Modern biotechnology is recognised as one of a good potential application in agriculture sector and Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) is one of this application which is widely used in Malaysia in order to reinforce its agricultural sector as it rapidly increases in crops production. GMO can be defined as any organism which its genetic material has been modified using genetic engineering techniques. Basically, GMO research activities in Malaysia are more focused more on food, feed and processing purposes. Even though Malaysia has approved the use of Genetically Modified Food (GMF) technology application, but it must follow the safety measure or precaution through the exact channel provided. Then, the Halal status should be highlighted in order to be acceptance for Muslim consumer especially. Next, labelling of GMF product should be displayed properly so that our community have a right to choose their own food. Despite its known benefits, GMF also pose many concerns not only to human and animal health but also to the environment.
This objective of this article is to reviews ethical perception of this technology regarding the GMF in Malaysia. Several issues concerning GMF will be analysed towards its benefit and drawbacks for human health, ecosystems and biodiversity is briefly reviewed.
Biotechnology was commenced in Malaysia by mid 1990s by focusing on research through other country to enhance a higher yield and produce good quality of rubber, oil palm and agricultural commodities. In 2005, the National Biotechnology Policy (NBP) was launched with an objective to develop biotechnology sector and provide an efficient ecosystem for the biotechnology industry (Arujanan & Singaram, 2018). With the establishment of the NBP, this sector has received solid governmental support and commitment through financial support for its research and development (R&D), infrastructure and human resource development. Under the 9th Malaysia Plan, biotechnology raise a budget for more than RM 20000 million in order to ensure that the agriculture sector in Malaysia, regarding to food production and processing will improve significantly through advance biotechnology process.
Malaysia is also become an approval signatory to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety that requires the National Biosafety Board (NBB) to legalize the release of products of such organism, importation or exportation and contained use of living modified organisms with the objectives of protecting human health, plant, and animal, protect the environment and biological diversity (Holst-Jensen, 2009).
The Importance of Genetically Modified Food (GMF)
There are many benefits to be gained from this derived technology in various sectors. Firstly, the GMF will helps the food industries from the manufacturer until the processor to pull alongside with the food demand. Secondly, GMF not only give arise number of foods supplied, but it will produce better crops simultaneously which are not only resistant to crop diseases but also has more durable shelf life. Then, GMF will improved of inadequate food supply system which, if it is occur, it will create the food crisis in our population. Perhaps is due to its characteristics which is it resistance to longer time which directly highlighted the importance of GMF that supposed to be developed in Malaysia (Ismail et al., 2018).
The vital parts regarding this biotechnology is even though its product from our local was not fully developed and commercialized but other GMOs product from other countries are slowly coming into the country. Apart from this, it is depending on how publics’ acceptance to commercialize the modern biotechnology products in Malaysia because one may feel doubts, fears, concerns in this modern biotechnology and to assure that it has low potential risks to human health, society and also to the environment (Amin et al., 2010).
Issue and challenges of Genetically Modified Food (GMF)
There are several issue and challenges related to this GMF as it may concern in various sector from the consumer especially Muslim until to the industrial sector. It may include:
- The halal status of the GMF
- Labelling issue of the GMF product
- Religion concern
- Social and ethical concern
- Health concern
Halal status of Genetically Modified Food (GMF)
Until now, there is no fatwa or declaration about GMF that can be clearly used a as guideline. However, on 12th July 1999, there is a fatwa dealt with the issue of swine genes and was issued by the National Fatwa Committee which clarify that any product, food or drink processed using biotechnological methods incorporating swine DNA is against the principles of Syariah. Therefore, it is not allowable, and Malaysia have yet to reach a stage whereby the rule of ‘necessities overrule prohibitions’ could be applied.While this fatwa clearly put down the rule for swine DNA, there are still many other issues regarding the GM food that still need to be looked at such as the usage of DNA from other source of animal. Some of these issues were further addressed by a newer fatwa in 2011 whereby the use of other animal that is halal (to consume) is acceptable if the animals are slaughtered according to the Syariah compliance (Ismail et al., 2018).
Labelling Issue of Genetically Modified Food (GMF)
Food labels a crucial part for a product as it becomes as a legal requirement for many reasons. This label help consumers to have a knowledge about what contains inside the foods, then, they can make a choice whether to buy it or not, help them to determine the right place to store and use it safely according to their cultural or dietary preferences. Hence, labelling issue is one of the consequential concerns rising from the fast developments of GM crops that will subsequently enter the market as GM products. The Biosafety Act takes action to the food industry to label the product that contain GMOs as compulsory.
In June 2010, the Malaysian government has endorsed new regulations on the labelling of GMOs in food through amendments to the Food Regulations under Food Act 1983. This new regulation then came into obligatory in July 2014 and are intended to give consumers proper information through labelling, as to whether a package contains GM food or ingredients as well as whether the product is derived from the use of GM technology. These regulations are in accordance with the provision in the Biosafety Act under section 61 which states that “All LMOs, items containing LMOs and products of such organisms shall be clearly identified and labelled in a manner to be prescribed and the requirements for such identification and labelling shall be in addition to any other written law.” Based on this guideline for the GM food labelling, its requirement shall only apply to the three main ingredients in the ingredient list. The product will not be labelled when GMO contents are not more than 3% of the food ingredients(Andrew et al., 2018).
