Safety in GMO Usage
Developing countries are considered as food basket of the entire world. For example, Africa supplies majority of agricultural products required for consumption in other nations. These products include maize, cotton, and silk utilized for consumption and industrial purposes.
The idea of genetically modified food products however, has been comparatively new among budding nations. This has led developing nations to approach the idea of using GMO with a lot of caution and uncertainty. Developing countries mainly rely on agriculture for sustenance. As a result, they are greatly concerned about the implications that GMOs could have over the long term. Their main concern rises from the notion that GMO technology interferes with the natural process. Thus, they consider production and usage of GMOs to be unethical and perilous. This has led consumers to believe that GMOs technology strives to imitate God. Majority of them have discouraged the production and usage of GMOs. Consequently, some researchers and scientists claim GMO can lead to environmental pollution and destruction (Ahadi, & Ho, 2010).
These reasons have led different countries to resist using GMOs preferring organic food products. Moreover, farmers in developing countries are establishing a custom of producing organic crops. Azadi and Ho also state farmers are keen in breeding organic animals as shown below.
Source: (Fernandez-Cornejo, Weschsler, Livingston, & Mitchell, 2014)
These concerns however have not hindered GMO technology to continue transforming agricultural yields to a hundred-folds especially among developing countries. This is because GMOs have been found to enhance the quality of foods (Ahadi, & Ho, 2010). More so, they boost quantities of farm yields. Thus, GMOs are regarded as a solution towards acute shortage of food globally. For example, GMO crops can produce better harvests in a relatively small area of land compared to organic plants. More so, GMOs can be engineered to be resistant to severe weather conditions especially during drought and famine seasons. This quality makes GMOs ideal for farming in areas that receive little rainfall annually.
Source: (Fernandez-Cornejo, Weschsler, Livingston, & Mitchell, 2014)
Melone also affirms that scientists claim GMO plants can be modified to be resistant to pests, weeds, and diseases. These qualities attribute to the following critical factors supporting production and usage of GMOs. Foremost, Melone affirms that GMOs play a major role in reducing losses sustained due to the unpredictability and erratic nature of weather. For example, when GMO technology is applied in creating crops that are resistant to drought, farmers practicing agriculture in areas where rainfall is either unpredictable or/and inadequate are enabled to continue growing the crops. More so, they are guaranteed of bumper harvests without relying on herbicides and pesticides as they are resistant to pests, weeds, cold, and diseases (Melone, 2002).
Thus, GMO technology also facilitates farmers to cut the costs they incur as they do not have to buy the expensive herbicides and pesticides. Consequently, they are guaranteed that their yields and profits are bound to increase. Finally, it should be noted that pesticides and herbicides contaminate plants due to the chemicals used in their manufacture. Thus, these chemicals likely to find their way to water bodies and other catchment areas contributing to environmental degradation and global warming are avoided through production and usage of GMOs. More so, consumers are safeguarded from developing adverse health conditions due to consumption of food products with the chemicals. These reasons however have led researchers to determine if GMO usage is safe (Melone, 2002).
United Nations asserts that, European environmental organizations and other public groups have been protesting against use of GMOs. This is because recent studies have revealed GMOs especially corn pollen have severe side effects on consumers. Research findings indicated genetically modified corn pollen adversely affected monarch butterfly caterpillars resulting opponents against GMOs to claim that genetic engineering does not guarantee safeties. The Food and Drug Administration as well as Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations have been holding meetings across various global platforms to determine if GMOs are safe. For example, three open meetings were conducted in Washington, California, Chicago, and Oakland. They sought publics’ opinions in order to establish regulatory procedures to be approved by the government with regard to use of GMOs. The following issues were publicly raised (UN, 2009).
The safety of GMOs has been a major concern as consumers do not understand the toxicity levels in the products. This has led consumers to affirm that it is crucial for GMO crops to be assessed in order to establish if they are toxic. They should also be analyzed to determine if they contain allergy causing agents and elements. The stability of the gene that is inserted in GMOs should also be assessed as consumers need to be reaffirmed that the food products cannot interfere with their health statutes. Additionally, nutritional implications that GMOs might pose as well as any unintended effect that the GMO might depict ought to be determined. These concerns led World Health Organization (WHO) to examine and resolve the toxicity levels in GMOs. Domingo asserts that WHO gave GMO technologies and products a clean bill of health after completing assessments and analysis were completed. This suggests that GMOs are safe for either human or/and animal consumption (Domingo, 2015).
The assurances however have not been ascertained by any publication or research affirming GMOs are safe. This has led the general attitude of scientists specializing in GMOs to be based on the assumption derived from the fact that GMOs are modified from conventional crops hence, automatically safe for consumption. It should however be noted that the GMO technology altering the DNA of organisms can cause other chemicals or elements to be produced. The chemicals and elements can either be toxic or absent from conventional organisms. According to Domingo, research has established that the use of certain transgene has altered the structure of organelles such as mitochondria and villi. Such research findings imply that GMO crops and plants can have adverse effects on humans if they alter their cell structure. This is because GMOs can alter the structure of human cells. Thus, it should be noted that GMOs can cause human cells to either fail or malfunction. Consequently, GMOs can lead to health complications among human beings and animals. As a result, GMOs should undergo further testing to establish the extent to which these alterations can affect the functioning of the human cells and body organs (Domingo, 2015).
