To What Extent Can GM Food Be Considered As Safe For Human Consumption and the Environment?

Subject: Nutrition
Type: Argumentative Essay
Pages: 11
Word count: 2923
Topics: Food, Food Security, GMO
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Introduction

Genetically modified foods are becoming a significant concern, and they have been causing controversy concerning their environmental and health effects.  There are possibilities of introducing specific genetic material from any animal or plant species, synthetic material or even microorganism to different plant species. This gives room for reproduction or enhancement of the desired trait.  The emerging plants are the genetically modified plants, and they are known as GM foods when used as food sources.  There have been arguments that crop improvements commenced the same time as farming began.  Use of biotechnology which is basically crop improvements is a vital procedure for enhancing food quantities and quality (Bakshi, A., 2003, p. 211).  A Californian company Calgene was responsible for producing the first genetically modified crop in 1992 which was the tomato Flavr Savr.  The GM Flavr Savr tomato was the first crop to be in the market after the approval of FDA in 1994 (Kramer & Redenbaugh, 1994, p. 293).

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In 2000, France, Australia, Germany, Mexico and Romania were among the countries that were known to grow genetically engineered crops for commercial purposes.   The US was the highest adopter of the GM crops in 2005 and the other countries following it were China, Brazil, Canada and Argentina (James, 2015, p. 4). Figure one below indicates the countries that were growing GMO crops on a large scale in 2012.

Mother Jones

Figure 1

Source: Mother Jones

There have been arguments all over the world on whether the GM foods are suitable for human consumption as well as their safety on the environment. The supporters of this arguments indicate that the genetically modified foods yields benefits in nutrition and health and improve food quality thus making it safe. They also argue that GMO plants enhance the safety of the environment through a reduction in the use of chemicals to eradicate pests and herbs. Further, proponents of GMO crops assert that they contribute to the safety of the environment through a reduction in the emission of greenhouse gases. Individuals against the use of the GM foods argue that they are unhealthy for human consumption since there are potentials of developing allergies after eating, and it affects the digestive system. The world health organization indicates that the health issues associated with the consumption of GM foods are the potential of provoking gene transfers, allergic reactions and outcrossing (World Health Organization, 2014, Para 6). The paper will be presenting arguments for and against the use of GM foods for human consumption and then indicate why the GM foods are safe for human consumption. There has also been arguments that GMO crops may produce toxic proteins that affect other organisms within the ecosystem.

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Arguments Supporting the Safety of Genetically Modified Foods

Individuals that are for the use of the genetically modified foods argue that these foods have to go through food risk assessment to ascertain their safety for human consumption before they are released into the market (World Health Organization, 2014, Para 8).  Majority of the food that humans consume have chemical components thus making the genetically modified food to be inherently safe since they have undergone genetic modification by using chemicals just like other products in the market. The genetically modified foods are healthy for use by humans since they have been genetically modifying their foods for many years using domestication. The only difference with the GM foods is that the scientists accelerate the process by directly putting the genes into the plant instead of taking long periods to identify the plants that have valuable gens, i.e. resistance to diseases and longer shelf life. The plants are even safer for humans to eat since the plants need fewer pesticides so that they can have protection. The GMO foods are grown in many places on large pieces of land making them inevitable for human consumption.  Figure two below indicates the area that is being occupied for genetically modified foods.

There have been arguments on the implication of GMOs on the environment. Different scholars have offered divergent perspectives on whether the growing of GMO crops lead to improvements in the environment. According to Brookes and Barfoot (2013, p. 3), there has been a general decline in the amounts of herbicides used in the management of weeds in the fields due to the improved profiles of the crops. The plants are also resistant to pest meaning that less pesticides are used to control the stock borers and other pests (Brookes and Barfoot, 2013, p. 1).This validates the positive implications of the GM crops through the reduced use of chemicals in the environment.

It can also be argued that the advent of GM crops has reduced emission of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. Conventionally, farmers relied on the use of sprays, which required the use of fuels that escalated the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (Brookes and Barfoot, 2013, p. 6). Also, the duo assert that some of the developed crops do not require tillage. Therefore, farmers use less fuels translating into less emissions into the atmosphere. Through this, it is clear that the advent of GM crops has contributed to the creation of a safe environment.

