bell, 2007).

The GM crops that have been engineered are herbicide tolerant crops. The chemicals in herbicides would kill the weeds and unwanted crops nearby leaving the GM crops unharmed. The herbicides also have the advantage of being used only when the weeds are longer (Bell, 2007). A natural mulch is formed which results in the destruction of insects. This mulch is also responsible for preserving water and reducing soil erosion and it also offers good habitants for some birds. Critics are also concerned about the genes that are added to GM crops to make them resistant to the effects of particular herbicides, which may result in creating ‘super weeds’ that finally lead to the requirement for more powerful and more damaging herbicides (Bell, 2007). In reaction to this, there have been arguments that the British countryside is under more risk from some unusual plants and from some weeds unintentionally introduced from other countries.

Human Health Risks in GM crops

Critics are concerned about the main problems regarding to the safety of food and human health. It has been seen that in Europe and America, many people have developed allergies to peanuts or other foods. This is because the introduction of gene in a particular plant can cause an allergic reaction in susceptible individuals (Bell, 2007). Antibiotic resistance marker genes can increase the antibiotic resistance from plants to human beings. Additional proteins and modified genetic composition of plants can sometimes cause the possible unpredicted toxic effects. Insufficient testing and authoritarian control can lead to the harmful effects, which can be discovered too late when the damage is irreparable (Bell, 2007).

The biotech industry has shown that from the time when GM crops were first grown in the United States, GM crops are being eaten regularly by millions of people and animals and it had been seen that there is no such harm witnessed by consuming the GM crops. And in fact GM crops actually make food safer and nutritious. For example, scientists have produced ‘Golden Rice’ in Zurich which provides increased levels of Vit A. This would help children who require some amount of Vit A to prevent risks of having blindness and of poor survival in childhood (Bell, 2007).

GM crops also contribute to medicinal benefits in the form of vaccines. Wheat with increased level of folic acid is helpful in the prevention of spinal bifida and the addition of fibre content reduces the risk of colon cancer (Bell, 2007). In response to the allergic reactions, GM advocates argued that the GM foods are passed through different tests before they are transferred for regular use in market. In fact proponents argue that GM technology is being used for removing allergic properties from some foods. The advocates of GM crops have blamed their opponents for slowing down the progress of GM crops by not accepting the positive aspects (Bell, 2007).

Food Security in GM foods

The rising global population of 2 billion which is expected this century badly requires the GM crops. However a research carried out by the Soil Association in UK showed that the farmers of UK who have been using GM crops from many years claimed that harvests showed a reduction in crops (Bell, 2007).

Proponents considered that the efficiency and quality of crops is more essential than the total quantity. The main cause of malnutrition has been the absence of protein in many countries. With Genetically Modified Soya and maize, the worth of protein in animal feed has already been enhanced (Bell, 2007). Developments in the staple crops in tropical regions would be beneficial to the countries famished. GM crops are also a means of hope for the farmers who are forced to farm on the least productive land. The GM crops may not be damaged by the drought and floods. Creating pest-resistant GM crops could reduce the loss of crops and ensure that no one is hungry for want of sufficient food (Bell, 2007). GM food technology poses a threat to human health and environment and it is only meant to raise the profits of private suppliers according to some.

Relevant policies

To evaluate relevant policies, three main types of principles are applied :general welfare, maintenance of people’s rights and principles of justice (Alan, 1999, p. 6). ‘Welfare’ promotes the welfare of the citizens by accessing safe and nutritious foodstuffs, protection from environmental harms and enhancement of research and development. A difference between the outcomes would be disastrous or may give a bad result (Alan, 1999, p. 8). Reducing hunger through the development of GM crops justifies the risk of modest damage. Opponents say that the consumer is never benefited. Both views agree that it is right to balance the good achieved against the harm imposed.

Welfare can also be promoted by ensuring that consumers have a choice to avoid GM foods if they want to. They have a right to know which foods are and are not GM. The government has decided not to expose consumers to danger and have provided adequate labeling on the food products (Alan, 1999, p.10).

