Genetically Modified Foods:
The process of agriculture that has been used for hundreds of years is straightforward; all a farmer has to do is buy land, plant seeds, water the plants, and harvest the crops. However, due to uncontrollable forces of nature, many crops suffer from malnutrition, pests, and unfruitful harvests, and while some of these conditions can be managed (such as the use of pesticides), it has been completely unheard of to completely eradicate these problems within agriculture until around 1994. Scientists and companies such as Biotech have been working on and testing a new controversial method for enhancing crops known as Genetic Engineering (GE) or Genetic Modification (GM). Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are created by splicing the DNA of any organism and combining the genetic traits within the DNA with another organism, most typically cash crops, in order to potentially factor out these problems in agriculture, and as this field of science enhances, the practice of using GMOs is becoming more and more popular in the United States and many other economically and agriculturally advanced countries. Some of the advancements that GMOs are making possible include multiplied harvests, improving the taste of foods, creating pest-free crops, and adding more nutritional benefits to foods. This new and open field of scientific study if perfected will move the process of agriculture into the new century, and if the government structures of these first world countries capable of using GMOs were to invest a decent sum of money into this project, there would be substantial improvements within the practice of agriculture, and profits and overall production of cash crops such as soybeans and wheat would increase to the point where the scarcity of food would be eradicated and the quality of our food staples would be improved greatly.
There is a risk for farmers wishing to or who have already invested in Bt crops because insects, just like any other organisms, can adapt to changes in their environment, and if the science does not continue to improve, there is a chance that more insecticides would have to be used to kill the same amount of insects. Recently though, this problem has been successfully avoided by farmers, and ???the number of farmers using this technology continues to expand with more than one million farmers growing around 13,00,000 hectares in Northern, Central and Southern cotton growing zones.??? (The Truth about Bt Crops??¦) Bacillus thuringiensis has so far done a decent job of destroying unwanted pests in the United States, as well as in China, India, and other well-developed agricultural countries; this bacterium has become a widely accepted standard in agriculture for the removal of insects for most crop environments. These Bt crops are designed to prevent Lepidoptera insects from causing the most damage to crops, and in most cases, ???insecticides targeting Lepidoptera insects createan ecological window allowing other secondary insects to increase.??? (Benbrook, 12) In most cases, these ???secondary insects??? are not as dangerous as Lepidoptera insects, and any that show up are usually eaten by flourishing arthropods which also arrive due to the lack of Lepidoptera. When the most harmful insects are taken care of, secondary insects are destroyed by naturally balanced levels of arthropods.
The same result, however, has not held true for herbicide-tolerant (HT) crops that underwent the same procedure. HT crops are created in a relatively similar manner to Bt crops in that they are modified slightly to resist certain herbicides used to kill weeds that pose a threat to the crops themselves. Unfortunately, according to the same Biotech study that found insecticide use decreased due to Bt crops, the use of herbicides needed to kill weeds surrounding crops unexposed to genetic modification that have been mixed in with HT crops increased by 122 million pounds by farmers whohave invested in HT technology. Since genetic modification is an expensive practice, not all plants can be exposed to modification, and although all pests were eradicated among modified and unmodified plants alike, all plants must be exposed to herbicide tolerance in order for the practice to work. Scientists believe that this is because the weeds that feed off of HT crops are more quickly adaptive than most insects, and that more herbicides would have to be used to kill these newly herbicide-tolerant weeds; also, since the system of balance that destroys ???secondary insects??? within Bt crops does not apply to weeds, secondary weeds can pose just as much of a threat as the targeted weeds. On the other hand, although the overall use of herbicides was increased in order to destroy weeds in fields where only some of the crops were exposed, fields where every plant was herbicide tolerant have shown a greater result. ???[According to the USDA,] pesticide and herbicide use on these GM varieties was slashed and, for the most part, the overall yield on the soybean cultivated by 54% of American farmers was increased.??? (Whitman)
So far in this field of genetically modified organisms, the greatest risk in trying to eradicate unwanted pests is the fear that mutation among organisms will take place faster than technology will improve, which has always been the case in other fields such as medicine as well. When the beneficial traits of Bt and HT crops are passed on to the unaffected pests (which, no matter the case, always will exist due to the unpredictability of DNA structures) who consume these crops, these pests, when reproduced, will pass on the same traits that caused the original immunity, and a new genetic modification of the crops would need to take place. This cycle can repeat itself multiple times, and until the science evolves to the point where the DNA structure of crops would prevent any pests, especially weeds, to obtain immunity to pesticides, insecticides, and herbicides, the results of genetic modification seem not to be sufficient in comparison to the funds that must be used until a distinct pattern in these multiple DNA structures is found. But further testing and experimentation must be continued in this field in order to trace these genetic structures in order to eventually trap off the inheritance of immunity within unwanted organisms so that the modification of Bt and HT crops is perfected.
