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Genetically modified organisms are the results of a laboratory procedure, where genes from different organisms are purposely moved to another organism to improve or change the features of the latter. GMOs are sometimes referred to as transgenic, to mean the transfer of genes. The foreign genes may be uplifted from different organisms such as bacteria, insects, animals, viruses or even humans (Watson & Preedy, 2016). The laboratory process of making GMOs may be referred to as Genetic Modification or Genetic Engineering.
Purpose for Genetic Engineering
The reason behind genetic engineering of crop plants and domestic animals is to come up with foods which are either of benefit to the consumer or producer of such foods. The modified organisms are meant to translate into affordable products which are either durable or of high nutritional value, or both. At first, the genetically modified seed developers yearned for their products to be accepted by manufacturers. Hence they concentrated more on innovations which could lead to a direct benefit to the farmers and the food industry as a whole (Mahgoub, 2016).
One of the reasons behind creating GMOs especially on crop plants is to improve crop protection. The GM crops that are currently available in the market are aimed at increasing the level of protection of the plants, through the introduction of genes that make the crop resistant to plant diseases or enhance the tolerance of the crop towards herbicides.
The resistance against infestation by insects is achieved through incorporating the gene for toxin production from the bacteria, Bacillus thuringiensis, into the food plant. The toxin is used currently in agriculture as a conventional insecticide, and it is also safely consumable by humans. Virus resistance, on the other hand, is achieved through incorporating the plant crop by certain viruses which cause diseases in plants, hence resulting in a crop of high yield. Herbicide tolerance is attained through the incorporation of the plant with genes from a bacterium which conveys resistance to some herbicides (Watson & Preedy, 2016). Such crops have led to the reduction of the total amount of herbicides used especially in circumstances where there is a high weed pressure.
Genetically modified domestic animals have even been utilized in growing human transplant organs and tissues through a concept known as xenotransplantation. The massive and rich variety of benefits from GMOs has made almost all people turn to them. Nevertheless, many people are still troubled by their potential risks (Mahgoub, 2016).
Process of Creation of GMOs
There are different ways in which GMOs are created. One of the most common way is the traditional way that employs selective breeding. For example, a plant, which has a desirable trait is picked and bred separately to produce more plants with similar desirable traits. However, in the recent past, the process was advanced due to current technology. The plants with the desirable traits are harvested and taken to the laboratory. The genes which express the desirable trait are removed physically and added to the new plant to enhance the same trait in that plant. The plants which are produced through this means are referred to as transgenic (Agriculture in the Classroom, 2001). This process is often applied to crops to come up with insect resistant plants which are known as Genetically Modified Crops.
The other means is through genetic engineering. For example, insulin that is used in medicine is a product of genetic engineering. The most common animal used in this case is a pig. The insulin from the pig’s intestines is sampled and inserted into a bacteria. The bacterium is then cultured to grow and produce insulin. The insulin produced is then purified and availed to be used for medicinal purposes. Thyroid hormone, on the other hand, was always derived from animals, but through research, it can now be cultured from bacteria. Other products of genetic engineering include the chemical Aspartame which is used as a sugar-free food and drugs especially for hepatitis B vaccine (Watson & Preedy, 2016).
Foods Containing GMOs
The list of foods containing GMOs in the supermarket is endless. For instant, most of the packaged foods that we pass by every day in the supermarket contain ingredients which have been derived from soy, corn, sugar beet and canola among other crops. The majority of these plants especially those coming from North America are genetically modified (Mahgoub, 2016). Statistically speaking, about 70 percent of consumable foods in the supermarket are foods that contain GMOs.
Just to mention but a few, some of the soy products found in the supermarket containing GMOs include, Vitamin E supplements, veggie burgers, tamari, ice cream, protein powder, chocolate, cookies, candy, fried foods, frozen yogurt and soy sauce. Corn containing products include corn starch, corn oil, tomato sausage, bread, soda, baking powder, vanilla, margarine, alcohol and powdered sugar (Mahgoub, 2016). Cotton containing products include chips, peanut butter, and crackers. Canola products include hummus, oil blends, and cereals. Sugar beets products include backing mixes, juice, yogurt, donuts, cakes and candy. The list is endless.
GMO Foods and Human Consumption
Some foods that contain GMOs are safe for human consumption while others are not. Most developed countries, however, do not consider GMOs to be safe for human consumption, hence have put in place significant restrictions or complete bans on the production and marketing of GM foods. The Canadian and United States governments have however approved GM foods based on research which was conducted by companies that created them and earned profits from their sales (Ahmed, 2004).
Different GM organisms are made up of genes inserted in different ways. In other words, the safety of individual GM foods needs to be assessed on a case by case basis, hence making it hard for one to generalize their safety for human consumption.
Currently, most of the GM foods which are available on the global market have made it through the safety assessments, and are therefore safe for human consumption. Furthermore, there are no complaints which have been presented by consumers of GM foods, in nations where such foods have been approved (Ahmed, 2004). Also, there is an ongoing application of safety assessment of GMOs based on the Codex Alimentarius principles, with sufficient post-market monitoring, to ensure the safety of GM foods for human consumption.
Regulations Existing For GMO Foods
There are various ways in which governments have regulated GM foods. However, the same case does not apply worldwide, as some countries have not restricted such foods. Most countries with legislation in place only focus on the risk assessment results for the safety of human consumption. Other countries, with regulatory requirements for the GM foods, usually regulate such foods on a general point of view, taking into consideration both the health and environmental risks, in addition to control and trade-related issues (Ahmed, 2004). The trading items include labeling regimes and potential testing. However, there is still room for regulations to continue evolving.
In the United States, GMOs have been regulated under the “Coordinated Framework for Regulation of Biotechnology” which was published in 1986. The plant GMOs are under the regulation of the “US Department of Agriculture’s Animals and Plants Health Inspection Service” written under the Plant Protection Act. GMOs that are incorporated in food, biological products, and drugs, are regulated by the “Food and Drug Administration” found under the “Federal Food, Drugs and Cosmetic Act” and “the Public Health Service Act” (Ahmed, 2004). GMO incorporated in microorganisms and pesticides are regulated by the “Environmental Protection Agency” following the “Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act” and the “Toxic Substances Control Act.” Regulations types vary depending on the various kinds of GMO that are being produced and marketed (Ahmed, 2004).
- Agriculture in the Classroom (Sask.) Inc. (2001). Genetically modified organisms. Saskatoon, SK: Agriculture in the Classroom (Sask) Inc.
- Watson, R. R., & Preedy, V. R. (2016). Genetically modified organisms in food: Production, safety, regulation and public health. Amsterdam: Elsevier Science.
- Ahmed, F. E. (2004). Testing of genetically modified organisms in foods. New York: Food Products Press.
- Mahgoub, S. E. O. (2016). Genetically modified foods: Basics, applications, and controversy.