Genetically Modified Organisms In Our Food Tomatoes, soy beans and McDonalds French fries- what all of these things have in common? They are all some of the most commonly genetically modified foods on the market today. With scientists in the race to invent newer and better everythings, genetically modified organisms, or GMOs have become a hot topic of research in just the past 10 years. By using the genetic information from one organism, or the DNA and splicing it with the DNA of another, scientists can make food crops grow bigger, stay fresh longer, or even create their own pesticides. In this case however, and often with any case involving genetic modification, the technology has exceeded the practicality of this innovation. Genetically modified foods have no place in everyday agriculture because of the threat they pose to humans, the environment, and the future of traditional agriculture.
Plants have been genetically manipulated for thousands of years. Even in the earliest cases of civilized agriculture, people saved seeds of high yielding crops to replant each season (Shannon 1999). Lately, however, with genetic engineering being the hottest and most controversial side of science, many companies such as biotech are now tampering with food crops to get results that the early farmers could have never imagined. This seems to be scientific childs play in comparison to all of the recent media attention the cloning of sheep and even human cloning has received. Much of this genetic experimentation with the cloning of mammals and similar species can be linked to a high stakes game of chicken, where scientists are trying to do more and more daring things before people actually take the final step and clone a human. Likewise there are no real demands for genetically modified foods, but their supporters keep manufacturing and experimenting with new food ideas to make more efficient what nature had already designed.
Among the list of foods genetically created is a product from the Biotech Corporation; A modified tomato called the FLAVR SAVR, and in theory this sounds like marvelous invention. It is larger, better tasting, and stays fresh longer than commercial tomatoes on the market. How did they do it? The FLAVR SAVR tomato was created by combining conventional tomato genes with genes of an arctic trout. This was no natural or logical combination of genes and certainly presents a lot of complication when arriving to the market. Will people with a sea food allergy be able to eat the FLAVR SAVR? Would these new trout genes allow new types of bacteria to form on the tomatoes making them especially hazardous to eat? With so many new attributes introduced through this new DNA it is difficult to know the potential side effects from these new foods.
For centuries now farmers have been able to cross breed various strains of sweet corn to make it grow even sweeter, or to make potatoes grow bigger, but mixing tomatoes and fish is a match that could only have been made in a laboratory. Since it wasnt until recently that such technology was feasible, there is no real way of knowing whether genetically modified foods would take a negative impact on the body. Many activists tend to cite an incident that occurred in 1989 concerning the nutritional supplement, L- Tryptophan. What was originally believed to be a safe naturally occurring amino acid, safe for human consumption, caused a potentially fatal illness called Eosinophilia Myolgia Syndrome (Jacobs 2000). This GM supplement was taking off the market shortly after the reports of widespread illness among consumers of the supplement.
This is certainly reason to be skeptical of genetically modified organisms, but defendants of genetically modified foods have a different argument. In theory since the DNA is simply a miniature list of characteristics held by that organism, the DNA of one plant should be no less harmful than another, just because they were spliced together from 2 different sources. This is a completely scientific statement of something that most scientists dont fully understand yet. However there are other factors to take into consideration with GMOs aside from the theoretical consequences to human health. Because over time all plants to evolve to compensate for climate changes and new environments, it is likely that because of these new characteristics, some parts of he eco system may get thrown off in response to the GMOs. For instance, some soybeans already been produced that have built in pesticides and herbicides used to fight off weeds and insects.
Because of the nature of theses new genes, it is predicted that weeds may build a tolerance for this chemical defense, thus creating super weeds which would be immune to most agricultural weed killers. Another possibility is that this new technology would spread unintentionally through the pollinating and germination of the GM crops. For instance, if two fields lay near each other, one growing organic tomatoes (ones that are raised using no pesticides or unnatural means of growth) and one field producing genetically modified tomatoes, a plants natural tendencies may come into play. The chances would be great that insect or wind would carry pollen from one crop to the other crop, making both crops genetically modified. Since raising organic produce is a very regulated industry, this would not only contaminate the organic tomatoes, (thus making them non-organic), but also ruin the fields ability to grow organic produce.
The wild life in the environment might be affected as well. It has already been determined that a certain strain of GM corn can harm monarch butterflies (Pollack 2000). If GM plants have the capability of harming insects, what about animals in nature such as deer, whose life is already complicated by deforestation? What about humans? It hasnt been until recent years that genetically modified foods have surfaced, but since the public became aware, GMOs have been under fire. Many fast foods chains, grocery stores, and other food wholesalers and retailers have gone to the media, assuring the public that they would not buy or sell products containing GMOs. Frito-Lay Inc., who purchases over 1 billion pounds of corn and potatoes a year (Jacobs 2000) recently spoke out on GMOs, saying it has asked its suppliers to not grow GM corn or potatoes. Spokes people from Frito-Lay said it would not buy genetically modified corn for fear no one would buy it (Jacobs 2000).
This new technology has become more trouble than it is worth for GM supporters. The techniques used by the seed manufacturers are crude and can create unforeseen mutations in the food (Jacobs 2000). Such mutations are likely to cause allergens or toxins in the food, depending on the source of the foreign gene. For the most part genetic modification is unnecessary, unpredictable and an infringement on nature. Nuclear energy was once thought to be the answer for all of our power problems and this might be a similar case, where the technology ends up having too many negative repercussions to be used practically in everyday life. There is no test that can for sure say whether these foods will be toxic after they are produced other than trial and error, making humans experimental ginnie pigs.
The world has enough food in circulation and does not need more food or more efficient food. This science is best left to mystery for the sake of our bodies, as well as our environment. References 1. Shannon, T. Genetic engineering.
Westport, Conneticut: Greenwood Press; 1999. 2. Cherfas, J. Man-made life: an overview of the science, technology, and commerce of genetic engineering. New York: Pantheon Books; 1982.
3. Lappe, M. Broken code: the exploitation of DNA. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books; 1984. 4. Pollack, A.
We can engineer nature. But should we? The New York Times. 2000 Feb 6: A3. 5. Jacobs, P. Cornucopia of biotech foods awaits labeling.
L.A. Times. 200 Jan 31: C1 6. Genes and development [Scientific journal]. Vol 11, Number 16: 1999 Bibliography References 1. Shannon, T.
Genetic engineering. Westport, Conneticut: Greenwood Press; 1999. 2. Cherfas, J. Man-made life: an overview of the science, technology, and commerce of genetic engineering.
New York: Pantheon Books; 1982. 3. Lappe, M. Broken code: the exploitation of DNA. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books; 1984.
4. Pollack, A. We can engineer nature. But should we? The New York Times. 2000 Feb 6: A3. 5.
Jacobs, P. Cornucopia of biotech foods awaits labeling. L.A. Times. 200 Jan 31: C1 6. Genes and development [Scientific journal]. Vol 11, Number 16: 1999 Technology Essays.