Genetically modified foods have increased the total harvest of many cash crops by eradicating the harm done by weeds and insects, and for the most part, this has been the single greatest benefit that GMOs have presented within the last decade. There are benefits being speculated and tested as of now to future speculation on what this science can bring us
With the eradication of unwanted pests, the harvesting of these crops yields more food, and there is less involved labor for the farmers who grow these crops.
There are other ways that GMOs are able to increase the overall bounty of a crops harvest, such as resisting dangerous diseases and being able to sustain the plant with less water or less nutrients. There have also been attempts to create plants resistant to more untamable forces of nature rather than pests, such as the temperature. There have been many speculations that cold-resistant crops, mainly corn and other fruits and vegetable, could be created by taking the DNA of cold-tolerant fish in the Arctic and splicing it with these foods. ???An antifreeze gene from cold water fish has been introduced into plants such as tobacco and potato. With this antifreeze gene, these plants are able to tolerate cold temperatures that normally would kill unmodified seedlings.??? (Whitman) Back in 1991, when the process of creating modified foods was brand new and generally unheard of, a company known as ???DNA Plant Technology??¦ developed an experimental, genetically engineered tomato. The tomato included a modified gene from a breed of arctic flounder that, it was hoped, would allow the tomatoes to be more resistant to frost and cold storage.??? (PBS) The attempt failed, but since then, farmers in the colder northern hemisphere mainly have used cold-resistant crops to prevent premature freezing within a variety of plants. There is not much data available for these crops because these cold-tolerant plants are only needed in certain agricultural areas where cold weather affects crops; Chinese and Indian farmers have no need for this technology since they already have a decent environment needed to grow agriculture.
Besides benefits to farmers and consumers available to producers and consumers by increasing harvest, there are also other benefits to consumers that genetic modification can bring. Within the next decade, there will be a favored tendency towards genetically modified foods which bring such added benefits, such as a crop resistant to bad weathering conditions or fruits and vegetables with a longer shelf life. Other benefits specific to certain crops will begin to emerge as well, such as a potato designed not to absorb as much fat to create more healthful French fries, coffee beans designed with a lower caffeine level, and sunflowers which produce seeds with a very low saturated fat content. The practice of specific genetic modification has also been tested on certain animals as well, ???such as greater milk production in cows??¦ and GM salmon, capable of growing almost 30 times faster than natural salmon. These modifications again lead to improved productivity for farmers and ultimately lower costs for the consumer.??? (Sakko)
One benefit in particular that has seemed to have caught the eye of retailers especiallyadding more nutritional benefits to foods, such as rice with built-in Vitamin A that can help prevent blindness in 100 million children suffering from Vitamin A deficiency.??? (Sakko) The practice promises to increase chemical reactions within plants in order to overproduce the vitamins and minerals which plants possess. There has also been more speculation that, along with nutritional benefits, new fruits especially can be injected with modified vaccines, which are already given out as a public standard. For instance, instead of receiving an injection to prevent Hepatitis B, genetic scientists can create a line of apples which already have the medicine stored within them, available to the patient by prescription.
With all of these benefits available to everyone, the process of genetically modified organisms seems to be the perfect answer for everyone. However, there are also great risks to altering DNA structures of organisms and in turn consuming the altered organisms. Genetically-modified diseases, which can be passed on to almost every consumer in the market, are a dangerous possibility, and human and even animal health is being put on the line when genetic engineers are, arguably, ???playing God???. As mentioned before, the Bt and HT crops which are being used by over half of the farmers in the United States are creating genetically altered insects and weeds, and it??™s believed that consumers are susceptible to similar alterations. Granted this does not mean all consumers will sprout gills or grow a third arm, it does mean that if a transformation were to occur within our DNA, the potential risk would be that it would cause effects within our bodies that make us susceptible to a new breed of disease.
Insertion of genes into the genome can also result in unintended effects, which need to be reduced/eliminated by selection, since some of the ways the inserted genes express themselves in the host or the way they affect the functioning of the crop??™s own genes are unpredictable. This may lead to the development of unknown toxic/allergenic components, which we cannot analyze for and seriously limiting the selection criteria. (Pusztai)
Without mandatory labeling on modified foods, the public is currently unaware of any modification done to foods out in the market. As long as a producing company gets approved by the government structure of their country such as the United States Department of Agriculture or the Food and Drug Administration, their products can contain any range of modified DNA structures without the need to inform the public of their presence.
