Then in May 2000, honey on sale in supermarkets was found to be contaminated with GM pollen from British crop trials. Two out of nine samples show contamination" (Chapman 2006:5). The results of an analysis by Fox (1999) confirmed this cross-contamination of pollen: "The pollen produced by these plants, carrying new genes, cannot be contained. As a result, genetic pollution of natural crop varieties and of wild plant relatives may occur. Unlike other forms of pollution, genetic pollution is uncontrollable, irreversible, and permanent, posing a major threat to biodiversity and to the bio-integrity of the entire life community" (Fox 1999:37). Despite the findings of these studies, in 2000, the National Research Council emphasized that based on its research, it was unable to identify "any evidence suggesting that foods on the market today are unsafe to eat as a result of genetic modification" (quoted in Wooster 2001 at 58).
Moreover, Morse notes that even the findings reported in the aforementioned study by Pusztai were dubious at best. "The few studies claiming genetically modified food is harmful are highly controversial," Morse points out and adds, "For example, in 1999 The Lancet published a study by Arpad Pusztai claiming that some people who ate genetically modified potatoes suffered organ damage" (2001:58). More importantly, this author emphasizes that, "The Lancet also published a critique stating that Pusztai's experiments were 'incomplete, included too few animals per diet group, and lacked controls' and thus 'do not allow the conclusion' the potatoes were dangerous. Pusztai was then sacked for publicizing research which hadn't been peer-reviewed" (quoted in Wooster 2001 at 58).
Yet another study sponsored by the UK government determined that 90% of British consumers were adamant about refusing to consume products that contained genetically modified components until there were further studies conducted to ensure that these techniques were safe (Chapman 2006). Likewise, Huffman, Shogren, Rousu and Tegene (2003) report the results of a telemarketing survey conducted in February 1999 in New Haven, Connecticut that found that an overwhelming majority of the respondents (82%) surveyed strongly believed that genetically modified foods should be so labeled, a finding these researchers note is congruent with a majority of the surveys concerning genetically modified foods that have been conducted to date.
Positive and Negative Arguments Concerning Genetically Modified Foods
Although there are some compelling arguments against the use of genetically modified food crops unless and until scientists can guarantee their safety, there are some equally compelling arguments in support of their use today. For example, according to Jefferson (2006), "With an ever-increasing global population, hunger in the developing world, and the health risks of pesticides, some experts view genetically modified food as a panacea. Others view it as one of the most serious threats to human civilization" (33). Advocates of genetically modified foods maintain that the use of these technologies can help produce food products that have a superior appearance and taste, remain fresher longer, and contain more nutrients than their unaltered counterparts (Brady and Brady 2003). Although there are some concerns that genetically modified foods crops hold the potential to harm the environment in some ways (some of which remain strictly conjectural), proponents of the technology emphasize that these techniques can actually benefit the environment because they reduce the needs for harmful pesticides and require less chemical fertilizers (Jefferson 2006). According to Brady and Brady, "Such technology can produce crops that are resistant to diseases and pests and may yield food components that require less processing. Applications of genetic modification allow farmers to produce more and better crops using less time and fewer chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides" (13). The bottom line for genetically modified food proponents, then, relates to the fact that these technologies will provide consumers with better foods at lower prices than in years past (Brady and Brady 2003).
By contrast, critics of genetically modified foods maintain that these foods represent an unknown health risk to consumers especially since they have the potential of containing allergens not traditionally identified with a food. In addition, critics argue that genetically modified crops hold the potential for harming the ecology of a region and that there are ethical issues involved when a plant or animal's genetic material is purposely modified for whatever reason. Furthermore, some critics of genetically modified food crops cite the same reasons the green revolution has not been achieved by underdeveloped nations based on the economic consequences of genetic modification given that these countries do not enjoy the same access to technology as their developed counterparts and that some corporations could use access to the genetic modification technologies in an effort to control the food markets (Brady and Brady 2003). Likewise, Jefferson (2006) notes that, "Opponents [of genetically modified foods] argue that government agencies are violating their religious and consumer rights" (34).
Despite the common uses of genetically modified food crops in the United States, many consumers in America remain either unaware of their widespread use or do not know what scientific processes are used to alter these food crops; in fact, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) currently requires that genetically modified foods be labeled or feature labels that indicate the food has been modified only if one of the following conditions exists:
1. If the modified food is significantly different from the traditional food;
2. If there is an issue about the use of the food;
3. If the modified food has different nutritional qualities than the non-genetically modified version of the food; and,
4. If the food might contain an allergen that the consumer would not normally expect in this type of food (Brady and Brady 2003).
Although some genetically modified food products may feature this information, such inclusion on food product labels remains completely voluntary in the United States (Brady and Brady 2003). Indeed, just as there are two sides to the argument concerning the use of genetically modified foods in the first place, there are also two conflicting perspectives concerning labeling. According to Radas, Teisl and Roe (2008), "Two opposing viewpoints exist in the literature; some suggest consumers are unconcerned and do not desire any genetically modified labeling, while others indicate the opposite. The mixed results may be because consumers make finer distinctions than surveys have called for, and have evaluation schemes sensitive to information about the benefits and risks associated with genetically modified foods" (335). Based on their consumer survey study in this area, Radas and her associates determined that consumers in the United States differ in their preferences concerning genetically modified labeling policy. These authors report that, "Unexpectedly, consumers with less-defined views desire mandatory labeling of the most stringent type, while consumers with stronger viewpoints (either pro- or con-genetically modified) are more relaxed in their labeling requirements" (Radas et al. 2008:335). Food processors that use genetically modified food in their products object to the mandatory labeling requirements called for by some consumer advocacy groups because this requirement would serve as an indicator that suggested that there "is something inferior about genetically modified foods relative to non-genetically modified foods" (Lusk and Rozan 2008:271).
The research showed that humans have been modifying their food products and animals for centuries, but the scientific application of genetically modified techniques has accelerated the process in ways that have never been possible in the past. In addition, genetic modification can be used to promote desirable characteristics or inhibit undesirable ones through the transplantation of genes from animals to plants and vice versa. The research also showed that the world's population continues to expand faster than the agricultural innovations introduced by the so-called green revolution in the latter half of the 20th century provided, and even these advanced techniques have reached the limit of the capabilities in producing higher crop yields in a given amount of space. It is little wonder, then, that the promise of less expensive, more nutritious and wider varieties of foods that is possible using genetically modified food products has received so much attention in the last 20 years or so, but the technology is not without is critics. Although proponents of genetically modified foods cite the numerous advantages that accrue to their use, critics of genetically modified foods argue that too little research has been conducted to ensure that these products are safe for human consumption and that the danger exists that other species can be harmed permanent through cross-contamination. In the final analysis, it is reasonable to conclude that genetically modified foods are here to stay, but it is also reasonable to suggest that more research is needed to help reassure consumers in North America and Europe that these foods are safe and steps have been taken to ensure that cross contamination does not adversely affect other crops.
Barrett, Katherine. (2002, Winter). "Food Fights: Canadian Regulators Are under Pressure to Face the Uncertainties of Genetically Modified Food." Alternatives Journal 28(1): 28-29.
Brady, John T. And Pamela L. Brady. (2003). "Consumers and Genetically Modified Foods."
Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences 95(4): 12-13.