Benefits and Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods or Organisms Term Paper

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GENETICALLY ENGINEERED FOOD OR ORGANISMS: SCIENCE'S ANSWER TO WORLD HUNGER

The introduction and use of genetically modified or engineered foods or organisms have attracted attention, mostly alarmed in recent years (WHO 2014). These foods are manufactured from organisms by artificially altering or engineering their DNA for nutrition purposes. This is done by infusing an edible plant gene into the organisms for immediate and ultimate purposes. One is to optimize production and increase the resistance to plant disease while tolerating the harmful effects of herbicides. Another is to extract them from genetically modified or GM microorganisms or animals for future use. Still another object or prospect is to alter the nutrients themselves in foods in order to control or prevent allergies they cause (WHO).

The target of the United Nations Organization's Millennium Development goals is to cut down the proportion of hunger this year into half (World Hunger Education Service, 2015). The proportion was to pull down the figure from 23.4% in 1990 to 11.7% in 1992. But as of last year, the rate of hungry people was 14.5%. Despite the reduction, the target was not likely to be achieved this year. From 991 million, the number went down to 790 million against the target of 497 million, or half of 994 million (World Hunger Education Service).

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization reported that about 805 million people in the current 7.3 billion in the world are chronically undernourished (World Hunger Education Service, 2015). Almost all of them live in developing countries, which account for 13.5% of the world population today. Most recent statistics say that hunger rates are highest at in sub-Saharan Africa at 23.8%, where one out of four persons is undernourished. Hunger rates are also high in Southeast Asian countries India, Pakistan and Bangladesh where 276 million are recently reported as undernourished (World Hunger Education Service).

THE PRO-SIDE

The first FDA-approved GMOs or genetically modified or engineered organisms as food were corn, rice, canola oil and soybeans in the mid-1990s (Hennessey, 2015). Large companies like Monsanto, Nestle, General Mills and PepsiCo found the production of these organisms cost-effective. The discovery soon spread to other food manufacturers. The first GM fruit was papaya and a virus infected it but the virus was destroyed by scientific engineering. The incident encouraged the production of other food simulations like zucchini and potato. There are now more than 40 FDA-approved seeds and plants for genetic modification. GM crops can be or are already made resistant to the growth of harmful microorganisms. Better yet, they can be engineered to resist pests naturally and eliminate the use of poisonous herbicides. They can also be made to grow faster than natural crops. They can also be programmed to endure extreme weather and environmental conditions and thus can grow in a vast geographical range. And the needed vitamins and minerals can be added in desired amounts. This is specifically advantageous to Third-World countries where malnutrition is high (Hennesey). Encouraged by these initial successes, other GM food manufacturers have other plans in the drawing board. They intend to increase the benefits already derived for crop production, for animals, the environment and society (CHGE 2012). These manufacturers are thinking of improving the taste and quality of these modified crops, hasten the time of their maturation, increase the nutrients they contain, raise production levels, and tolerance to all kinds of crop stress and disease as well as the harmful effects of herbicides. They are also considering the introduction of new products and techniques for the growth of crops. These manufacturers are also thinking of acquiring or creating the technology, which would also increase animals' resistance to disease, raise their production level, their strength level and the efficiency of their feeds (CHGE, 2012). They foresee a promise of greater productivity of meat, eggs, dairy and of improved health and longevity for all. In addition, genetically modified foods are not ecologically threatening. Only bio-herbicides and bio-insecticides are used in producing these crops. They are, in fact, environmentally enhancing. They conserve soil, water and energy. They eliminate wastes naturally. And most importantly, their production will fill the large gap in the lack of food for hungry and undernourished billions in the world. They will contribute to the much-desired global food security, which is among the targets of the United Nations food arm, and fill in the current insufficiency to address unabated world hunger (CHGE).

