Foods Produced From Genetically Modified (GM) Crops – The Risks
Since their widespread introduction for human consumption in the 1990s the fierce debates surrounding genetically modified foods has raged on and on and doesn’t look like being settled anytime soon.
What Are Genetically Modified Foods?
By definition and in simple terms, a genetically modified crop is one that has, with the efforts of genetic engineering, had its DNA altered. The purpose of which is, amongst other things, to develop disease resistant strains, reduce dependence on chemical crop treatments including pesticides and herbicides (weed killers) and to increase yield.
Advocates, amongst them scientists, politicians, economists and the food industry itself, argue that GM crops have many benefits. They insist that GM or genetically modified crops are the way of the future and the answer to world food shortages and a real answer to relieve famine hit areas of the world. The opponents of genetically modified crops include scientists, environmentalists and consumers themselves.
For every argument the supporters put forward the anti GM campaigners have a counter argument. It is interesting to note that very few consumers are happy to accept genetically modified foods. Even this has been argued away by the GM defenders as an uninformed public reluctant to embrace inevitable changes. This is patronizing in the extreme and it is ironic to note that the reason the public is so uninformed is because there is a surprisingly small amount of data available.
Are Genetically Modified Foods Safe?
This of course must be one of the first questions asked. Many reviews have been published over the years since GM’s introduction claiming that no adverse health effects have yet manifested themselves. Scientific data has been put forward to support these claims. However this is not in itself particularly reassuring. Recently old scientific reports testing for adverse effects in humans were re-analyzed and their original conclusions found to be based on flawed methods and therefore erroneous.
The campaigners against GM argue that certain studies, that are essential to properly assess safety issues on a long term basis, have just not been carried out. Others that have been carried out have been poorly designed.
Those against say it is inevitable that negative impact on humans will at some point be evident: those for GM say there is no evidence against. It is extremely difficult amongst all these arguments and counter arguments to arrive at an informed decision on one’s own personal stand.
Possible Dangers Of Genetically Modified Foods
One of the main areas of concern for health related issues are those of antibiotic resistance transfer, the dangers of toxins and the cross transfer of allergenicity say for example in the case of allergies to nuts. How do genetically modified foods cause food allergies? The bottom line is we just don’t know and neither, despite what they say, do the experts. Nature has an incredible way of twisting and turning and doing the unexpected. We like to think that as humans we have all the answers……. we don’t. GM could be creating a monster in terms of the future and the impact that it has on humans, wildlife and the environment.
For many individuals however, although the safety issues are important, they are not the crucial issue. Large numbers of people who are against GM are actually against it on ethical grounds and not scientific grounds. Although it is mainly plants that have been used for GM production there have more recently been cases where animals have been used. If GM crops caused a storm then GM animals is the most violent tornado. “Playing God” as many people see it is a shocking step too far.
Environmental Issues Related with Genetically Modified Foods
Besides the scientific and ethical concerns there is also of course the environmental one. This is a huge subject on its own and needs to be addressed separately and at great length. For many, the benefits for GM being argued for are just not worth the risk. There are too many unknowns, too many unanswered questions.
Advocates of genetically modified foods will argue that plants naturally modify themselves. This argument holds no ground. This process happens over thousands and thousands of years and allows all around it to evolve and move into balance with it.
Whatever your stand on this particular issue one thing is for certain: this debate will continue to rage for many years to come. Personally, I am not prepared to play Russian Roulette in this way. You must make your own choice.