According to United Nations, claims state GMOs can attribute to allergies developed among children especially across United States and Europe. Due to the allergenicity of GMOs, several children have been developing life-threatening health conditions in form of allergies. For example, some infants are allergic to beans and peanuts. The Food and Agriculture Organizations asserts that, some genes can be introduced into a plant through genetic modification. The new gene can create a new allergen causing allergic reactions among susceptible individuals especially children. For example, a gene from Brazil nuts was introduced into soybeans. The new genetically modified soybean however had to be destroyed as it was believed to cause allergic reactions. These precautions affirm that, GMOs allergenicity should be clearly determined through extensive tests on genetically modified foods. This will prevent consumers from suffering possible health care risks attributed to food allergies. Alternatively, genetically modified foods especially in supermarkets and groceries should be labeled as a warning to ensure human beings either unwilling or with allergies do not buy and consume them (UN, 2009).
Currently, tests to determine toxicity levels in GMOs have been conducted on laboratory mice. Thus, there lacks scientific tests conducted on human beings to determine effects of GMOs on people. Domingo asserts that a research was carried out on rats indicating GMOs especially genetically modified potatoes can cause intestinal complications and gastrointestinal complications such as the gastric mucosa being perforated. As a result, further research should be conducted in order to ascertain the safety of GMO usage. Although further research findings are imperative, the tests should be carried out on human beings in order to have accurate implications and effects that GMOs may have on them. The tests will either affirm or deny that when genetically modified foods are consumed they introduce foreign genes negatively impacting human beings’ health statutes (UN, 2009).
Thus, the issue linked to toxicity of GMO crops is complicated due to the fact that it cannot be generalized to all crops. According to Cellini, Chesson, Colquhoun, Constable, Davies, Engel, and Smith, this is because very plant has unique characteristics that are either different or absent in other food crops. For example, genetically modified soybeans were tested and affirmed to be safe. The findings were applied in reaffirming that the composition of genetically modified soybeans is very similar to that of conventional soybeans. The authors however claim that the tests did not indicate any side effects as those witnessed in genetically modified potatoes. These researches therefore put the assurances leveled by WHO to be based on inferences rather than evidences established through scientific research. It should be considered that GMOs are directly consumed by people and animals. Thus, it is imperative that consumers’ safeties are guaranteed in short and long term basis (Cellini, Chesson, Colquhoun, Constable, Davies, Engel, & Smith, 2004).
The United States Department of Agriculture and FDA assert that over forty varieties of plants and crops have been genetically modified and commercialized. These include tomatoes, sugar beets, corn, soybeans, and soybeans. These plants are genetically modified to ensure they are resistant to cold, diseases, pests, and weed. They are also genetically modified to alter their traits as they mature or ripen. All these products including fruits and vegetables are readily available across global platforms. Environmental activists however have been raising concerns about GMOs being impending perils towards the environment. This has led other parties including religious groups and government officials to claim that adequate regulatory oversights are lacking in order to ensure GMOs are not environmental hazards. Thus, they are also likely to cause health risks among people and animals. The concerns raised with regard to use and safety of GMOs fall into the following categories. The categories are namely human health risks, economic concerns, and environmental hazards (Cellini, Chesson, Colquhoun, Constable, Davies, Engel, & Smith, 2004).
Concerns linked to environmental hazards were raised due to the fact that GMOs can cause intended or accidental harm to other forms of life. Environmentalists claim that, some genetically modified plants contain pollen that is blown by wind and spread to other fields and plants. When the plants are consumed by animals such as caterpillars, they die due to high toxic levels. They therefore believe GMOs pose potential risks to living organisms including people, animals, and plants. They also claimed that some GMO plants are resistant to pests. This has encouraged farmers to either reduce or stop use of pesticides. Environmentalists believe use of fewer pesticides, insecticides, and herbicides are advisable. However, some pests are likely to flee from other fields relying on pesticides and concentrating in areas growing genetically modified plants resistant to pesticides. Consequently, they are bound to become resistant to pesticides as consuming the plants will alter their genetic composition. Thus, GMOs are likely to transfer their traits to non-targets altering their gene compositions (Azevedo, & Araujo, 2003).
For example, various plants are engineered to be tolerant to herbicides and weeds. After crossbreeding, the resistance genes are transferred to pests and weeds. When the weeds and pests invade fields growing non-genetically modified crops, they cannot be controlled as they are resistant to pesticides, insecticides, and herbicides. Such issues linked to GMO are therefore likely to encourage farmers growing non-genetically modified crops to use pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides in high quantities in attempts to control the genetically modified weeds and pests. This attributes to environmental pollution as the high concentrated chemicals are likely to change the soil texture and ph values. More so, the chemicals can dissolve in rain water and flow into major sources of water used by animals and human beings for day to day purposes including drinking and cooking. Ultimately, environmentalists and religious groups believe GMOs can resolve food crises. However, they pose health risks to the environment as they can increase use of chemicals among farmers keen in controlling weeds and pests with altered genes hence, resistant to insecticides and herbicides (UN, 2009).
