Do you know that almost every food that is eaten today is genetically modified? Genetically Modification which is commonly known as GM is a term used to describe the technology of altering genetic make-up of living organisms such as plants, animals and bacteria. Genes that are got from different organisms are combined in a process known as recombinant DNA technology. The genes are then introduced to plants and animals to form what is referred to as genetically modified organisms or genetically engineered organism or transgenic organisms.
The genetically modified products include vaccines, medicine, foods and the ingredients of food, and animal fibers and feeds. Genes that carry important traits like desired nutrients and insect resistance are extracted from one organism and inserted to others. The technology of genetic modification of food has a great promise to curb the greatest 21st century’s challenge. Nevertheless, like any other new technology, GM foods pose a great risk; those that are known and unknown.
Controversies that surround the GM foods mainly put their focus on the environmental safety, human health, food security, ethical issues, testing and labeling as well as the consumer choice. Consumers have a right to know what they are feeding on and hence it is important to label the GM foods (Human Genome Program, 2008). This research paper will explore the need of labeling the genetically modified foods and the controversies that surround the labeling of the GM foods. Environmental concerns
The organic and the industrial systems that deal with food production no doubt produce massive quantities but at the same time creating very big problems to be ignored. Many illnesses that are associated with food are increasing day and night. The more than sufficient nutrition that fruits and vegetables once had has decreased. What can be attributed to these problems? The pesticides that are sprayed on the food crops makes the farm workers sick, they pollute groundwater. Animal farms are also not spared. They pollute water, air and create bacteria that are antibiotic resistance.
When crops are sprayed with chemicals, animals injected and forced to take down chemicals, their end product is genetically engineered food. The genetically modified foods not only have adverse effects to human health but also destroy the environment (Roseboro, 2007). Due to these controversies, people and especially the consumers of crop and animal products want healthier conventional food; food that is not produced with hormones, pesticides, antibiotics and to say it in one phrase, genetically engineered foods.
All that they want is food that benefits the human body and at the same time helps to conserve the environment. Fresh food that farmers grow locally is what consumers want (Roseboro, 2007). Conventionally grown food is free from toxic chemicals, it is free from the sewage sludge, and would therefore be healthier and environment friendly. Additionally, it is fresher, tastier and much better than genetically produced foodstuffs sold at the conventional supermarkets. In the process of spraying animals or crops with chemicals, the soil loses its fertility.
Due to the consumer health and the environmental risks there is need to label the GM foods (Roseboro, 2007). Health effects More food can now be produced within a short period of time; shorter than the normal growing period of a crop. All this has been possible because of the chemicals used to spray and inject crops as well as forcefully feed and inject animals. A lot of food has been produced but dangerous elements are contained in it. Many health problems affecting people today are associated with genetically modified foods. Is it possible for one to feed on chemicals and have a healthy body?
The bodies of human beings are delicate machines. Foreign chemicals that are in genetically modified food are bound to cause some disruptions in the body. The pesticides that are constantly sprayed on corps as they grow are linked to numerous diseases such as obesity, cancer, Alzheimer’s and birth defects. Though these diseases have been there in history, they have been on the increase in the present day and the cause can only be attributed to the genetically modified foods. Due to these health related problems, genetically engineered foods are not the best for human consumption.
There is therefore need to put labels on these kinds of food to differentiate them from organic foods. Customers will be able to make a choice on the kinds of food that they want to buy (Louise, nd). In terms of nutrition, genetically modified foods have low nutritional levels. For instance, vitamin C levels in the fruits that at one time or another encountered with chemicals during their growth cannot resemble those of the earlier days that grew with no chemical contact. Food that is grown conventionally has 50 percent more of the nutrients such as minerals and vitamins than the organic produce.
This means that people will have to eat more of the food such as fruits to cater for the deficiency. This is a good idea but it also means that more chemicals will be eaten exposing the body to more dangerous diseases (Louise, nd). Cattle and poultry that are the main source of animal proteins are fed with a cocktail of hormones and anti-biotic. Their meat is very dangerous to human health; the chemicals have been stored in their bodies. When such meat is eaten, the chemicals are then stored in the bodies of humans and as they accumulate, they cause diseases.
