Technology has advanced in a number of ways making it easier for man to have access to many things that he did not have before. Communication has been enhanced in such a way that you can talk to someone from across the globe in a matter of seconds. Crops have not been left behind. Previously certain crops could only be got at certain times of the year. This has changed since the introduction of genetically modified foods. Genetically Modified Foods also known as GMOs or biotech foods refer to foods that have been created to supplement other sources of food. Their difference is that genetically modified foods are created in such a way that its molecular composition has been altered through genetic engineering techniques. These crops have enhanced desired traits that make them lucrative to invest in them. Although these crops bring with them many advantages, there have been many criticisms as to whether they are good fit for human consumption.
The practice was first done in 1946 when scientists discovered it was possible to transfer DNA between organisms – horizontal gene transfer. It was not until 1983 that the first genetically modified plant was produced. It was done in antibiotic-resistant tobacco. Later on in 1994, the tomato was genetically modified allowing it to delay ripening after it has been harvested. In 1995, the first genetically modified pesticide was approved by the Environmental Protection Agency for the market. Canola, which is genetically modified, was available in the market by 1996. From there scientists continued making groundbreaking discoveries such as GM foods could increase nutrient value. In recent years, genetically modified crops were approved by various bodies for sale in the market.
The main reason for using these crops as opposed to traditional ones is the fact that with the changing and unpredictable weather patterns farmers’ yield has greatly reduced. The yield we get from farmers is not enough to sustain the growing population. This has made scientist to look for a new way to feed the masses. The crop yield will be sufficient to provide food for the whole population. There will still be left with addition to be stored for emergencies.
Another reason is that crop diseases have mutilated making it hard for the normal pesticides to fight them off. Crop yield reduced tremendously as a result. Farmers thus prefer to deal with crops that are resistant o these diseases to have a bountiful harvest. Pest resistance is achieved by combining the gene for toxin production, Bacillus thuringiensis (BT), with the food plant. This toxin is presently used as a conventional insecticide in crop growing and is safe for human consumption. The crops are left producing genetically their own pesticide that is resistant to pests. GMOs also take a shorter time to mature therefore a farmer can harvest more than once in a year making them have more returns. This attracts most farmers into taking up this practice. Biotech foods are also bigger in size than ordinary food crops meaning consumers would prefer them to other crops. They will be able to feed more people with less amounts of money. A kilogram of genetically modified soybeans is not the same as a kilogram of traditional soybeans. This serves as an advantage to a consumer. These are just some the reasons as to why these crops are preferred to traditional crops.
With increased use of biotech foods, it meant that farmers would reduce the use of pesticides on their farms. This means that pollution of the environment would reduce, as pesticides are harmful to the environment. In the years 1997 to 1998 when the first genetically modified crops hit the market, farmers in the United States used 8.2 million fewer pounds of active pesticide ingredients. This was a major plus to conserving the environment. This reduction was in line with the reduced use of pesticides in those years. In addition, several biotech crops have been developed to control heavy metal pollution in soils.
The GM foods unfortunately also have a negative effect on the environment. Studies have shown that some of the crops pose a danger to the environment as a whole. For instance,
Two out if every three tested oilseed rape and sugar beet have a negative impact on farmland than traditional crops. This degrades the environment making it harmful for other living things to be in that space of land. Research has also shown that genetically modified soil bacteria can lead to further contamination that what was intended originally. The consequences might be catastrophic as some crops might become poisonous to the end user. No farmer would want his farm to be blacklisted because of these practices.
Biotech drugs have also contributed to a major leap in the health sector. Distribution of crucial drugs to some areas of the world is very hard. People who need drugs urgently are not able to access them because they live in deep parts of the world that are inaccessible. This is mostly in third world countries where they do not have good roads or transport networks. The use of biotechnology solves this problem as it allows people to receive the necessary drugs and vaccines they need. This is done by putting the drugs into the medicines and is taken to the areas where they are needed. This saves on transport and logistics costs as two birds are killed with one stone. In 2001a research was done that showed the development of a transgenic potato. The potato made the rats immune to both rotavirus and E. coli, two deadly diseases that affect the stomach. The research conducted demonstrated the ability of genetically modified food to harbor vaccines against both bacterial and viral infections (Kate Wong, 2001).
