Will Eades 83 Agriculture issues Agri Science Are Genetically modified foods harmful or, helpful? In a study in the early 1990’s rats were fed genetically modified tomatoes. Well actually, the rats refused to eat them. They were force-fed. Several of the rats developed stomach lesions and seven out of forty died within two weeks. Although the GM tomato has been taken off the market, millions of acres of soy, corn, canola, and cotton have had foreign genes inserted into their DNA. Millions of people eat GM foods daily. What are some of the advantages of GM foods?
Pest resistance, Crop losses from insect pests can be staggering, resulting in devastating financial loss for farmers and starvation in developing countries. Herbicide tolerance for some crops, it is not cost-effective to remove weeds by physical means such as tilling, so farmers will often spray large quantities of different herbicides (weed-killer) to destroy weeds, a time-consuming and expensive process, that requires care so that the herbicide doesn’t harm the crop plant or the environment. Disease resistance, There are many viruses, fungi and bacteria that cause plant diseases.
Plant biologists are working to create plants with genetically-engineered resistance to these diseases. Cold tolerance Unexpected frost can destroy sensitive seedlings. An antifreeze gene from cold water fish has been introduced into plants such as tobacco and potato. With this antifreeze gene, these plants are able to tolerate cold temperatures. Drought tolerance, As the world population grows and more land is utilized for housing instead of food production, farmers will need to grow crops in locations reviously unsuited for plant cultivation, or high salt content in soil and groundwater will help people to grow crops in unsuitable places.
Pharmaceuticals Medicines and vaccines often are costly to produce and sometimes require special storage conditions not readily available in third world countries. Researchers are working to develop edible vaccines in tomatoes and potatoes. These vaccines will be much easier to ship, store and administer than traditional injectable vaccines. Human health risks Allergenicity, Many children in the US and Europe have eveloped life-threatening allergies to peanuts and other foods. There is a possibility that introducing a gene into a plant may create a new allergen or cause an allergic reaction in susceptible individuals.
A proposal to incorporate a gene from Brazil nuts into soybeans was abandoned because of the fear of causing unexpected allergic reactions. Extensive testing of GM foods may be required to avoid the possibility of harm to consumers with food allergies. Unknown effects on human health, There is a growing concern that introducing foreign genes into food plants may have an nexpected and negative impact on human health. A recent article published in Lancet examined the effects of GM potatoes on the digestive tract in rats.
This study claimed that there were appreciable differences in the intestines of rats fed GM potatoes and rats fed unmodified potatoes. Yet critics say that this paper, like the monarch butterfly data, is flawed and does not hold up to scientific scrutiny. Moreover, the gene introduced into the potatoes was a snowdrop flower lectin, a substance known to be toxic to mammals. The scientists who created this variety of otato chose to use the lectin gene simply to test the methodology, and these potatoes were never intended for human or animal consumption.
Economic concerns Bringing a GM food to market is a lengthy and costly process, and of course agri- biotech companies wish to ensure a profitable return on their investment. Many new plant genetic engineering technologies and GM plants have been patented, and patent infringement is a big concern of agribusiness. Yet consumer advocates are worried that patenting these new plant varieties will raise the price of seeds so high hat small farmers and third world countries will not be able to afford seeds for GM crops, thus widening the gap between the wealthy and the poor.
Patent enforcement may also be difficult, as the contention of the farmers that they involuntarily grew Monsanto-engineered strains when their crops were cross-pollinated shows. One way to combat possible patent infringement is to introduce a “suicide gene” into GM plants. These plants would be viable for only one growing season and would produce sterile seeds that do not germinate. Farmers would need to buy a fresh supply of eeds each year.
However, this would be financially disastrous for farmers in third world countries who cannot afford to buy seed each year and traditionally set aside a portion of their harvest to plant in the next growing season. In an open letter to the public, Monsanto has pledged to abandon all research using this suicide gene technology. Conclusion Genetically-modified foods have the potential to solve many of the world’s hunger and malnutrition problems, and to help protect and preserve the environment by increasing yield and reducing eliance upon chemical pesticides and herbicides.
Yet there are many challenges ahead for governments, especially in the areas of safety testing, regulation, international policy and food labeling. Many people feel that genetic engineering is the inevitable wave of the future and that we cannot afford to ignore a technology that has such enormous potential benefits. However, we must proceed with caution to avoid causing unintended harm to human health and the environment as a result of our enthusiasm for this powerful technology.