More so, animals kept under such conditions are not healthy and they do not produce food that is of high quality (Louise, nd). New allergens New allergies have been created by GM foods. For instance, in Europe and the US many children have developed life-threatening food allergies. The food that normally causes these allergies is in most cases genetically modified. In genetic engineering of crops or animals, a gene is introduced into a plant or animal. Foreign genes enter into organisms’ DNA haphazardly and disrupt the region into which they wedge and can for this reason alter the cellular function.
The powerful promoters artificially attached can induce imbalanced expressions to the native genes that are adjacent. Inserted genes produce proteins to the host cells that could disrupt complex biochemical feedback loops. Each disruption can generate toxic substances and carcinogens that cause new allergen or allergic reactions. The unsupervised testing that is currently being performed cannot adequately screen for potential health problems. There is need to carryout extensive research and testing of the GM foods to avoid possible allergic harm to consumers.
GM foods labeling is in this case essential to inform the consumers about possible body reactions (Whitman, 2000). Resistance to antibiotics Greater anxiety is felt when organisms get into contact with nature. What happens as genetically modified organisms get to interact with the other organisms? Plants that are resistant to weed killer chemicals are bound to become uncontrolled weeds when they get into other fields where they are not needed. A crop that has resisted the plant killers can pollinate a weed species of a similar family.
The genetic characteristic of resisting killers will definitely be passed on to the weed. The weeds will develop resistance to killers and it will be difficult to eliminated them using chemicals. In the same way, due to the introduction of foreign materials in the bodies of human beings from the genetically modified food, the body will of course change and antibiotics that were used to cure certain diseases will no longer work to a completely changed body. The body will resist these antibiotics (Dharmananda, 2005). Fears The technology of genetically modified foods has scared people.
Just like nuclear weapons are threat to the world, people all over the world are scared of the impacts that are created by genetic modification technology. The excessive pesticide DDT use has had devastating effects on humans and animals. Water supplies have been contaminated with mercury and soil with lead. Global warming has resulted due to human activities such as genetic modification of organisms. People have every reason to feel insecure of these man-made catastrophes. There have also been worries about the human activities even from non-technological point of view such as forests decimating.
For these and other reasons, some people want human beings to with immediate effect stop altering the nature including the alteration of organisms’ DNA (Dharmananda, 2005). False information The aim of every business is to make profit and so are the commercial industries as well as farmers. In the labeling of the GM products, companies are expected to disclose the ingredients that are incorporated in their product but no one would risk losing customers by boldly putting in their labels ‘this fruit has been engineered with a nut protein which causes allergies to humans’.
False information is bound to be given on the GMF’s labels. The negative impacts that the GMF’s will have on consumers will definitely be replace by sweet empty words as has happened to many products that are not even genetically modified (Adler, 2004). Withheld information If false information is so hard to give, it can as well be withheld. Industries are on business and for this reason will not disclose all the information that the consumers need to know about the GMF’s. Companies are bound to remain silent about the adverse effects that can result as a result of intake of certain genetically modified products.
For this reason therefore, labeling of GM foods becomes useless if the consumers do not get all the information that they need. The consumer will remain uniformed on the health risks, and the environmental impacts of such commodities (Adler, 2004). Public opinion on genetically modified foods and labels Environmental activists, public interest groups, professional associations, religious organizations, government officials and scientists feel that genetically modified foods are not the best for human consumption and environmental conservation. To them, GM foods are of environmental hazards. They cause unintended harm to organisms.
For instance, when insecticides are spayed to crops to kill particular organisms, some important organisms such as insects that aid pollination are killed in the process. The insecticides kill indiscriminately as it is impossible to come up with an insecticide that kills a specific species. Environmental factors are altered. Furthermore, human beings suffer from serious illness after continued consumption of genetically modified organisms. Religious groups feel that some genes that are incorporated from the food that humans eat are got from organisms that infringe on their religious believes (Whitman, 2000).