The negative effects associated with biotech foods are also evident. For one some people have people have exhibited allergic reactions after using genetically modified crops. They have developed hives and swelling of the face, lips and tongue. This happened in Brazil in 1996 after people took soybeans that nut beans had been spliced into them. There has also been a record of deaths and near deaths. This was because of use of biotech foods. This happened in the United States in 1989 when people consumed a genetically modified version of the supplement L-tryptophan. This created a serious disease, the Eosinophilia myalgia syndrome (EMS). An estimated 37 people died and 1500 were injured. There have also been reports on people developing cancer and other diseases after consuming these crops.
The social repercussions of using genetically modified crops are that there is lack of independence. Developed countries can still have a say in what third world countries are doing. This is known as Biocolonization. Countries that are more technologically superior have been dictating what is happening in other countries. They use their knowledge of GM foods as a bargaining chip when exploiting other countries. In October 1993, farmers in India protested against General Agreements on Tariffs and Trade are trade regulations on genetically modified seed products. Another thing is that some countries the lack of labeling GM foods has led to people consuming these products without knowing. This violates basic human rights as people are supposed to be informed of what they are taking in advance. It is the law that all ingredients of a product should be clearly labeled on the packaging.
Previously if one did not want to take certain foods because of religion or dietary restrictions all one had to do was to read the label. Unfortunately, with genetically modified foods this is not possible, as food is not packaged. In this case, all food is treated as suspect. The lack of labels makes it hard for one to differentiate these foods. Consumption of genetically modified foods means that the nutrient content got from the foods is reduced. The nutrients got are so few that they cannot be compared to those one gets when consuming traditional crops. In most countries, there lacks a standard body that regulates the safety standards of genetically modified foods rendering people exposed to dangers of either sub-standard products or even poisonous products (Rifkin, 1998).
At the end of the day, technology has made strides to ensure that man is more comfortable than he was years ago. Foods that were deemed difficult to acquire at certain times of the year are now readily available. Better crop yield has boosted the economies of countries that have adopted the use of genetically modified foods. We can now distributed medicines and vaccines that are in food and people can now comfortably go through their day to day activities without fear of the have missed a dose as they took it with their food. Thanks to the better yield the world has enough food to also feed the poor, war torn and drought stricken countries and still have enough left for their own. All these are pluses that accompany the use of genetically modified foods. However, is it worth it knowing all the dangers that accompany its use?
Other shortcomings have not yet been discovered that are associated with genetically modified foods. Especially since some farmers are not fully aware of what they tend to lose when they choose to adopt some of these methods. If one tends to overuse these methods and his farm is blacklisted he or she has no one to cry to and air their woes. Their individual governments cannot compensate them or offer them a solution.
All genetically modified organisms are different. They are also used in different ways meaning they should be assessed differently each one in its own unique way. Just because one organism had an effect on you does not guarantee the others will be the same. Most of the GM foods that are available in the market have passed risk assessment and will not cause any harm to potential human consumers. After the risks that were documented earlier when people started consuming GM crops, fewer reports have been found from consumption of the products. However, a farmer needs to be vigilant and ensure that he aware of the current trends in genetically modified foods.
This technology has not ended on food alone but has also developed to coming up with genetically modified animals. The first animal was a sheep named Dolly that unfortunately died. However, with increasing research scientists will be able to perfect the art of genetically modified organisms. This will lead to getting rid of the disadvantages that genetically modified foods face. In the future, they will be a preferred source of food as land is becoming depleted with the growing population. Most farms will be converted to housing, as genetically modified crops will not demand as much space as traditional crops.
Forman, Lillian E. Genetically Modified Foods. Edina, Minn: ABDO Pub, 2010. Print.
Rifkin, Jeremy. The Biotech Century: Harnessing the Gene and Remaking the World. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 1998. Print.
Ruse, Michael, and David Castle. Genetically Modified Foods: Debating Biotechnology. Amherst, N.Y: Prometheus Books, 2002. Print.
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