Mother Jones Diagram

Figure 2

Source: Mother Jones

Many people against the use of genetically modified foods have a concern that the genes which the scientists introduce into the plants can become incorporated into the genetic makeup of the consumer. However, the Royal Society report of 1998 showed that there was no evidence for the possibility of the transfer of the intact genes to human beings either from the foodstuffs or the bacteria present in the gut despite excessive consumption of a diet with DNA presence.

Sufficient evidence lacks to show that there have been adverse effects on human health as a result of consuming the viral DNA in the plants. There are two types of plants viral DNA sequence that scientists commonly use in constructing the genes that are put into the GM plants (Gibbs & Weiller, 1999, p. 8025).  The first involves the promoters where in most cases short sequences of DNA need to be present for the expression of the genes. There is the combination of the inserted gene with a promoter for cauliflower mosaic plant virus in the genetically modified plants. The second sequence type entails genes which encode the viruses’ outer protective coat proteins which when put in the new plants interfere by infecting it with viruses and conferring resistance.  There are no commercially produced GM foods that are using the second method since there is a belief that by introducing the viral DNA sequence to the plants, there could be a creation of new viruses (Gibbs & Weiller, 1999, p. 8025).

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The viruses tend to infect particular species, and despite the genetic similarity between different viruses that infect animals and plants, they could have jumped between the kingdoms during the evolutionary process, and these are rare cases.   The animal and plant viruses gene sequence are dissimilar thereby making it impossible for the plant viruses to infect the animal cells. Human has been eating virally infected pants for many years, but there is no evidence of the creation of new viruses through recombination or causing severe illnesses.  According to Bradford et al (2005, p. 440), the viral DNA sequence do not have a health risks and many are currently present in the plants’ genomes.

Arguments against Genetically Modified Foods’ Safety

The genetically modified foods are not safe for human consumption since they can make the consumer develop allergies. The incorporation of genes producing new proteins to genetically modified plants can lead to the consumers developing allergies and this can have adverse effects on the consumers’ health (Bakshi, A., 2003, p. 215).  Majority of dietary proteins that humans consume are hydrolyzed and digested with minimal peptides which are not capable of producing an immune response in many people.  Individuals that are unfortunate to have hypersensitivity disorders, any contact with certain foods can result in allergic-type inflammatory responses. Thus, by introducing the genetically modified food to the human food chain which has proteins or allergens of unknown allergic potential can pose high risks to their health (Moellenbeck, 2001, p. 668). It is evident form Nordlee et al. (1996) argument that use of the Brazil nut protein was a clear indication that allergies were easily transferable through genetic modification. It also illustrates that sensitivity can be transfer to the transgenic plants when there is an expression of an allergen in a non-native host through the procedures of genetic modification.

Another argument against the consumption of the GM foods is that the eating the genetically modified foods has the capability of activating transposable elements that are present in the genome of humans. Transposable elements like viruses, the short DNA sequences which have the potential of moving around bacteria and eukaryotes genomes leading to an increase in number have had a great connection with the host organism. The mobility of the transposable elements gives them the capability of inserting themselves into thus ending up damaging the host genes and at the end leading to pathological effects, i.e. like tumor cases (Hiom, Melek & Gellert, 1998, p. 37). The elements entail up to 40% of plants and animals DNA. Individuals are likely to develop different types of cancers in the long run because of excessive consumption of GM foods.

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There are minimal researches on the GM food toxicity despite the numerous opinions and arguments regarding the GM food toxicity.   The first safety evolution was an order from FDA which required a test to be carried out on the Flavr Savr tomato on rats for 28 days before releasing the product to the market. There were no clear results on the findings of this test since the tests had severe effects on the rats and it resulted to the regulation of the GM foods (Pusztai, Bardocz, & Ewen, 2003, p. 349). The conclusion was that the organ weight and mean body, blood parameters, weight gain, clinical chemistry and food consumption did not have a significant difference between the control groups and the GM-fed. However, that was an observation that parts of the stomach in about seven of the twenty rats that were part of the GM tomato experiment were presenting moderated/mild; necrotic/erosive lesions and about seven of the rats among the twenty who took part in the test died few days after without no apparent reason. This is a clear sign that the GM foods have toxicity levels and this can affect the digestive systems of the human consumers thus adversely affecting their health (Fares & El-Sayed, 1998, p. 222).