With regard to economic concerns, economists believe the process of introducing and supplying genetically modified foods in the global market has been lengthy and costly. More so, agri-biotech corporations have been ensuring they record profitable returns on their investments. This has led several new plant genetic engineering technologies and genetically modified plants to be patented due to the big concerns being linked to patent infringement. Consumers’ advocates however believe patenting new plant varieties that have been genetically modified is likely to increase costs of seeds. This will result in small farmers and developing nations being unable to afford buying the seeds in order to produce large quantities of genetically modified foods that can resolve the global food crisis (Domingo, 2015).
Consequently, the gap between the wealthy and the deprived will broaden. As a result, a humanitarian gesture should be applied in order to ensure governments and non-government corporations begin to offer genetically modified products at reduced and affordable costs. This will play a major part in impoverishing nations. In order to combat issues linked to patent infringement, a ‘suicide gene’ should be introduced into genetically modified crops and plants. This will ensure the plants are only viable for one season. Thus, they will manufacture sterile seeds unable to sprout prompting farmers to purchase new and unmarked seeds every time. This measure however will be financially disastrous among famers in developing nations as few can afford to buy the seeds each season. More so, their practice of setting aside a portion of the yield for planting in the next season will be adversely affected. As a result, global governments should establish regulatory procedures monitoring economic effects attributed to genetically modified products. The regulations should ensure social, political, and economic conditions among farmers and consumers are not adversely affected due to use of GMOs (Domingo, 2015).
Based on the safety concerns raised with regard to use of GMOs, the following measures are also applicable in ensuring the products are safe. Foremost, genetically modified products commercially sold in groceries and supermarkets are labeled. This is because people have the right to know what they are consuming. More importantly however, the public should be educated about genetically modified foods. They should be informed that some of their beliefs are either unproven scientific facts or myths. For example, some public believe GMOs are not safe as their genetic compositions can alter a human beings’ genes resulting to growth of more body organs such as limbs. Educating the public will therefore ensure their fears and concerns are addressed. More so, public trust towards GMOs will be created without damaging peoples’ trust and raising unnecessary fears among those who may still believe GMOs are not safe. Consequently, genetically modified products will continue to play their potential role in ensuring world’s hunger crisis, malnutrition, and premature deaths are reduced and prevented (UN, 2009).
Food and Agricultural Organization through United Nations asserts that, some conventional foods are acutely toxic especially in their raw state. However, they are accepted after undergoing processing in order to alter or eliminate the toxins. For example, cassava roots are acutely toxic. Thus, they are properly processed in order to be converted into nutritious products that are widely consumed. Other food products include lima beans, soybeans and tomatoes and potatoes which contain glycoalkaloids solanine and alpha-tomatine. GMOs should therefore be tested to ensure they are not toxic before being supplied to the public (UN, 2009). Ultimately, they should be accepted and regarded equally safe as conventional foods as they undergo processing to ensure they do not pose risks to consumers as shown in the table below.
In conclusion, GMOs can be the solution to the food insecurities being experienced globally. However, there are a number of issues and concerns that ought to be addressed and resolved before GMOs can be fully integrated into the human culture. These issues revolve around the safety in usage of GMOs. This is due to evidence indicating that the products are likely to cause health complications among human beings due to the fact that they appear to alter the structure of internal cell components in mice and rats. Thus, further tests should be carried out with humans being the subjects despite some GMO crops already existing in global markets. The further research which is necessary will ascertain the extent to which GMOs can affect the health of human beings and animals. Consequently, their safeties will be determined before they are used or consumed globally. This is because global governments believe GMOs are part of the inevitable wave of the future which should not be ignored. Thus, genetic engineering technology which has proven to have enormous potential benefits in sustaining existence in the world should be embraced. However, caution should be observed to avoid causing either deliberate or accidental harm to people, animals, plants, and the environment.
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Azevedo, J. L. & Araujo, W. L. (2003). Genetically modified crops: Environmental and human health concerns. Mutation Research, 544, 223-233.
Cellini, F., et al. (2004). Unintended effects and their detection in genetically modified crops. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 42(7), 1089-1125.
Domingo, J. L. (2015). Toxicity studies of Genetically Modified plants: A review of the published literature. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. 47(8), 721-33.
Fernandez-Cornejo, J., Wechsler, S., Livingston, M., & Mitchell, L. (2014). Genetically engineered crops in the United States. Economic Research Service Report.
Malone, L. A. (2002). Literature review on Genetically Modified plants and bee products. Hort Research.
United Nations (UN). (2009). GM food safety assessment: Tools for trainers. Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations.