By posting recipes such as multigrain pilaf and vegan cabbage rolls, GreenNBrown has demonstrated a commitment to putting the option of healthy, organic food on the table again for Americans who want to know exactly what they are eating.
Today’s article by Madison Jones offers an unbiased discussion about the risks and potential benefits of genetically modified food.
Using Biology to Bolster the World’s Food Production Capability
The rise of genetically modified organisms, commonly called GMOs, have sparked something of a furor in many political circles. While there are some definite benefits to genetically altering food crops—disease resistance and improved nutrient content among them—many remain concerned that altering nature in such a methodical, calculating way may have unintended consequences. GMOs are becoming increasingly ubiquitous in the developing world, leaving lawmakers and politicians scrambling to keep up with the developments. Genetically modified food is still a long way from the norm, but developments and early successes mean that it is unlikely to fade away. The battle looking forward is most likely going to be about limits: about which modifications are acceptable, and how consumers must be made aware of the history of their food.
Genetic modification is a precise science through which the DNA of a plant is altered in a lab. Scientists isolate genes from one organism—one that is naturally resistant to a certain form of pesticide or fungus, for instance—then insert them into the genetic code of another. The result is a plant that may look and taste the same on the outside, but has a different genetic sequence.
The process is different from selective breeding or grafting, where farmers target certain plants for their natural characteristics. “In traditional breeding it is possible to mate a pig with another pig to get a new variety, but is not possible to mate a pig with a potato or a mouse,” the Institute for Responsible Technology, a non-profit organization dedicated to consumer food awareness, explains. “With genetic engineering, scientists can breach species barriers set up by nature. For example, they have spliced fish genes into tomatoes. The results are plants (or animals) with traits that would be virtually impossible to obtain with natural processes, such as crossbreeding or grafting.”
Most of the genetic modifications that happen in the United States are for crop viability. Corn and soybeans, two of the most-used foods for raw consumption, processed foods, and animal feed, not to mention biofuels, are two of the longest-standing examples. When these crops are made pesticide-resistant, farmers can douse entire fields in toxins without worrying whether the corn or soybean plants will die. This saves time and money in weeding, and also reduces crop loss. This can lower the ultimate price to the consumer.
Drought resistance is another attribute scientists are looking to introduce. American farmers typically lose a certain percentage of their crops each year to drought and disease. With GMOs, these losses could be minimized significantly.
Despite these benefits, many remain uneasy about the GMO process. First, skeptics wonder about the ecological ramifications of genetic foods. Not only might GMOs encourage more rampant pesticide use, which can run into streams and watersheds, but it may also forever alter the way plants reproduce naturally. There are also health concerns. GMOs may increase allergic sensitivities, some say, and may also impact human genetic makeup over time.
There is very little research into what, if any, real risks come from GMOs. The World Health Organization has not placed any restrictions or advisories on the consumption of genetically modified food, at least not yet; it has outlined some of the potential health threats, however.
Antibiotic resistance is one of the WHO’s chief concerns. “Gene transfer from GM foods to cells of the body or to bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract would cause concern if the transferred genetic material adversely affects human health. This would be particularly relevant if antibiotic resistance genes, used in creating GMOs, were to be transferred,” the WHO said. Humans who become antibiotic resistant may stop responding to treatment for contagious diseases like tuberculosis, which could lead to pandemic.
There is also some concern when it comes to “outcrossing,” the inter-breeding of genetically modified foods with other crops destined for other purposes. A corn optimized for biofuel production that crossbreeds with a corn designed for enhanced human nutrition could have potentially harmful effects, the WHO said.
Though the chances of these harms actually occurring are generally quite low, they have nonetheless sparked fear in the hearts of many lawmakers. Ireland, for example, has banned the growth of GMOs outright. Egypt and Japan have both banned the import of GMO foods unless they are specifically labeled as such. Labeling is also usually the chief concern in the U.S., where most genetically-modified foods originate. Consumer advocacy groups argue that shoppers should be able to make an informed choice when it comes to what they purchase, eat, and feed their families. No national labeling laws currently exist, though some states have begun mandating labeling on an individual basis.
Despite some fervent opposition, genetically modified foods are likely to continue being developed. The benefits for global food supply usually outweigh the risks and potential detriments. Much remains to be learned about the long-term effects of GMOs, however. Until there are more facts available, the debate will continue to rage on.
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