Also referred to as Genetically Engineered Foods, Genetically Modified foods are foods produced from organisms whose genetic material (DNA) has been artificially altered/manipulated in a laboratory through a method known as Genetic Engineering. Genetic engineering basically incorporates techniques that introduce new traits to plants and also provide greater control over the traits than the traditional methods such as mutation and selective breeding.
This technology was introduced to encourage more nutrients to be produced in plants, for faster plant growth, for increased ability to resist disease, ability to grow in salty and other non-conducive environments, and other purposes. For human benefits, GM foods are produced to reduce food shortage and lower food prices.
Common GM Foods
The commercial sale of genetically modified began as early as 1994 after the production of Flavr Savr tomatoes. Since then, the GMO industry has seen the production of many other crops. Some of the common foods that have been genetically altered include corn (most of the corn produced in America has been genetically modified), tomatoes, sugar beets, potatoes, rice (Golden Rice), Oils (Canola), salmon, squash, soybean, Aspartame, high fructose corn syrup, corn starch, sausage, ice cream, synthetic and non-organic vitamins, baby formula, alfalfa, milk, beef, papaya, flax, margarine and shortening, honey, rapeseed, sugarcane, tobacco, peas, cotton seed oil, and cotton.
Most of these foods are altered to either make them more resistant to pesticides, herbicides, to increase their lifespan, to increase their nutrient value, and to encourage production.
GMO Foods: Pros and Cons
For the longest time, there has been an ongoing debate on the subject of these foods. For some, GM foods allow crops to become drought and pest resistant which increases harvest output. For others, they consider GM foods to be hazardous as they have been found to cause various health complications such as allergic reactions as well as gastrointestinal problems. Some animal studies have discovered abnormal tumor growth, alterations of internal cell structure, and unexpected deaths.
Because of these health dangers, many people are now considering going organic to avoid the complications brought by these foods. We’ve compiled a number of the pros and cons of GMO foods. After reading this, you’ll have learned what these foods really are, their advantages and disadvantages, and whether you should include them in your diet.
Increased Resistance to Disease
Plants and animals that have been genetically modified are resistant to disease. Plants are altered in such as way that they produce toxins that kill disease-causing pests and insects. This means no pesticides are used, thereby allowing farmers to save more money.
Resistance to disease also means higher yields and increased crop production, which translates to more profits.
Improved Stress Tolerance
Genetically modified foods tend to have an improved stress tolerance that allows them to withstand harsh, unexpected climate conditions and drought. For example, some crops can be grown in salty areas.
Decreased Food Prices
Because genetically modifying plants allow them to become resistant to disease, more yields are experienced. With increased food production, the price of food goes down significantly, enabling even low-income households to afford them.
Increased Nutritional Value
Many people especially in developing countries suffer from malnutrition as they depend on either rice or corn as their daily staple. Most of the GM foods currently being produced have added nutrients such as vitamins and minerals to improve their nutritional value.
This technology has as a result reduced nutrient deficiencies among the affected people.
Improved Food Taste and Flavor
Genes in crops, especially fruits and vegetables are altered to give them a distinctive taste and flavor.
Foods that have been genetically modified stay fresh for longer, allowing them to stay have a longer shelf-life. For example, tomatoes which are known to spoil faster when ripe can stay fresh for many days when genetically engineered. This reduces overall food waste.
Since their introduction, GMO foods have shown significant sustainability as they provide a stable and efficient way to sustain enough crops to feed the ever increasing population all over the world. If we were to depend only on traditionally grown foods, the entire population would suffer a food shortage. Actually, this was the main reason GMO foods were introduced in the first place.
Promote Healthy Environment
The production of GMO foods does not require the use of chemicals. This is because these crops have been modified to fight pests and other disease-causing organisms. This means that no pesticides, herbicides or other chemicals are used, thereby preventing soil pollution. Some of the chemicals used in conventionally grown foods emit greenhouse gasses, thereby polluting the environment. This is another reason why GMO foods were introduced.
Even though GMO foods have practically saved the world from food shortage, they have a bad side. Let’s have a look at the cons of GMO foods.
Research indicates that during genetic engineering, certain proteins not contained in the original organisms are added, causing allergic reactions in people. In fact, most people suffer from allergic reactions after consuming these foods. This is without a doubt one of the most devastating disadvantages of GMO foods.
Increased Risk of Cancer
The chemicals used in during genetic modification of plant may increase the risk of cancer.
Reduced Effectiveness to Antibiotics
Some GMOs have been created with antibiotic substances that enhance their immunity to diseases. Studies have found that eating such foods can reduce the effectiveness of human antibiotics.
Creation of More Weeds
GMO farming has lead to the development of weed that are resistant to glyphosate, a common herbicide used in GMO food production. This means that farmers will have to put more efforts to eliminate weed.
Threatened Crop Diversity
GMO food production reduces the diversity of different plant species due to their inbuilt pesticide and herbicide resistance, killing some of the beneficial insects that assist during plant pollination.
Potential Soil Pollution
Some studies have found that genetically modified crops can leave residual toxic substances that remain in the soil for extended periods of time. As a result, these toxins rob the soil of its important natural resources up to a point that it can no longer support life.
With the ongoing heated debate on the safety of GMO foods, it’s important that you understand where you stand amid all the arguments.