How does genetic engineering or modification work, which makes it beneficial to humans and animals? It is a process whereby Bt genes are inserted into plants from bacterium thuringiensis, which cause insect diseases (CHGE, 2012). This makes the plants disease-resistant and herbicide-tolerant. One crop that illustrates this is rice of a genetically modified crop. Beta carotene is infused into it. Beta carotene is an antioxidant, which the liver converts. The infused beta carotene also reduces the amount of glutelin, a protein (CHGE). The most important part of this process is the selection of genes with the precise desired traits, such as specific nutrients and resistance to pest and disease (HGP, 2008). About 22 countries reportedly planted GM crops in about 252 million acres of land in 2006 alone. Many of these crops were pest and herbicide-resistant. Examples were soybeans, corn, cotton, canola and alfalfa, bananas, rice, fish, fruits and nut trees. It was also reported that 53% of these crops were grown in the United States (HGP). These initial successes, indeed, make genetically modified foods a clear boon.

THE CON SIDE

No one can argue against the best motives and plans of the scientific community to produce more food for more and more starving and poorly nourished people of the world. GMO foods hold exciting promise to close the Millennium gap between the target goal of reducing hunger levels and the actual outcome. What logically remains is the issue, perhaps the greater issue, of safety and the ethical aspect of producing artificial crops for nutrition (Grover et al., 2014). Safety should determine and eliminate direct health ill effects, the tendency to develop and trigger allergic reactions, toxic properties, the uncertain stability of inserted genes, nutritional consequences of genetic modifications, other unintentional and detrimental consequence of gene insertion, risks on the fetus, side effects of toxins on human consumers, resistance to antibiotics, and allergic reactions. There have been reports on the toxic effects of the genes used in GM processes, which may account for toxicity and developmental delay in the fetus after some exposure to, or consumption of, a large amount of genetically modified foods. Whatever microbiological control used cannot be accepted as safe for human beings and other mammals without convincing further studies. The horizontal gene transfer of these foods or microorganisms to those of the intestinal tract can, in the long run, result in antibiotic resistance. The large-scale development of GM plants in as many as 170 million hectares in the world can increase the bacterial population to recombinant DNA and a widespread of transgenes. This has been demonstrated in vitro as well as in vivo. Apprehension towards the antibiotic-resistance genes in these crops could move to the gastrointestinal tract and make the microbial population in the gut turn resistant to antibiotics. Further studies can determine if the demonstrated risk of horizontal gene transfer may also pose a threat to the health of human beings. And there too is the potential of developing allergic reaction to genetically engineered foods or organisms. The infusion of particular proteins may trigger allergic reactions, including hypersensitivity. The Cry9C protein is one protein, which has been approved for animal feed but not as human food or ingredient. It is not easily digested and thus can produce allergic response in the human body. This can happen when human beings consume foods manufactured through genetic engineering containing this foreign protein. The concern is that genetically modified foods can introduce the artificial protein into the food chain without the organism ever being a part of food. Those who develop allergic reactions to the protein show a range of symptoms from mild to fatal. There certainly is a need for more vigorous and rigorous assessment of these exciting and promising crops on a case-to-case basis. The seriousness of the possibilities requires that the screening methods be more rigid (Grover et al.).

GM food manufacture may also incline large food companies to exploit smaller and weaker nations' natural recourses and establish world dominance out of economic and political greed (HGP, 2008). This dominance will furthermore make the smaller countries dependent on them and tip the balance of world power. In addition, genetically modified foods production can be ethically offensive in that it violates the laws of nature and its organisms. Manipulating their integrated DNA may sooner of later produce disastrous results that the world may not be prepared to address. Most people also find the consumption of genetically modified or engineered foods unacceptable. And even animals repel them (HGP). Biological engineering is both amazing and frightening in its novelty. But it is that very novelty, which is…

Sources Used in Document:

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Chatsko, M. (2013). Regulatory similarities between GMO foods and pharmaceuticals.

The Motley Fool: Interactive Data Managed Solutions. Retrieved on April 25, 2015

from http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2013/11/23/regulatory-similarities-betweengmo-foods-and-phar.aspx

CHGE (2012). Genetically Modified Foods. Center for Health and the Global Environment:

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