Malaysia is known to have a multicultural, and multi-religious society, with the Malay-Muslim as a biggest in Malaysia. The practice of Islamic values is obvious in the daily lives of the Malays-Muslim since is become a major characteristic of this community to obedience with Islam, the official religion of Malaysia (Isa et al., 2015). Hence, religion concern become a great factor that related to the genetically modified food especially for Muslim consumers whom protect the halalan toyibban. GMF even if found to be allowable from the Islamic perspective, there are more aspect of the toyibban to be consideration for Muslim dietary requirement which emphasized that food must be safe, nutritious and healthy for consumption. The expert from Islamic governance bodies such as JAKIM, GMF experts from MARDI and Ministry of Health officers, also play important roles with this legislation and regulatory framework to handle the GMF in Malaysia (Amin et al., 2010).
The Muslim respondents seemed not to be very accepting of this issue due to their understanding which the process of the GMF are the transfer of animal genes to plants. They were also indecisive with regards to whether humans have the right to modify living things for their benefit as well as whether modern biotechnology is regarded as threatening the natural order of things (Isa et al., 2015). Then, the studies on GMF product was conducted in the perspectives of customers from developed and non- Muslims dominated countries such as in Europe region such as Italy, Germany, Finland, and Australia. From the studies showed that the Muslim customers with their strict dietary law have an unique and different buying behaviour as well as food selection Halal global food market contributed to more than 60% of an overall market of Halal products worldwide. This goes to show how there is a action taken to fully understand and dealing with the acceptance and buying behaviour of Muslim customers, especially with GMF becoming ever increasingly important to the global food supply chain(Ismail et al., 2018).
Social and Ethical Concern
Hence, the development of this modern technology has created social and ethical contradictions. There are two categories of moral or ethical concerns regarding modern biotechnology which are intrinsic and extrinsic. Extrinsic objection refers to the concernsregarding the possible risks of different applications of biotechnology to human health, the environment, economy and society. The common concerns include the need for labelling and patenting rights of the scientists, while the economic concerns include the risk of denying the benefits of modern biotechnology to society, the economy and farmers, and monopoly of modern biotechnology products market by giant companies(Amin et al., 2010).
Meanwhile, intrinsic objections declare that the process of modern biotechnology is intolerable due to the claim that this biotechnology is not naturally occur, and it threatening the natural order of living things. In some cases the intrinsic concerns include a religious dimension when they are accompanied by an underlying set of religious beliefs and principles concerning the relationships between God, Nature and human beings(Amin et al., 2010). Besides that, environmentalists believe that engineering of the genetic materials can change the global ecosystem from all possible aspects as it may disturb the balance of nature and cause serious hazards for beneficial insects.
There is a drawback of health regarding the GMF, relatively long-term effect and safety because genetically engineering foods is a new practice in our country. The irregular introduction of genes from another species may cause allergens to spread into non-allergenic food, increased antibiotic resistance, or increased toxicity. Genes extracted from animals (to be inserted into plants) may raise ethical, religious and health concerns. According to the Malaysian Organic Scheme, GMOs (and products derived from GMOs) cannot be used in any aspect of organic production and handling. There is no exception to this rule (Andrew et al., 2018).
Some people believe that GMO foods have more potential to trigger allergic reactions due to it may contain genes from an allergen (food that stimuli an allergic reaction). The World Health Organization (WHO) discourage genetic engineers from using DNA from allergens unless they can prove that the gene itself does not cause the problem.
Some researchers believe that eating GMO foods can contribute to the development of cancer. They argue that because the disease is caused by mutations in DNA, it is dangerous to introduce new genes into the body. However, until now, the research is still on-going to make an evidence related to this issue.
It is important to understand that public attitudes towards GMF are a complex issue due to many factors. These factors include a related concern about biotechnology, confidence in regulation, societal values, moral aspects, and attitude to labelling and patenting. Malaysians, in general, has indifference perceptions towards GMF. Acceptance of GMF has also been associated to religious acceptability such as in Halal issue (Amin et al., 2010). A recent study on Muslim consumers’ perception and purchase intention toward GMF has found that perceived benefits showed significant positive influence on attitude and attitude affects purchase intention towards GMF. Thus, social media should spread the relevant information and educate the public about this biotechnology. It is also important to look at the possible attitudes which influence the public perception in order to adequately understand the multiple aspects process related to GMF acceptance (Andrew et al., 2018). Most of this perception was focusing on consumers, experts (academician across fields), religious leaders and food industry. Even though Malaysian consumers are not familiar with GM crops or foods, they also have concerns regarding health risks associated with GM food consumption.
As a conclusion, Malaysia has a strong potential to develop the biotechnology sector, but then, there is a lot practice should be done to evaluate the current system and set the right priorities on it. Biotechnology innovation should be focused for future needs so that it will growth the economy of Malaysia. Developing the new policies towards legislation of the biotechnology current issue and implement it. There is a need to change the funding mechanism, research institute and commercialisation. These issues are increasingly important to consider as the number of GMFs continues to increase due to improved laboratory techniques and tools for sequencing whole genomes, better processes for cloning and transferring genes, and improved understanding of gene expression systems. Thus, legislative practices that regulate this research must keep pace. Furthermore, there is a need also for the Islamic religious authorities and the Islamic scholars to come out with clear guidelines on the permissible status of various kinds of inter-species gene transfers to guide the Muslim in public so that the consumer does not hesitate to accept and support this modern biotechnology. Lastly, prior to permitting commercial use of GMF, governments should accomplish risk assessments to determine the possible consequences of their use and estimating the impact of this modern biotechnology so that it may give a benefit for human health, ecosystems and biodiversity.
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