The idea of producing food with desirable qualities was the starting point for the development of genetically modified food (GMF) worldwide, but is this a case of a good idea turned bad?
Scientists were able to isolate genes with favourable traits and insert them in crops to produce food that can resist drought, insects and pesticides. In some cases, the resultant produce can even be more nutritious.
GMF started with the development of a tomato with a longer shelf life in 1994. It was called Flavr Savr. But soon it was found that consumption of this engineered tomato caused stomach lesions in rats, thus raising issues about the safety of GMF in general.
Since then, debate has raged on over the disadvantages of consuming GMF. Following are just a few examples of the long list of problems that can occur when we tamper with the genetic codes of Mother Nature.
1. Safety Remains Unverified – In fact, we are the lab rats to test the safety of such technology. This is sad but true. GMF is being consumed daily with no thorough research into its potential threats to human health.
2. Ingredients May Cause Cancer – A consultant histopathologest at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, Dr Stanley Ewen, raised the concern that food and water contaminated with genetically engineered material could increase the growth of malignant tumours upon contact with humans. Later, other studies suggested a link between engineered food and cancer.
3. New Allergy Outbreaks –When it was found that a genetically engineered soya bean containing Brazilian nut protein was allergenic to humans, it had to be withdrawn from production.
4. Developing Countries Becoming More Dependent –This became evident when developing golden rice, a genetically modified rice that contains larger amounts of vitamin A. Although it can be beneficial to poor people in developing countries, it is only large companies in the developed world that can produce such crop engineering, thus increasing the dependency of poor counties for food resources.
5. We Are No Longer What We Eat – Genetic engineering introduces animal products in plants, which could raise issues for those with dietary restrictions, such as vegetarians and vegans.
6. Unnatural Food Production – There will always be unknown long-term effects to the ecosystem and biodiversity when inducing unnatural variables to the natural traits of crops.
7. Adverse Effects on the Immune System – A study in 2008 showed that feeding mice engineered food for 30 days caused an immune reaction and altered the number of cells that regulated the immune functions in the body.
8. Pesticide Resistant Food May Create Super-Pests – The modified genes in engineered crops that resist pesticides can transfer to insects and pests, thus making them pesticide resistant. These super-organisms cannot be controlled easily, which could create problems in managing their numbers and in future crop production.
9. GMF Cannot Be Unmodified – Altered genes in engineered food multiply through generations, passing with them any unknown damaging traits to the future population. When a malfunction is discovered, the food can not be reverse engineered.
10. The Effects of GMF May Be Irreversible – All the disadvantages mentioned above are probably irreversible, especially the harmful effects on the environment and human health—an inevitable outcome of fast-paced development in biotechnology and genetic engineering.
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