Genetically modified foods

Introduction

The issue about whether genetically modified food products should be allowed into the market has drawn emotive debates. The contentious issues that have characterized the debate have drawn a lot of media coverage.

Many people, especially those without technological knowhow about what –how genetically modified foods are processed, have found it very hard to get hard facts about this issue (Nestle, pp. 2). Genetically modified foods are no longer a scientific, technological, or an environmental issue as it was initially thought to be, rather, it has now become a social, ethical, economic, and political issue (Mandel, pp. 1).

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The debate pertaining to GMOs revolves around manipulation of the DNA. In genetically modified foods, genes are manipulated in such away that particular genes can be identified, isolated, and copied. This process leads to the transfer of genes into other organisms in a direct and a controlled way. In fact, genetic modification allows for transfer of genes between species.

The process is normally done so that crop varieties that are resistant to pests, diseases, and herbicides are produced. With genetic modification, even early maturing crop varieties have been invented. In fact, plant and animal products with desired qualities like fruits that are not easily invaded by mound and plants with reduced levels of natural toxicants have been produced by gene manipulation (Leighton, pp. 319).

Moreover, crops that can grow in less hospitable conditions like drought prone areas have been produced by gene manipulation. This research paper seeks to advance a proposal argument that allows food modifications as long as it can be regulated and adequately labeled (Mandel, pp. 2).

Genetic modification of food should be accepted as long as laws are put in place to regulate the process and these genetically modified foods are adequately labeled. A major fear among consumers has been the safety of genetically modified food products (Wargo, pp. 12).

Consumers have quite often intimated that marker genes that are used in genetic modification can confer resistance to antibiotics among populations that use these foods. Some of the concerns raised are genuine, but then, the advantages of embracing the use of genetically modified food products outweigh the disadvantages. Theirs is no need for consumers to fear about their safety as systems have been developed that can help in assessing the safety of genetically modified foods (Derek, pp. 1845).

As a matter of fact, genetically modified foods are normally subjected to rigorous safety assessments based on rational scientific evaluation. Genetically modified foods products should not just be shunned away based on safety. Countries should take cue from European Union countries that have initiated regulatory mechanisms to check on GMOs (Leighton, pp. 5). Those who are opposed to the use of genetically modified foods normally cite Rowett Institute’s case to back their arguments.

The media has fueled the unease regarding GMOs by alluding to the fact that research had proved that all genetically modified foods are potentially unsafe for human consumption. However, these facts were not fully corroborated as the findings only related to potato material to which concanavalin A had been added. The claims, unless, critically and precisely assessed cannot help the course of demystifying genetically modified foods debate (Mandel, pp. 2).

The United States Pioneer Hi-Breed has also advanced that genetically modified foods are inherently dangerous. This company introduced genes from Brazil nuts into Soybeans so that levels of sulphur-rich amino acids could be increased. It should be noted that the soya was supposed to be an animal feed and not human. Tests that were conducted made it apparent that the nut protein that was subsequently transferred to soybean was allergenic to humans.

The project was disbanded because the company feared that the soybean would eventually find its way into the human population. This should not be a major concern that should contribute to banning genetically modified foods especially if safety measures are put in place by concerned government agencies to check against unintended introduction of allergen into a genetically modified crop. Basically, this is not a reason that should be advanced to prevent production of GMOs (Welsh 1).

The use of antibiotic resistance as a marker system for gene uptake continues to create a lot of worries. It is imperative that this issue be treated with a lot of sobriety so that matters raised do not border on sentimentalism. In fact, the general process should not be condemned just because of the genetic markers issue. Factually, the antibiotics used in marker systems are never used in disease treatment. Genes and their products, the enzymes, are destroyed when the food undergoes heat processing.

Two cases that have been brought to fore: that of maize developed by Novartis which contained a gene for ampicillin resistance, and potato developed by Avebe that had gene for amikacin resistance, did not take cognizance of the fact that the maize was supposed to be used unprocessed in animal feed and that the antibiotic resistance gene was under the control of a bacterial promoter.

With regard to this, concerns were expressed to the effect that antibiotic resistance gene could be transferred to the animal gut and form the normal microbial flora in the gut of both human and animals. It was feared that these microbes could possibly develop resistance to clinically important antibiotics. This has characterized the difficulty faced by Novartis and Avebe in gaining full regulatory approval.

This should not be a source of worry or a reason for campaigning against genetic modification of food because alternate technologies are being developed to address this concern, such as the use of different marker systems. Intensive researches are being conducted to address the issue of genetic markers. However, resistance to antibiotics should be treated with caution and a lot of care taken to avoid the possibility of compromising the clinical use of antibiotics (Leighton, pp. 6).

The products of biotechnology require some oversight and not the process of biotechnology. The oversight should see to it that human health and the environment are securely free from the deleterious effects of transgenic products. Up to this far, the Coordinated Framework for Regulation of Biotechnology was conceived.

With the existence of administrative agencies like FDA, EPA, and USDA, it is needless banning the production of foods that are genetically manufactured. The Food and Drug Administration handles food safety issues for transgenic crops and food-animal varieties. It also ensures that drug safety issues for modified pharmaceutical producing plants or animals are adequately addressed.

The Environment Protection Agency (EPA) handles issues related to health and environmental effects of pest-protected plants while the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) looks into how genetically modified plants can impact other plants and animals in agricultural and non-agricultural environments (Mandel, pp. 2).