Many people however feel otherwise. The benefits of the technology are numerous. Instead of completely banning the technology, reasonable measures should be taken towards producing food that is not harmful to human health. Some genetic modifications such as bacteria use in the production of insulin and yeast to make cheese enzymes have met no objection (Dharmananda, 2005). Many people have the feeling that genetic engineering is inevitable and such a powerful technology that has enormous potential benefits cannot just be ignored for simple reasons.
So, it is like genetically-modified foods are here to stay. However, consumers are the sufferers and caution is needed to avoid unintentionally harming their delicate bodies as well as the environment within which they live. Labeling is essential for those consumers who really mind about their bodies (Whitman, 2000). Controversy over testing and labeling issues Governments all over the world are working towards the establishment of a regulatory process that will monitor GM plants effects and approve new and less harmful varieties.
However the political economic and social climate of different countries is different and thus the governments have responded differently to the GM food issue and labeling (Whitman, 2000). In Japan for instance, the Ministry of Health and Welfare has put it across in April 2001 that testing of the health standards of GM foods was a must. However, rules change over time and testing GM foods has currently been voluntary. The supermarkets in Japan have taken the initiative of offering both the GM foods and the unmodified food for their customers to choose.
The customers have strong preference for the unmodified foods, that is, vegetables and fruits (Whitman, 2000). In India, the government is yet to make a GM foods’ policy for no GM crops and animals are grown. Furthermore, none of their products from other countries are allowed in Indian supermarkets. Despite the fact that GM foods are not available in India, the country has been very supportive on research of transgenic plant. There is a high probability that India will finally decide that GM foods benefits outweigh the risks.
The Indian citizens are languishing in poverty and the one of the ways to counteract this is by adopting new agricultural measures (Whitman, 2000). GM crops have been banned in some of the states in Brazil. “Brazilian Institute for the Defense of Consumers in partnership with Greenpeace has passed a policy to prevent GM food importation. ” The farmers in Brazil have secretly broken the rules as they smuggle the seeds of GM soybeans for their fear of economic harm in the competitive global market (Whitman, 2000). In Europe, protestors have been active against the GM foods.
In the recent years, Europe has been through food scares such as the mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) in the Great Britain and dioxin-tainted food from Belgium. The food scares have scared the consumers from buying European supplies. Citizens no longer trust the government for the information that it gives about GM foods. In responding to this outcry from the public, the governments in Europe have made GM foods’ labeling a mandatory. Additionally, the European Commission established 1% threshold for the contamination of the unmodified foods with products from GM foods (Whitman, 2000).
In the United States of America, the largest producer of GM foods in the world, there is confusion with the regulatory process. Three different agencies from the government have jurisdiction over the GM crops and animals. EPA is an agency that regulates the use of pesticides and other toxins that are bound to cause environmental harm. The USDA on the other hand minds about disease and drought tolerant crops, animal feeds, and crops grown for consumption by human beings. The work of the FDA is to control pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, food additives, as well as the food products and not the whole foods.
The three agencies bring about their controversies. For instance, a GM corn ear that is sold by a producer is not regulated by FDA as it whole food. However, a cornflakes box falls under the regulation of FDA; it is termed as a food product. For FDA, GM foods and unmodified ones are substantially equivalent and for this reason are not subject to the regulation of FDA (Whitman, 2000). The differences in these agencies make it very hard to establish a policy that would control the testing and the labeling of the genetically modified foods in the United States of America.
Each of the agencies tests GM foods and crops in their own fields without involving each other. However, the consumer interest groups want FDA’s recommendation on GM products whether whole or otherwise before they are commercialized (Whitman, 2000). The production and the labeling of the genetically modified foods have brought controversies. According to polls that have been conducted, many consumers in the United States of America would like the GMF’s to have labels. In support, seven states have seen the essence of labeling as well as meeting the market requirements of GM foods (Teisl, Garner, Roe & Vayda, 2003).
The agribusiness industries strongly believe that the labeling should be done voluntarily and should be influenced by free market demands. They argue that the consumers are the ones to decide. If they prefer labeled over the ones that are not labeled, the industries will take the initiative to label their GM products to avoid losing customers. On the other hand, the consumer interest groups demand the mandatory labeling. As put it in an article on Genetically modified foods: harmful or helpful? By Whitman, consumer interest groups argue that “People have the right to know what they are eating” (Whitman, 2000).
