Genetically modified foods or GM foods, also known as genetically engineered foods, are foods produced from organisms that have had changes introduced into their DNA using the methods of genetic engineering. Genetic engineering techniques allow for the introduction of new traits as well as greater control over traits than previous methods such as selective breeding and mutation breeding.
Commercial sale of genetically modified foods began in 1994, when Calgene first marketed its unsuccessful Flavr Savr delayed-ripening tomato.Most food modifications have primarily focused on cash crops in high demand by farmers such as soybean, corn, canola, and cotton. GM livestock have been developed, although as of November 2013 none were on the market.
Pros of GMO Foods
- Seeds are genetically changed for multiple reasons, which include improving resistance to insects and generating healthier crops, according to Healthline.com. This can lower risk of crop failure, and make crops better resistant to extreme weather.
- Engineering can also eliminate seeds and produce a longer shelf life, which allows for the “safe transport to people in countries without access to nutrition-rich foods.”
- Environmental benefits. Less chemicals, time, machinery, and land are needed for GMO crops and animals, which can help reduce environmental pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and soil erosion. Enhanced productivity because of GMOs could allow farmers to dedicate less real estate to crops. Also, farmers are already growing corn, cotton, and potatoes without spraying the bacterial insecticide Bacillus thuringiensis because the crops produce their own insecticides, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
- Better nutrition. By modifying some GMO foods in terms of mineral or vitamin content, companies can supply more necessary nutrients and help fight worldwide malnutrition, according to The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations. For example, vitamin A-enhanced rice, or “golden rice,” is helping to reduce global vitamin A deficiencies.
- The use of molecular biology in vaccination development has been successful and holds promise, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Scientists have engineered plants to produce vaccines, proteins, and other pharmaceutical goods in a process called “pharming.”
Cons of GMO Foods
- Food allergies in children under 18 spiked from 3.4 percent in 1997-99 to 5.1 percent in 2009-11, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, though it bears noting that there’s no conclusive scientific link to GMO foods.
- GMOs can pose significant allergy risks, according to a Brown University study. Genetic enhancements often combine proteins not contained in the original organism, which can cause allergic reactions for humans. For example, if a protein from an organism that caused an allergic reaction is added to something that previously didn’t, it may prompt a new allergic reaction.
- Lowered resistance to antibiotics. Some GMOs have built-in antibiotic qualities that enhance immunity, according to Iowa State University, but eating them can lessen the effectiveness of actual antibiotics.
- Genes may migrate. According to The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, “Through ‘gene escape,’ they can pass on to other members of the same species and perhaps other species. Genes introduced in GMOs are no exception, and interactions might occur at gene, cell, plant, and ecosystem level. Problems could result if, for example, herbicide-resistance genes got into weeds. So far, research on this is inconclusive, with scientists divided — often bitterly. But there is scientific consensus that once widely released, recalling transgenes or foreign DNA sequences, whose safety is still subject to scientific debate, will not be feasible.”