According to Fares & El-Sayed, 1998, p. 227), the feeding of mice on GM foods, especially those that have the endotoxins as a form of protection against pests is highly toxics, which adds to the argument about the safety of the GM foods. The impacts on the mice can be replicated in humans. Another evidence of the effect on the digestive system is from an experiment which was testing herbicide-resistance in the genetically modified maize.  The results were showing significant differences in the carbohydrate and fat contents when compared to the non-GM maize. The toxicity tests carried out were indicating that there was a decreased ability in the rats’ capability of digesting after consuming GM corn.  The studies support the concerns regarding the adverse effects of the GM foods, and there is a need of conducting more researchers to determine their health effects on humans so that they can avoid the potential risks before marketing the products (Fares & El-Sayed, 1998, p. 232).

The continued planting of the GM crops also have negative implications on the environment. This is mainly based on the impacts of the plants on the other organisms within the same ecosystem. Genetic engineering confers the pest resistance attributes through the insertions of genes required for the production of certain proteins. For instance, some of the GM crops may affect the performance of bees, which is an important player in an ecosystem as far as plant production is concerned (Fontes, 2002, p. 504).

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Decision Whether the Genetically Modified Foods are Safe or Not

The genetically modified foods can be considered effective for human consumption since well-respected bodies in the globe such the Food and Drug Administration of America and the World Health organization report indicate that the genetically modified foods do not have adverse effects on human health. Every food product undergoes different test procedures before getting into the market thus the genetically modified foods tests prove that they are safe for human beings. The bodies indicate that genetically modified foods that are on our markets are safe since they have passed the safety assessments.

As much as there are many benefits of the introduction of the genetically modified foods into the markets for human consumption, some risks are leading to individuals having concerns about the danger they may pose to humans. However, there is inconsiderable evidence which indicates that the consumption of genetically modified foods can result in adverse health effects among human beings. Many tests have been on rats, and the results cannot be similar like in human beings.  According to Bakshi (2003, p. 221). The GM foods i.e. vegetables, fruits and grains contain a lot of nutrients like minerals, vitamins and proteins which improve the health of the consumers. Therefore, it is baseless to argue that the genetically modified foods are unhealthy for human consumption without sufficient research to support the argument.

The genetically modified are safe for human consumption at the moment from the numerous evidence presented. The GM foods boost the nutritional content and a person’s growth. The large amounts of data and experiments that have been performed make me believe that the foods are safe for human consumption since no individual has been identified as being unhealthy by consuming GM foods. Additionally, the reputable safety organizations are in support of the use of the GM foods.  Individuals who are against the consumption of these foods indicate that little animal studies are showing that they can pose a severe health risk.  The evidence makes it appear that the genetically modified foods do not have a negative impact on humans’ health.

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Conclusion

Lastly, genetically modified organisms involve animals or plants with an alteration in their genetic material where they do not occur naturally by natural recombination and mating. The foods that are produced using the GM organisms are known as genetically modified foods. Some people indicate that the GM foods are not safe for human use while others argue that they have many benefits. The GM food is safe for human consumption since they increase the food source’s nutritional value, giving useful benefits such as extra minerals or vitamins like in the golden rice example. The advent of the GM crops has also positively impacted the environment through the reduced use of chemicals to eliminate pests and weeds. This has also led to a decline in greenhouse gas emissions to the surrounding. Those against the use of these foods claim that the food sources can have allergic components and possible toxicity. They reiterate that GM crops may negatively alter ecological balance through adverse effects on other organisms. For instance, the toxins produced by the crops may make bees inactive. However, there is no sufficient human research to indicate the GM foods’ impact on human health. Prominent organisations suggest that the GM foods do not pose adverse effects.  Therefore, it is clear that currently, the GM foods which are in the market can be taken by human beings since they have undergone safety assessments.

