Genetic Modification (GMO) Of Food

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Agricultural practices of harvesting crops (fruit and vegetables) must consider the environmental impacts, profitability for produces and unknown effects of the genetic modification of foods upon consumption. The biggest issue surrounding GM foods is consumer uncertainty and varying attitudes, and controversy surrounding the labelling of whether or not certain foods have been genetically modified.

This investigation aims to evaluate and report current practices to educate consumers, parliament and produce suppliers regarding GM foods and the marketing and associations related.

A genetically modified organism [GMO] is one that contains genetic material that has been artificially altered to produce a desired characteristic. This can be completed using traditional methods (typically done by cross-breeding organisms that have the preferred trait, mutantional breeding or genome editing) or genetic engineering.[8]

The GM food observed in this report is referring to a more controlled method, referred to as genetic engineering. This method is a technology that involves inserting DNA into the genome of an organism and transferring DNA into the plant cells, thus producing a GM plant, which creates the offspring of genetically mdoified fruit or vegetables.Figure 1: summary of DNA transfers procedures, Agrobacterium tumefaciens method and particle gun method.

The first stage in making a GM plant requires the transfer of DNA into a plant cell. This can occur using DNA to coat the surface of small metal particles with relevant DNA fragment and bombard the particles into the plant cells, by utilising a particle gun.

Another method is to use bacteria or viruses. Numerous types of viruses or bacterias transfer their DNA into a host cell naturally. For GM plants, the bacteria used frequently is the Agrobacterium tumefaciens. The gene wanting to be modified is transferred into the bacteria, and then the bacterial cells then transfer the new DNA into the DNA to the genome of the plant cells. Proliferation of the transfromed cells occurs, which is made possible because individual plant cells have a substantial capacity to generate entire plants.[1]

The predominant GM food producing countries are the United States (73.1 million ha), Brazil (42.2 million ha), Argentina (24.3 million ha), Canada (11.6 million ha) and India (11.6 million ha), as highlighted in Figure 3. This emphasises the extent of global acceptance towards GM in those nations. However, there are many other countries that have publicly opposed GMO food, such as Switzerland (where GM food has been banned since 2005), Russia (which is globally the largest GM-free zone), Europe and Africa (both of which are primarily GM-free), as well as four Asian countries which has banned GM (such as Turkey), and five EU countries (Spain, Portugal, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania) which have recently decreased the cultivation of GM by [image: Image result for gm food countries]18%. Figure 3: top 10 GM cultivators in the world.

The public’s attitude towards GM food varies throughout societies. The primary reason people avoid GM foods is due to health and well-being concerns (70%) wanting food-ingredient transparency (43%), enviornmental impact concerns (34%) and unsupportive companies using GMOs (33%). Figure 5: attitudes towards GM food over time, and how education and political beliefs affect opinions. There has also been an overall decrease in consumers purchasing GM food, as in comparison to the year prior, a study by the Hartman group showed that 36% of consumers have increased their purchases of non-GM products, only 9% have bought fewer non-GM products, and 55% are buying the same amount. This may suggest that there is a decreasing attitude towards GMO food acceptance.[9]

One of the advantages of GM foods includes allowing food to be more nutritious, and also enhancing the taste of food. Dietary risks contribute to over 500,000 deaths annually in the United States, in addition to deaths related to high cholesterol, high BMI, high blood pressure, low physical activity, malnutrition, and other health related issues.[5] By allowing foods to become more nutritious and more appealing in taste, this could allow health to be more achievable to a larger quantity of people. Another potential from a health aspect is that it could prevent food from altering in the preperation stage, for example when potatoes are fried, this can create unhealthy, potentially cancerous traits, and GM foods could overcome this.

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This is also beneficial from a social aspect, as it could allow a longer shelf life. This would reduce food waste, and this is environmentally advantageous, as well as economically, as it could encourage fewer repurchasing for when food rots or goes out of date. One-third of food is disposed of prior to consumption, meaning $940 million is annualy spent on food that is then sent to waste.

Furthermore, plants could be made to grow faster, which would again use less resources, making production cheaper, increasing turn over periods between production and consumption.

