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Genetically modified (often referred to as GM) food is usually grown for human or animal consumption and is altered by genetic engineering. The crop or plant is inserted with a gene from a different organism or species of plant with the purpose of giving the plant a desirable characteristic or trait. Desirable traits for crops include improved pest or herbicide resistance in order to increase crop yield, and increased tolerance to cold or drought, expanding the range in which plants can be grown. Plants may also be genetically modified to increase their nutrient content or to add specific vitamins to foods who naturally do not have them. GM food is wildly accepted in the United States where they do not even require labelling food as genetically modified. This technology is less accepted in Europe, where multiple countries in the EU have banned GM products from the food market. Genetically modified food is a debated topic. Even though research appears to indicate that GM food is safe, there exists concern that United States’ regulations is not strict enough. Genetically engineered food has many benefits but still raises questions about potential health and environmental risks. Although there is broad consensus that genetically modified food is safe, it should not continue to be integrated into the world’s food market because of the negative environmental impacts and the lack of studies of GMOs long term effects on human health.

Proponents of genetically modified food state that there is no evidence of GM food being harmful to human health, however lack of safety testing, unknown long term affects as well as other concerns discredits this claim. The World Health Organization claims that “GM foods currently available on the international market have passed risk assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health” (WHO website, cite). In the United States labeling of GM food is not a requirement because The American Medical Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science claims that there is no scientific evidence that suggests that GM foods can be harmful to human health. The reason no harmful effects on human health has been found is because there is barely any testing for them. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) in the U.S. does not have a mandatory process for determining the safety of genetically modified food, it strictly relies on the biotech companies to voluntarily test their products. Genetically modified food has not been subjected to enough safety testing, neither is there any long-term tests to determine the possible effects on human health, or on fetal and child development. Even though farm animals have eaten GM food for generations without any known health effects, there is no way to know the long-term effect it might have on human health. In “Biotechnology: In Context” Susan Aldridge writes “In 1998 Arpad Pusztai (1930–) of the Rowett Research Institute, Aberdeen, Scotland, published research suggesting that GM potatoes were toxic to rats”, this research raised public awareness of the safety concerns regarding genetically modified foods. Some studies have since discovered potential problems for human health regarding GM food but were never followed up on. This includes a 2010 study by Aziz Aris and Samuel Leblanc with the Clinical Research Centre of Sherbrooke University Hospital Centre, that discovered a pesticide in genetically modified corn present in the blood of pregnant women and their fetuses (Aris, Leblanc, 528-533). Other health concerns about genetically modified food includes the risk of resistance to antibiotics and allergic reactions. There is a need for more safety testing and long-term tests before determining that GM food poses no threat to human health. It is also necessary to follow up on research that shows potential risks of GM food consumption.

The most common concern with genetically modified food is that it poses a risk of allergic reactions. The technology might case plants to produce allergens, which causes allergic reactions in people who wouldn’t normally be allergic to the food. This risk comes from the potential for a protein from one allergenic food to be transferred to a different food that is not known to cause this allergic reaction. This means that if a person that has a known allergy to peanuts unknowingly consumes a genetically modified food that contain the allergenic protein from a peanut, this person could suffer an unexpected allergic reaction. This would make it dangerous for individuals with deadly food allergies to consume any GM foods with confidence. For individuals with allergies living in the U.S where labeling of GM food is not required, there is nothing they could do to feel safe when consuming food that is not labeled to be organic. In her book “Safe Food: the politics of food safety” Marion Nestle states “because methods to diagnose food allergies are unavailable or imprecise, the allergenic potential of most genetically modified foods is uncertain, unpredictable, and not easily tested” (Nestle 149), elucidating the impression that it is hard to know for sure if a GM food could contain an allergenic protein, and testing for this is also not easy. The industry is unable, or rarely tries to prove that a newly introduced protein is not an allergen. The FDA in the U.S. encourage, but does not require that biotechnology companies test for allergens. As a result, companies rarely do so because testing is difficult and not in their best interest. For these companies testing for allergens is risky: they might find one.

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Genetically modified food poses the risk of increasing microbial resistance to antibiotics. GM food sometimes contains the antibiotic resistance genes used in the selection of the transformed cells, if these foods are consumed by humans so is the antibiotic resistance genes. Resistance to antibiotics is already an increasing human health issue, and exposure to these antibiotic resistant genes through GM food could make the issue even worse. MORE ON THIS TOPIC (counter argument?)

GM food and crops also poses environmental risks, including outcrossing, disrupting the balance in the ecosystem and loss of biodiversity. GM plants crossbreeding with wild relatives means that transgenes could escape from cultivated crops to wild plants and transfer genes in ways that are harmful or that can develop plants with undesirable traits that are hard to control. For example, if a GM plant that has a gene making it resistant to Roundup crossbreeds and this gene happens to get transferred to a wild weed. This would create a weed resistant to Roundup that would be able to out compete with crop plants for nutrients and sunlight. In addition to aggressive weeds, outcrossing creates the possibility for wild relatives with increased resistance to diseases or environmental stress, upsetting the balance of the ecosystem. Herbicide-resistant plants can transfer resistance to related weeds, sometimes over great distances through pollen drift. The reality of risks like these are still not fully understood. In addition to this, displacement of traditional cultivars by a small number of genetically modified cultivars is also an environmental problem that can lead to loss of biodiversity.

Supporters of genetically engineered food often bring up the argument that growing GM foods are beneficial to less developed countries, as this technology can increase food production, food quality and lower the food prices for the consumer. However, it could take some time for these beneficial changes to take place. Most of the GM crops in less developed countries are used as animal food. Furthermore, large amounts of GM food are exported, depriving the country of land for local food production. Many less developed countries lack the expertise to assess the safety of GM technology and the legal and regulatory framework to control them. Therefore, there is also a concern of a technology gap developing, where those who are not able to grow GM plants being left behind the ones partaking in the GM technology. Another issue for farmers in less developed countries in that the market is regulated by a few giant companies, Aldridge states “GM technology is currently in the hands of a few powerful multinational companies, such as Monsanto, Syngenta, and Bayer CropScience, who have control of the supply of GM seeds and methods of cultivation” (Aldridge 443), it is uncertain what this dominance can have on small farmers and traditional farming methods.

Works Cited

  1. Aldridge, Susan. “Genetically Modified Crops.” Biotechnology: In Context. Brenda Wilmoth Lerner and K. Lee Lerner, editors. Vol. 1, 2012, pp. 442-445.
  2. Aris, Aziz and Samuel Leblanc. “Maternal and fetal exposure to pesticides associated to genetically modified foods in Eastern Townships of Quebec, Canada.” Reproductive Toxicology, vol. 31, no. 4, 2011, pp. 528-533.
  3. World Health Organization, May 2014, https://www.who.int/foodsafety/areas_work/food-technology/faq-genetically-modified-food/en/
  4. Nestle, Marion. Safe food: the politics of food safety. Los Angeles, University of California Press, 2010, pp. 144-157.

#heathcare #medical #medicalcare #pharmaceuticals #healthcareprofessional #nurses #healthprofessionals

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