With genetically modified foods not having to be labeled, this opens up other possibilities to dangers that consumers face with eating GMOs. One of these dangers is the possibility of an allergic reaction to DNA inserted into a crop; for example, if the tomatoes that had inserted fish DNA were to be eaten by an individual who is severely allergic to fish, and assuming he/she is unaware of the fish DNA??™s presence, there is a risk that the individualcould suffer from an allergic reaction. ???Mandatory labeling is necessary so that those suffering from food allergies can avoid hazardous GE foods and for public health officers can trace allergens back to their source when GE-induced food allergies break out.??? (Cummins)
The only group that benefits by not marking modified foods is the producing companies that create the foods, arguing that certain consumers would not want to purchase products if they knew GM foods were being used. It does seem, however, that consumers which purchase food products should know the contents of what they are buying if they are the ones paying for it. ???Whether you think they??™re informed and educated, or not, consumers have the right to know what kind of food or food product they are eating.??? (Genetically Modified Foods Debate)
The other danger that Gm foods present is the effect on the environment. GM foods, especially Bt and HT crops are filled with chemicals and toxins that are intended for destroying unwanted weeds and insects; however, when such plants pollinate, they send spores through the air which also carry the DNA structure designed to kill weeds and insects. When a harmless insect, such as a monarch butterfly, comes in contact with the deadly spore, it is affected to the point of death. The targets of these Bt and HT plants are as of now uncontrolled and varying, and harmless insects are dying because of them. ???Unfortunately, Bt toxins kill many species of insect larvae indiscriminately; it is not possible to design a Bt toxin that would only kill crop-damaging pests and remain harmless to all other insects.??? (Whitman)
On the opposite end of this spectrum, as mentioned before, there are pests which are immune to these toxins due to varying DNA structure, and by exposing these immune pests to the toxins, they are able to reproduce themselves with the genes necessary for survival, thus making the toxin ineffective.
Lab and field tests also indicate that common plant pests such as cotton boll worms, living under constant pressure from GE crops, will soon evolve into “super-pests” completely immune to Bt sprays and other environmentally sustainable bio-pesticides. This will present a serious danger for organic and sustainable farmers whose biological pest management practices will be unable to cope with increasing numbers of super-pests and super-weeds. (Cummins)
The science involved in creating GM foods must keep up with the ever-changing structures of DNA among insects and weeds in order to be effective. If not, the farmers who are not using GM crops will be the ones to suffer from genetically modified insects.
Another fear of GM foods is that the actual price of buying genetically altered seeds is very high in comparison to non-GM seeds. The pricey seeds have been linked to many financial problems among farmers who have purchased them, and have also been connected to Indian farmer suicides over the last few years. Although there is no official link, ???many anti-biotech activists are blaming Bt cotton for many of the problems gripping cotton farmers, including farmers suicide.??? (The Truth about Bt Crops??¦) Although the actual suicide issue is not a direct result of the overpriced cotton seeds, these Bt seeds are expensive to obtain, and there are no promises of any substantial profits gained by farmers in India; cotton is a gamble to grow in India because of the unpredictable weather patterns, and there is no certainty that the crops will survive, Bt or not.
Overall genetic modified foods, although not one of the most universally accepted practices of the 21stcentury, is becoming a more and more practiced field of science within the United States and other high-developed agriculture countries, and has so far presented no major threats or dangers to its consumers or to the environment. The only two reasons why genetically modified foods are not the standard of agriculture today is that the cost of GM seeds is greater than unmodified seeds, and there are those who prefer not to take chances with genetically modified foods and would rather purchase organic foods. Other than prices and skeptics, genetically modified foods have a great potential in the food market for providing farmers with a new method for growing crops with less involved time, effort, and pesticides and herbicides.
The hope is that in the future, when this practice becomes the official standard of growing crops, GM seeds will become less expensive and more available to large-scale producers as well as smaller producers such as locally and family owned farms.
With this new technology providing farmers with seeds more adaptable to better weathering environments as well as a means of destroying unwanted insects and harmful weeds, farmers will be able to save money rather than spend more money for seeds, and eventually the savings will be passed on to consumers throughout the market, and because GMOs result in increased harvest, the overall quantity of foods will increase along with the quality. As long as a global moratorium is put into place for the practice of buying and selling genetically modified foods as well as labeling any and all products modified genetically, the food market will open up the possibility of a regulated system of GM foods, and by putting more money into investments in this field of study, there is a great possibility for us as an economy to open more jobs and increase overall product. Finally, if any and all threats to this system as a whole were to be eliminated completely, there would be nothing stopping genetically modified foods from becoming the new standard of agriculture in the 21st Century.
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Cummins, Ronnie. ???Hazards of Genetically Engineered Foods and Crops: Why We Need a
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“DNA. Hot Science. Gallery of Genetic Modifications.” PBS. Web. 1 December 2009.
“Genetically Modified Foods Debate.” Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News – Biotechnology from Bench to Business. Web. 14 September 2009.
McHughen, Alan. Pandora??™s Picnic Basket: The Potential and Hazards of Genetically Modified
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Pusztai, Arpad. ???Genetically Modified Foods: Are They a Risk to Human/Animal Health???
_Action BioScience_, 2001. Web. 14 October 2009.
Sakko, Kerryn. “The Debate Over Genetically Modified Foods.” Action Bioscience. Web. 1 December 2009.
???The Truth About BT Crops??¦??? Crop Life. Web. 21 November 2009.
Whitman, Debora. ???Genetically Modified Foods: Harmful or Helpful??? ProQuest, April 2000.
Web. 4 October 2009.
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