Genetically modified food is making a lot of headlines. More and more, we are eating foods that are genetically altered in some way, even if many consumers don’t realize that modified foods can easily make their way into supermarket carts.
Breeding plants and animals for more desirable traits is nothing new. Hybridization, or interbreeding, is the traditional method used to improve the quality and quantity of crops. But even tried-and-true breeding techniques have their limits. For example, hybridization is time consuming and doesn’t necessarily make for a plant with the best qualities. That’s because hybrids contain all the genes of the parent plants, so undesirable aspects are part of the bargain, too.
Tinkering with genes allows breeders to select only the characteristics they want, and get quick results in the bargain. Transferring genes from one organism to another sounds scary and futuristic, but altering the natural order of things has its benefits. Using sophisticated techniques, scientists are able to insert gene fragments from bacteria or viruses into plants to make them resistant to disease. They can even move genes into other single-celled living organisms to produce life-saving medicine, including insulin. Scientists can also design plants that are resistant to pests and diseases, reducing the need for pesticides; increase crop production by developing hardier plants; and produce plants that yield healthier foods, such as cooking oil with less fat.
So, what’s the downside? The question of safety. Concerned consumers cite the fact that every day, we eat foods produced from transgenic crops without knowing about any of the long-term consequences. Acreage of genetically modified crops worldwide was 179.7m ha in 2016 and GMOs is most widespread in U.S. by 70.9m ha (statista.com). Some experts say that breeding “designer” crops will shrink the botanical gene pool, ultimately leaving plants more vulnerable to disease. Gene manipulation could dangerously elevate levels of naturally occurring toxins and allergens in plants, too. Lack of labeling ranks high on the list of consumer concerns about genetically modified food. There is no way to tell whether raw food such as potatoes or tomatoes has been genetically altered, or if food products such as a muffin mix or baby food contain ingredients that have been, either. Some genetically altered foods such as soybean products are ubiquitous in the food supply; they are in everything from margarine to cake mixes. According to statistics, soybeans were the most genetically modified crops in U.S. in 2016 (94% of total acreage), then 93% cotton and 92% corn (statista.com).
The FDA has proposed voluntary labels, but many consumer groups say that’s not good enough. You may want to steer clear of genetically modified foods, but it’s probably next to impossible without mandatory labeling. Without a consistent labeling requirement, you won’t know whether produce was grown with transgenic seeds or if a product is manufactured with genetically altered ingredients. The best way to avoid genetically altered foods is to buy certified organic foods. Organic certification prohibits the use of genetically modified organisms.
It has been also demonstrated that Genetic modification as well as being advantageous can also increase the nutritional value of a food source, providing useful benefits, such as crops with extra vitamins or mineral. On the other side, the most common criticism against genetically modified food are in regard to the environment and health risks. The researchers say that in genetically modified food can be many potential impacts on human health causing new diseases with a higher antibiotic resistance. Also it is a high probability of creation of new allergens and an initiation an allergy in humans. No less important is a loss of a fauna and flora biodiversity, a stress for animals and harm for their organisms in the ecosystem. There is a potential for the biodiversity to decrease because of gene transfers from one species to another, creating more powerful crops, which may take over the natural populations of weeds and grasslands. An additional way for the biodiversity to decrease is by farmers planting only a single variety of crop, thus wiping out the varied species needed to keep the diversity within crop fields. The risks are really strong and impacts are dangerous.
There are too many risks involved in the use of GM food, and its removal from the agricultural and biotechnological industries will benefit human health, the environment, and global economy. To prevent genetically modified food it should be labeled and people should be recognized how dangerous GM food for us is. Then, the fact that GM food’s disadvantages will be known to the people, they will not buy the foods. This strategy will prevent monopolism of major companies and proliferation GM crops. To do that, people should hold the right perception about GM crops and the companies, and GM foods should be labeled to be noticed by consumer. Personally, I am sure that there can be nothing better and healthier than organic food and I totally disapprove any form of genetic engineering.
Ha Bui Thu