Reflection on the Assignment

As I was writing this essay, I encountered few challenges but after identifying the ways to solve them, I was able to deliver my best.  There are many skills that one needs to possess to successfully write an essay assignment.  Some of the challenges include having difficulties in starting, citing the sources in a proper manner and the fear of failing.

The first challenges when writing the paper was getting started.  I guess the challenge was arising because I attempted to start writing without first gathering key points about the paper.  The challenge was also present since I had in mind the opinions and perceptions that the people I closely relate to have regarding the genetically modified foods. To address the problem, I researched on data from reliable sources, I wrote down the key points which included the researchers’ findings on whether there are effects or not and after from the information I was able to have a stand. I had to formulate a clear thesis statement because this could enable me to clearly connect the key points the purpose of the essay.  This was helpful in keeping my thoughts together thus making a logical conclusion.

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I had the fear of failure but I was able to deal with it by first writing a draft. My confidence was high after making the draft because I learnt that I had actually gathered relevant information. There were challenges finding sources since a lot of information that I could find at first was just people’s opinions without evidence. I decided to find reliable information from the online journals and websites like the world health organization which are trustworthy. I was inserting the in-text citation while writing the essay and carrying out my research so avoid cases of plagiarism. I can say that it was a challenging by a great learning experience in writing.

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  1. Bakshi, A., 2003. Potential adverse health effects of genetically modified crops. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part B6(3), pp. 211-225.
  2. Bradford, K.J., Van Deynze, A., Gutterson, N., Parrott, W. and Strauss, S.H., 2005. Regulating transgenic crops sensibly: lessons from plant breeding, biotechnology and genomics. Nature biotechnology23(4), p.440.
  3. Brookes, G., & Barfoot, P. 2013. Key environmental impacts of global genetically modified (GM) crop use 1996–2011. GM crops & food4(2), 109-119.
  4. EFSA, G., 2008. Safety and nutritional assessment of GM plants and derived food and feed: the role of animal feeding trials. Food and chemical toxicology: an international journal published for the British Industrial Biological Research Association46.
  5. Fares, N.H. and El-Sayed, A.K., 1998. Fine Structural Changes in the Ileum of Mice Fed on -Endotoxin-Treated Potatoes and Transgenic Potatoes. Natural toxins6(6), pp.219-234.
  6. Fontes, E.M., Pires, C.S., Sujii, E.R. and Panizzi, A.R., 2002. The environmental effects of genetically modified crops resistant to insects. Neotropical Entomology31(4), pp.497-513.
  7. Gibbs, M.J. and Weiller, G.F., 1999. Evidence that a plant virus switched hosts to infect a vertebrate and then recombined with a vertebrate-infecting virus. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences96(14), pp.8022-8027.
  8. Hiom, K., Melek, M. and Gellert, M., 1998. DNA transposition by the RAG1 and RAG2 proteins: a possible source of oncogenic translocations. Cell94(4), pp.463-470.
  9. James, C., 2015. Global status of commercialized biotech/GM crops: 2014. ISAAA brief49.
  10. Kramer, M.G. and Redenbaugh, K., 1994. Commercialization of a tomato with an antisense polygalacturonase gene: The FLAVR SAVR™ tomato story. Euphytica79(3), pp.293-297. Page 293 para 1
  11. Lee, J., Charts: World’s GMO Crop Fields Could Cover the US .5 Times over.  Mother Jones.
  12. Moellenbeck, D.J., Peters, M.L., Bing, J.W., Rouse, J.R., Higgins, L.S., Sims, L., Nevshemal, T., Marshall, L., Ellis, R.T., Bystrak, P.G. and Lang, B.A., 2001. Insecticidal proteins from Bacillus thuringiensis protect corn from corn rootworms. Nature biotechnology19(7), p.668.
  13. Pusztai, A., Bardocz, S., & Ewen. S. 2003. Genetically modified foods: potential human health effects. Food Safety
  14. Royal Society, 1998. Genetically modified plants for food use. Royal Society: London
  15. World Health Organization. (2014). Food Safety.
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