With the Food and Drug Administration in place, the fear about safety of food products sold in the United States markets other than meat and poultry should be dispelled because this agency does premarket consultations with various food manufacturing companies, seed companies, and plant developers to guarantee safety of transgenic foods.

FDA regulations do not treat modern rDNA techniques any different from conventionally modified plants. According to Section 409 of the FFDCA, an inserted gene of a transgenic plant and the product that it expresses are classified as food additives (Mandel, pp. 2).

The FDA approves these additives before they are used as food product hence there is no reason for fear of using them by the general public. In fact, the FDA holds that substances that are components of food after genetic modifications have been done are basically similarly to substances found in food substances like proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and oils (Williams, pp. 20).

This makes them to be classified as GRAS. The FDA’s has never championed for labeling of genetically modified foods. They have however concluded that these food products are not any different from the conventional food that the population consumes. However, because of safety concerns and usage issues, the FDA is emphatic that the substantial changes in composition and nutritive values characterized with these foods logically calls for labeling.

With the label, people will evaluate for themselves what such food contains nutritionally relative to other foods and make informed decisions for themselves rather than blankettly condemning such foods. Other than plants, consumers of animal products like fish have no reason to fear eating them. The FDA evaluates the animal drug safety relative to the health of man and animals.

The usage of these drugs is also looked at relative to their effects on the environment. The FDA also has jurisdiction over pharmaceuticals grown in genetically modified plants used in humans. In fact, the FDA regulates the use of plants that express allergenic and toxic compounds in pharmaceuticals. The agency guards against introduction of non-food materials into food materials (Mandel 4).

The Environment Protection Authority regulates pesticides and their residues in food products. Before pesticides are distributed or sold, they have to be registered with Environment Protection Authority (EPA). This is stipulated in the FIFRA Act of 1947, which describes a pesticide as a substance meant to prevent, destroy, repel, or mitigate any pest.

Pesticides are only registered by the EPA on condition that they do not cause unreasonable adverse risks to man and the environment. EPA regulates genetic materials inserted into transgenic plants to express pesticides and pesticidal products. Manufacturers of transgenic pest-protected products are obligated to register with EPA before they embark on commercialization of such products.

Individuals who abhor genetically modified foods because of the sensationalized environmental concerns associated with them should rethink their decisions because in essence, EPA regulates environmental and human health impacts associated with genetic modification of plants to produce pesticides (Mandel, pp. 3). It is not disputed that pesticide use does result into residues being left on food (Hamilton and Crossley, pp. 12; Guthman, pp. 10).

However, it should be noted that the body is also charged with determining the tolerance levels of pesticide residues that can be left in the food products. In fact, no FIFRA-registered pest protected plants are subjected to tolerance levels because tests conducted on these transgenic plants do not infer human health risks.

The USDA’s mandate includes approving growth of transgenic plants outside the laboratory. This agency collaborates with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). APHIS draws this authority from Plant Protection Act 47, and has great authority as far as regulation of genetically modified plants is concerned, the only exception being pest-protected plants.

The body undertakes its regulatory functions without impeding the growth of the biotechnology sector. However, some critics have faulted APHIS’ ability to objectively assess the safety of new products of agricultural biotechnology because this role conflicts with its role of promoting agriculture (Mandel, pp. 2).

There are limited chances of biotechnological products negatively impacting the environment because the EPA ensures that anyone seeking to introduce any genetic material into the environment has received express authorization from APHIS. Before new transgenic plants are subjected to field trials, the developers are required by APHIS to perform risk evaluation procedures on the plant to ascertain whether they may affect the environment. APHIS carries out its regulatory role through notification or issuing permissions.

This is ultimately intended at ensuring that GMOs are grown and handled prudently to prevent chances of them escaping to the environment. APHIS also regulates transgenic pharmaceutical-producing plants and thus issues permits before applicants conduct field tests. All these processes are undertaken to guarantee the safety of the general public hence no real reason for people fearing the use of genetically modified food products (Mandel, pp. 4).

Conclusion

Most of the reasons that have been advanced by people who oppose the use of genetically modified food products are issues that are adequately addressed by existing regulations that are provided for by FDA, EPA, and USDA. The issue that remains contentious is resistance to clinical antibiotics. However, this issue is currently being addressed. There is no reason whatsoever as to why GMOs should be banned.

Works Cited

Derek Burke. Why all the fuss about genetically modified food? Much depends on whom Benefits. BMJ, 316(1998):1845-1846. Print.

Guthman, Julie. Agrarian Dreams: The Paradox of Organic Farming in California. California: University of California Press, 2004. Print.

Hamilton, Denis, and Stephen Crossley. Pesticide residues in food and drinking water. New York: J. Wiley, 2004. Print.

Leighton, Jones. Genetically modified foods. BMJ, (1999): 319. Print.

Leighton, Jones. Food biotechnology: current developments and the need for awareness. Nutr Food Sci, 6:5–11, 1996. Print.

Mandel, Gregory. Toward Rational Regulation of Genetically Modified Food. Santa Clara Journal of International Law, 4(1), 2006. Print.

Nestle, Marion. What to Eat. NY: North Point Press, 2006. Print.

Wargo, John. Our Children’s Toxic Legacy: How Science and Law Fail to Protect Us from Pesticides. Yale: Yale University Press, 1998. Print.

Welsh, Rick. The Economics of organic grain and soybean production in the Midwestern United States. Chicago: Henry A. Wallace Institute for Alternative Agriculture, 1999. Print.

Williams, Christine. Nutritional quality of organic food: shades of grey or shades of green? CA: Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 2002. Print.