The industries have historically, proven their unreliability in their compliance to the safety regulations that exist. The FDA does not take the initiative to ensure that GM foods are labeled because to them, the GM foods are equivalent to the non-modified and are therefore not subject to the stringent labeling. If labeling is to be done in the US on GM foods, the Congress must change first the food labeling policy that exists (Whitman, 2000). If GM food labeling is to become mandatory in the US, many questions must be answered. Will the consumers be willing to pay for the cost of the initiative?
Two processing streams are needed in factories and the production line needs to be closely monitored. Farmers will also have to keep their GM crops from mixing with the non-modified ones during the planting, the harvesting and the shipping. This means an additional cost to the industries and the farmers which will be definitely passed to the consumers. Are the consumers ready for this? (Whitman, 2000). What limits of the GM contamination are acceptable in the non-GM products? According to the EC 1% has been established as an acceptable limit but consumer interest groups hold that it is only 0% that is acceptable.
If labeling of GM foods is to be made mandatory, who will monitor the compliance of companies? What is the penalty that they should pay if they fail to? The FDA had said as quoted earlier that resources to do the testing and ensure compliance are not available (Whitman, 2000). Scientists on the other hand argue that it is not possible using the current technologies to detect very minute contamination quantities to ensure that food has 0% contamination. Researchers are yet to agree on the detectable contamination levels especially in food products that are highly processed such as breakfast cereals and vegetable oils.
The vegetables that have been used to make these products are many and are drawn from different sources. The 1% threshold is perhaps far much below the current detectable levels (Whitman, 2000). Who will carry the responsibility of bringing the public to the awareness of GM food labels? Educating the public will no doubt be a costly exercise and furthermore, food labels need to clearly be designed as well as convey accurate information in the simplest language. The policy for new labeling will however be faced with several challenges.
How can they educate public without hurting public trust and without causing fear in people towards GM foods? (Whitman, 2000). In January of the year 2000, an International Trade Agreement for GM food labeling was established. A hundred and thirty countries with the US included signed the international agreement. According to the agreement, exporters are mandatorily required to put labels on all the GM foods so that importing countries can choose what is best for them. As Whitman states in an article on Genetically modified foods: harmful or helpful?
“Importing countries have the right to judge for themselves the potential risks and reject GM foods, if they so choose” The agreement will perhaps spur The US government in the resolution of the dilemma on domestic food labeling (Whitman, 2000). Conclusion Labeling of GMF’s is important to give the consumers the information about what they consume. However controversies have risen on the labeling of the GMF’s. Genetically-modified foods are capable of feeding many who are hungry in the world, and solve malnutrition problems but they are harmful and for this reason need to be labeled.
There are however many challenges for governments especially in issues related to safety testing, food labeling and regulation. References Adler, J. (2004). Regulating genetically modified foods: is mandatory labeling the right answer? Richmond Journal of Law & Technology. Vol X (2). Retrieved from http://jolt. richmond. edu/v10i2/article14. pdf Dharmananda, S. (2005). Issues surrounding genetically modified (GM) products. Retrieved from http://www. itmonline. org/arts/gmo. htm Human Genome Program. (2008). Genetically modified foods and organisms. Retrieved from http://www. ornl.
gov/sci/techresources/Human_Genome/elsi/gmfood. shtml Louise, V. (nd). The advantages of organic food. Retrieved from http://www. organicfoodinfo. net/ Roseboro, K. (2007). The organic food handbook: a consumer’s guide to buying and eating organic food. Laguna: Basic Health Publications Teisl, M.. , Garner, L. , Roe, B. , & Vayda, M. (2003). Labeling genetically modified foods: How do US consumers want to see it done? Retrieved from http://www. agbioforum. org/v6n12/v6n12a11-teisl. htm Whitman, D. (2009). Genetically modified foods: harmful or helpful? Retrieved from http://www. csa. com/discoveryguides/gmfood/overview. php