GM food is also advantageous, as the crops could be disease or drought-resistant, which could mean that it would require less environmental resources, which may include water and fertilizer. This would be beneficial, as Australia is currently experiencing a drought, which could be overcome if crops were modified to require less water to grow and produce vegetables and fruit.

As an extension to having crops be more disease resistant, it would entail less use of pesticides. Pesticides have created health issues, such as being linked to Alzhiemer’s disease, ADHD, birth defects, and have also reported harm to the nervous system, the reproductive system and the endocrine system.[6] There has also recently been an increase in media attention to the effect of pesticides on other aspects of the environment, particularly bees. Contact pesticides are usually sprayed and can kill bees when they crawl on the sprayed surface of plants, and are also linked to colony collapse disorder.[7]

There has also been the proposed advantage of using foods to act as medicines or vaccinations, however, there is a lack of information relating the effectiveness of this process and a lot more research would have to go into the concept if it were to be used.[4]

The main disadvantages related to GMO foods is the lack of information about any long-term health effects and safety of consumption, as there is very little information and research to say whether or not GM food is safe.

There is also controversy surrounding the ability for GM foods to trigger allergic reactions. This can occur, as allergens can be used as the DNA added to the crops, and it is unknown whether these crops that are modified will then contain the same allergens, which could trigger an allergic reaction. Due to this, the World Health Organisation [WHO] recommends that genetic engineers do not use DNA from allergens.

Some scientists also believe that GMO foods can contribute to the development of cancer. This is because the disease of cancer is caused by mutations in the DNA of the body, which means it could be dangerous when new genes are introduced to the body, as this could cause unprecedented mutations in the DNA, which may mean that the chance of causing cancer is substantially increased.

Scientists are further hesitant, as it could produce antibacterial resistance. This is due to the aim of making crops more resistant to disease, some of these plants genes that make them resistant to antibiotics, and these altered genes may transfer to the body, and may then affect the body’s ability to defend against illness. [3]

In conclusion, there are substantial advantages to using the scientific process of genetically engineering foods, however without a substantial amount of more research related to the long term effects that GM food could have on the body, the use of GM foods in society should be carefully controlled.

Bibliography

  1. Royalsociety.org. (2019). Genetically modified (GM) plants: questions and answers | Royal Society. [online] Available at: https://royalsociety.org/topics-policy/projects/gm-plants/ [Accessed 14 Oct. 2019].
  2. Pew Research Center. (2019). Amid debate over labeling GM foods, most Americans believe they’re unsafe. [online] Available at: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/08/11/amid-debate-over-labeling-gm-foods-most-americans-believe-theyre-unsafe/ [Accessed 27 Oct. 2019].
  3. Healthline. (2019). GMOs: Pros and Cons. [online] Available at: https://www.healthline.com/health/gmos-pros-and-cons#cons [Accessed 27 Oct. 2019].
  4. Barrell, A. and Debra Rose Wilson, C. (2019). Pros and cons of GMO foods: Health and environment. [online] Medical News Today. Available at: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324576.php [Accessed 27 Oct. 2019].
  5. Cspinet.org. (2019). Why Good Nutrition is Important | Center for Science in the Public Interest. [online] Available at: https://cspinet.org/eating-healthy/why-good-nutrition-important [Accessed 27 Oct. 2019].
  6. Nature.com. (2019). The Dangers of Pesticides | Green Science | Learn Science at Scitable. [online] Available at: https://www.nature.com/scitable/blog/green-science/the_dangers_of_pesticides [Accessed 27 Oct. 2019].
  7. En.wikipedia.org. (2019). Pesticide toxicity to bees. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pesticide_toxicity_to_bees [Accessed 27 Oct. 2019].
  8. Agriculture. (2019). Understanding the biology behind GMOs can help consumers evaluate GMO safety. [online] Available at: https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/understanding-the-biology-behind-gmos-can-help-consumers-evaluate-gmo-safety [Accessed 27 Oct. 2019].
  9. Kevin T. Higgins, M. (2019). What Do Consumers Think of GMOs?. [online] Food Processing. Available at: https://www.foodprocessing.com/articles/2018/what-do-consumers-think-of-gmos/ [Accessed 27 Oct. 2019].
  10. ScienceDaily. (2019). Mandatory labels reduce GMO food fears. [online] Available at: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/06/180627160520.htm [Accessed 27 Oct. 2019].

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