Genetically modified organism entail plants and animals whose genetic structures have been altered through genetic engineering to improve their quality. Most of the genetically modified agricultural produce are usually modified to make them resistant harsh conditions. This practicing has been going on for years through traditional breeding methods that entail selection of plants or animals with desirable qualities and breeding them to improve the quality of the offspring. Agricultural plants are commonly modified to increase crop yields, limit needs for using pesticides, reduce the cost for food production, enhance the nutrient composition of agricultural produce, and promote food security in the country.
Improved nutrient content
Science has proven the safety of GMO foods through research. Although people consider genetically modified foods dangerous, genetic engineering has improved the nutrient content in some of the agricultural produce. This is especially considered in foods that have a high therapeutic value such as probiotics and vitamins A, C, and E. An example is the “Golden Rice” which had been fortified with beta-carotene by modifying its genetic properties (Zhang and Zhang). The rice was meant to help individuals living in developing areas of the world access adequate nutrients. The World Health Organization (WHO) has also supported the fortification of staple foods with vitamin A (World Health Organization). Some of the effects of Vitamin A deficiency include dryness of skin and eyes, night blindness, infertility, and slow wound healing. As such, the fortification of Vitamin in products such as rice and sugar has reduced vitamin A deficiency cases and promoted the well-being of individuals who were initially affected by this problem.
Some of the effects associated with GMO foods that affect its acceptance by some people include the belief that these foods contain harmful chemicals that could contribute to mutations or other genetic changes in humans. A microbial pesticide found in some GMO foods, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) protein Cry1Ab, which was discovered in Japan I 1901 has been falsely associated with negative effects in humans. Scientific research conducted on the use of this pesticide has proven that it does not have any harmful effects on humans. According to the study, the level of this Bt protein in GMO crops is very low. Bt protein levels is further reduced in human food through food processing. Extensive research conducted has revealed that the pesticide does not have any effect on non-targeted species. Before the use of such pesticides in GMO crops, a safety profile is conducted to reflect the effects of the chemical on different species. The use of Bt protein provides additional benefits to humans by limiting their exposure to pesticides used though approaches like spraying, reducing greenhouse effects through the emission of these chemicals to the environment. Bt protein also reduces fumonisin levels in corn. Fumonisin B1 is the most common toxin affecting maize even after storage (Koch, Ward and Levine). By reducing the level of these toxins, Bt protein reduces the likelihood of food poisoning resulting from fumonisin affected maize.
Most modern day health problems have been blamed on using GMO foods. Research shows that the genetic modifications in wheat have not altered the gluten content in wheat in the twentieth century. As such, diseases such as diabetes, obesity, gluten-intolerance, and celiac disease could be caused by other dietary practices not directly related to intake of GMO foods. The relationship between wheat content and these diseases could be associated with the per capita intake of carbohydrates rich foods such as wheat. The 20th century was characterized by wheat intake increases. There is a lack of evidence linking the risk of celiac disease with wheat. For people with genetic diseases, variation in their individual diets with regard to the types, level of wheat consumed could be linked to toxicity. Research on genetic susceptibility among people with the histocompatibility complex DQ2 and DQ8 should be conducted to determine whether they are vulnerable to conditions associated with wheat products (Kasarda). There are numerous factors revolving around people lifestyles, their daily dietary intake, involvement in physical activity, emotional, and socioeconomic factors that could be attributed to changes in their health.
Concerns regarding the use of genetically modified corn has been linked to its effects on rats. The strain of rats used in the study was vulnerable to tumors. The reports also showed that very few rats were used in the study and as such, alternative confounding factors could have been associated with the tumors. It was also unclear if the rats would have developed the tumors regardless of what they were fed. People should understand that these modifications are usually meant to affect specific species. The modifications that make crops pest resistance are incapable of having the same effects on humans (Entine). Similarly, the modifications conducted on corn that resulted in rat tumors would not result in cancerous tumors among humans.
Criticism related to GMO foods usually emerges from individuals supporting organic farming and those viewed as the “green fallacy.” According to them, everything that is not cultivated organically is unhealthy. Politics also play a key role in how people view GMOs. The “green fallacy” movement is firmly stuck on the left side of the political spectrum. They are constantly suspicious of the capitalist companies that come up with genetically engineered foods. While they support the scientific arguments related to climate change, they fail to see how the use of GMO is an effective way of reducing the emission of pesticides to the climate (Reville). Genetically engineered foods have the potential to resolve the food insecurity problem affecting the world.
Some of the approaches that could be used to resolve the misconceptions related to GMOs include the provision of community education, involving more people in research related to GMOs, using media sources to communicate to people relevant information about the changes these crops undergo and using workshops. The workshops could enable people to view the difference between genetically engineered crops and other crops. Aside from that, both small-scale and large-scale farmers should be educated about the use of GMO seeds and the expected produce (Wunderlich and Gatto). These approaches would help people embrace the use of these crops.
Genetically modified foods offer a solution to problems such as food security, micronutrient deficiency, and pest control. Genetic engineering helps to protect plants from toxins such as fumonisin that would otherwise affect the quality of maize, making it unsuitable for human consumption. Fortification practices such as the use of Vitamin A in the “Golden rice” helped in reducing the prevalence of Vitamin A deficiencies among affected people in developing countries. Most of the agricultural issues that would affect people today such as inadequate food production, pesticides, and nutrient deficiencies have been resolved by the introduction of genetically engineered foods.
Entine, Jon. Zombie retracted Seralini GMO maize rat study republished to hostile scientist reactions. 24 June 2014. https://www.forbes.com/sites/jonentine/2014/06/24/zombie-retracted-seralini-gmo-maize-rat-study-republished-to-hostile-scientist-reactions/#40e2088a72f2. Web. 3 February 2018.
Kasarda, Donald D. “Can an increase in celiac disease be attributed to an increase in the gluten content of wheat as a consequence of wheat breeding?” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry (2013): 61(6), 1155-1159. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3573730/. Web.
Koch, Michael S., et al. “The food and environmental safety of BT crops.” Frontiers in Plant Science (2015): 6: 283. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4413729/. Web.
Reville, William. Are genetically modified organisms safe? The Irish Times. 2 August 2018. https://www.irishtimes.com/news/science/are-genetically-modified-organisms-safe-1.3575044 Web. 3 February 2019.
World Health Organization. Vitamin A Fortification of Staple Foods. 17 December 2018. https://www.who.int/elena/titles/vitamina_fortification/en/ Web. 3 February 2018.
Wunderlich, Shahla and Kesley A. Gatto. “Consumer perception of genetically modified organisms and sources of information.” Advances in Nutrition: An International Review Journal (2015): 6(6), 842-851. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4642419/.
Zhang, Chen and Han Zhang. “Genetically modified foods: A critical review of their promise and problems.” Food Science and Human Wellness (2016): 116-123. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2213453016300295. Web.