Free «Environmental Studies: Genetically Modified Foods» Essay

Environmental Studies: Genetically Modified Foods

Genetically modified (GM) foods are food products that are produced through modification of plants and animals by introducing changes in their DNA through a process known as genetic engineering. This technology has allowed researchers to introduce new traits in food production and also have a greater control over food genetic structure that was previously achieved through mutation and selective breeding. This genetic modification of the DNAs of organisms implies introduction of genes from other organisms that do not occur naturally. I believed that the introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is the best solution to food security in the world until I learnt about their effects on the environment.

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Currently, the most abundant GM food stems from plants, but it is still possible to have GM foods derived from animals in future. According to McHughen (2000), food scientists perform these scientific experiments on organisms in order to improve their yields capacity by introducing disease resistance species and increasing their tolerance to hostile conditions. In future, the genetic modification would also seek to alter the nutrient content in food, reduce its allergic potential, and also improve efficiency of food production. GMOs have a number of advantages that can help in increasing the world food production for the ever increasing population. In addition, the GMOs are drought, pest, and disease resistant, and also have the increased nutritional and medication value.

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However, despite these advantages, there are some challenges people face after the introduction of these methods. Religious organizations, environmental activists, professional associations, public interest groups, and other interested parties have raised their concerns about the GMOs. They have criticized the agribusinesses community for pursuing profits with no concerns over the potential dangers that GMO products pose to the environment. The government has also failed to exercise adequate legislation in regulation of new practices. Most concerns over these organisms fall in three major categories which include economic concerns, human health risks, and environmental hazards.

Environmental and Bio Hazards

Unintended Harm to Less Innocent Organisms

In 2013, the Nature Magazine published a laboratory study that illustrated how pollen from B.t. corn led to a high mortality rate to caterpillars of monarch butterflies. The monarch butterflies feed on milkweed plants but not corn. The most apparent fear is that the wind blows the pollen from B.t. corn to the milkweed plants in adjacent plantations, and the caterpillars are likely to eat the pollen and die. Therefore, in their attempt to control crop pests, the genetic engineering has used its techniques to target the wrong pest. Although the report was not conducted in conditions of a natural field, the results obtained appear to support the view of mass destruction of organism. The B.t. toxin is responsible for killing many larvae of insect species indiscriminately (Pleasants & Oberhauser, 2013). At present, it is not possible to design an effective B.t toxin that will selectively kill the crop damaging pests and leave the others unharmed. Currently, the stakeholders have not reached a consensual agreement on the possible risks of harm to the non-target species, and there are chances that this technology has to be reinvented further.

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Reducing the Effectiveness of Available Pesticides

As the population of some mosquitoes develops resistance to the currently inactive and banned DDT pesticide, the environmentalists are concerned that most insects that are the target of the B.t. pesticide will develop resistance. This will result in all other crops becoming genetically modified on regular basis to produce their own pesticides that can be updated on regular basis.

Possible Risks of Gene Transfer to Non-Target Species

The plants that are engineered for weeds and herbicide tolerance is essentially a cross breed that results in a transfer of the herbicide resistance gene from the crops to the weeds. The ‘super weeds’ are then transformed to be the herbicides tolerant species. In the process, other genes that are introduced may cross over to the non-target crops that are planted next to the GMO crops. According to Nottingham (2003), there are high possibilities of interbreeding as illustrated in the lawsuit by Monsanto Company against farmers who might have harvested the GM crops from Monsanto. The company claimed that the farmers obtained the license from unauthorized source and never paid for the loyalties to the company. On the other hand, the farmers argued that their unmodified food crops were just cross-pollinated naturally from someone else’s GM farm planted in a nearby field.

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Potential Allergic Reactions to Human

GMO peanuts have been reported to cause life-threatening allergies to children due to the characteristics of the introduced genes. This is the reason Brazil abandoned the introduction of soybeans due to potential harms to consumers with food allergies. In addition, the Lancet article examined the effects of GMO potatoes on the digestive track of rats which have a high similarity to that of humans. The report indicated that there was a significant difference between the intestines of rats fed on GM potatoes and those fed on natural potatoes (Ewen, 1999). This effect is very likely to be transferred to human thus causing serious digestion and related health problems.

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From the illustrations provided above, there are major effects of GMO production that have not been addressed and can lead to grave consequences to the flora and fauna in future. The course content together with this information became a turning point to me on my stance regarding the issue of GM crops and plants. Previously, the scientists provided information based only on the advantages of these organisms saying little about the consequential problems with human health and the environment in general. Information on the pros and cons of genetically modified foods has helped me see the impact of these food products from both sides. Therefore, unless these problems are addressed, I strongly disagree with the adoption and establishment of GM foods.

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