Principles of Justice protect the rights of consumers by providing adequate labeling. This would be very expensive. This extra expenditure may reduce the producer’s profit (Alan, 1999, p. 10). In some parts of the world such as the US, all the best varieties of major crops will be genetically modified in the next ten years. If poorer countries are debarred from adopting GM seeds, their cash crops may become uneconomic and their domestic food supplies may be depressed of potential improvements (Alan, 1999, p. 11). An issue about fairness between the richer and poorer societies arises. Justice needs to be considered in the environment where some people benefit and others do not benefit or even lose (Alan, 1999, p. 12). When we ask consumers in flourishing countries to repress their doubts about GM crops, they agree that their losses are smaller than the gains of the poor. However if the introduction of GM oil seed alters the environment, who should be responsible and if such crops were to be prohibited, who would bear the burden of doing without them. The creators of this technology are not responsible but those who develop and implement it are. There is no clear solution to such problems about the allocation of responsibility but their existence places another burden on governments and regulators (Alan, 1999, p. 13).

Besides the general welfare, rights and justice which are ethical issues, there is another issue of arguing that some kinds of GM plants are also ‘unnatural’ so it can be declared as a reason for disapproving GM crops for violating a boundary (Alan, 1999, p.13)

When a UK food retailer asked the general public whether they wished to purchase products containing GM ingredients, their response was broadly negative (Alan, 1999, p.14). People said that they disliked the unnatural GM foods. They were actually worried about safety or they just wanted to avoid an unknown risk. The company had to respect their choice and their right to do it. Treating the naturalness of nature as a moral value is a theological perspective (Alan, 1999, p.14).

Government Role in the regulation of GM foods

Different Governments all around the world are working hard to set up a regulatory process to examine the effects of and grant new varieties of GM plants (Whitman, 2000). Thus depending upon the political, economic and social environment within a country, different governments are taking action in different ways. In Europe, in the last few years, a major food scare has been experienced. The mad cow disease has broken consumer confidence about the European food supply. The citizens are reluctant to trust government information about GM foods (Whitman, 2000). In reaction to this public protest, Europe now has entailed compulsory food labeling of GM foods in markets.

In Japan, the Ministry of Health and Welfare has broadcast the compulsory health testing of GM foods. GM foods and unmodified foods are proposed but the consumers show strong preference for unmodified food (Whitman, 2000). In Brazil, some states have banned GM crops completely and the Brazilian Institute for the defense of consumers has prevented the import of GM crops. Thus, the Brazilian farmers are smuggling GM soybean seeds into the country because of the fear of economic destruction as they would be incapable to compete in the global market with other crop exporting countries (Whitman, 2000). India is very supportive of GM transgenic plants research because Indian agriculture needs to adopt extreme new actions to work against the country’s widespread poverty and feed its ever-increasing population though actual consumption has not started (Whitman, 2000).

References

Genetically Modified Ingredients Overview.” Seeds of Deception. Web.

Bell, Andrew. 2007. “Information and arguments around the issue of GM crops.” Citizenship Foundation. Web.

Ferre, J. et al. 2008. “Insecticidal Genetically Modified Crops and Insect Resistance Management (IRM) in Chapter 3 of Integration of Insect-Resistant Genetically Modified Crops within IPM Programs.Springer Science and Business Media

Kennedy, G.C. 2008. “Integration of Insect-Resistant Genetically Modified Crops within IPM Programs”. Chapter One in “ Integration of Insect resistant Genetically modified crops within IPM programs” (eds) J.Romeis et al, Springer US

Ryan, Alan. Genetically modified crops: the ethical and social issues. London:1999

6. Toth, D. 2007. “Genetically Modified Organisms and Food Safety” Chapter 6 in Food Safety by Anna Elhatton, Richard J Marshall, Springer US

Whitman, Deborah B. 2000 “Genetically Modified Foods: Harmful or Helpful?” ProQuest. Web.