What is genetically modified food?

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Genetically modified food is touted as necessary to save the world from starvation and bring untold benefits. But do we know enough about it to eat it right now?

The debate over the genetic modification of the food we eat, rages on.

On one side we have the corporate entities who have invested heavily in the science of GMO's (genetically modified organisms), the farmers and producers who have been sold on the idea of including these engineered items in their planting and production regimes, many of the world's governments who have been heavily lobbied by the corporations and a variety of people from all walks of life who have been convinced by all the hype and publicity that has been put out in support of the whole concept of genetic engineering.

On the other side we have a large proportion of the consumer base who are afraid of what they perceive to be the untried and untested products they are being forced to eat because, in many places including the USA, there is no mandatory requirement to label products that are genetically modifed or contain genetically modified ingredients; an ever growing group of scientists who believe that there is insufficient data available for anyone to say that these products are safe; doctors who remember the horrors of Thalidomide and a very powerful group of environmentalists who fear for the long term future of the planet if science they believe to be against Nature, is allowed to continue unchecked.

Those in favour of genetic modification make a number of claims to support their contentions that this is a necessary route to follow for the good of everyone on the planet.

1. Genetically modified crops such as corn, soy and wheat will require less use of chemicals currently employed to increase growth and yield, keep down weeds and destroy predator insects.

2. The promised increased yields of these types of crops will mean an end to starvation in the Third World and increase their ability to grow more of their own crops.

3. There has been sufficient research carried out to give assurances that there is no danger to the human race from the use of genetically modified foods.

4. Only by using GM crops can the world hope to keep pace with the population growth and its consequent need for ever increasing quantities of foods given that genetic modification will allow crops to be grown in conditions that would, otherwise, be too adverse for year round cultivation.

The pro GM group have enormous amounts of financial resources and political clout and have, therefore, been able to get their case across in a far more decisive manner than their opponents.

Those opposed to the use of genetic modified food or food ingredients or those who, at least, feel there should be far more research carried out make a number of counter claims.

1. The very methodology of creating GMO's is not a precise science and is usually achieved by injecting a lump of one piece of living material into another piece of different living material. The ‘carrier' for this could even be one of the e-coli bacteria.

2. There has been insufficient time given to researching the possible dangers and there is at least one instance of a genetically modified product - L-Trytophan - causing death and disability.

3. There is no evidence yet available that supports the claim of greater yields or less use of chemicals. Indeed, they claim, results are showing quite the opposite effect.

4. Some of the proposed products are unnecessary.

5. If the corporations really believed their GM products to be safe they would not oppose labeling as vehemently as they do.

The general public - the consumers - are divided between the very vociferous and the silent, though in Europe, the pressure from consumers has made governments rethink policy about GM foods and has resulted in legislation requiring labeling of all foods that are entirely genetically modified or contain genetically modified organisms. This has, in turn, led to many of the leading supermarket chains declaring a non GM philosophy and refusing to stock any items that have any degree of genetic modification.

In North America, the public have not yet fully woken up to the whole question and so the pressure is not yet as great as in Europe. However, there are significant signs that the pressure is building and McCains have recently declared that they will no longer use genetically modified potatoes in their products and two Natural Food supermarkets chains in the USA have declared in favour of no GM products.

The trend, of the public at least, seems to be towards caution and wanting to know. The pro GM lobby need to pay heed of this. Those opposed need to ask whether their actions will, in any way, prolong problems in parts of the world where food is not readily available from the shelves of a store.

There is still much research, talking and debating to be done. For now, each person must make their own decisions in terms of whether they will eat these products and face the risk the anti lobby claim exists or whether they will do everything possible to avoid these products at least until there is more, reliable, information available.

You must decide.

Source: essortment.com