On a biological level, consumption of genetically modified foods means the potential for "pleiotropic and insertional effects," Dona explains on page 165. Pleiotropic refers to the possibility that a gene may have more than one affect on the food. The above-mentioned effects could result from an increase of "anti-nutrients"; and moreover human health could be impacted due to the use of "viral DNA," Dona continues (165). The pleiotropic affect could actually cause "…the silencing of genes, changes in their level of expression, or, potentially, the turning on of existing genes that were not previously being expressed" (Dona, 165). All of this potential interaction could biologically lead to "…the disruption of metabolism in unpredictable ways" and in the process lead to the emergence of "new toxic compounds" (Dona, 165).
Increasing the anti-nutrient level in food should not be acceptable to science or to regulators, Dona continues, because heat-stable anti-nutrients (like phytoestrogens, glucinins, and phytic acid) are known to cause "…infertility problems" in cattle, including sheep (165). Many of the crops that have been manipulated use the Cauliflower Mosaic Virus 35S promoter (CaMV35S) to "switch on the introduced gene," Dona explains (167). But there is a serious problem with CaMV35S because: a) it is "highly infectious"; and b) when it is "horizontally transferred" it can cause disease, including "carcinogenesis, mutagenesis, reactivation of dormant viruses" and it can even generate new viruses, the research shows (Dona, 167).
The Literature on Genetically Modified Foods -- Environmental Risks
One of the most common concerns expressed regarding GMF is that when genes are inserted into a modified plant, those genes could escape "into the surrounding environment" and be absorbed by "wild relatives" of the crop that has been engineered (Food Chemistry). The reason this concern is said to be valid is because there is a "…close taxonomic relationship among some crop plants that have weedy relatives" (Food Chemistry). The crops with weedy relatives -- capable of cross-breeding -- include sunflowers, canola, squash and sorghum; and given that the possibility of interbreeding is real, then "…weeds would develop the same resistance to herbicides that had been bred into the crop plant" (Food Chemistry). Hence, a variety of "super weeds" might emerge.
There have already been studies showing that herbicide-resistant genes that were inserted into "certain rapeseed oil crops in Canada" did indeed escape into surround fields, and the result of that research showed that the weeds in nearby fields also contained the genes that had been inserted into the rapeseed crops (Food Chemistry). The chemical companies reply that pollen from plants that have been genetically engineered are not likely to spread more than 30 feet from the parent plant. And in any event, representatives from the chemical company AgrEvo in Germany, suggest if there is a transmission to nearby weeds, those affected weeds will not turn into super weeds but instead will be resistant to "…only a single herbicide" (Food Chemistry).
The Literature on Genetically Modified Foods -- Chemistry
The U.S. Institute of Medicine (IM) established a committee to look into the effects (untended or intended) of genetically modified foods on humans. In the Executive Summary of the book the committee published, the authors report that there are "…severe imbalances between highly advanced analytical technologies" and the limited abilities to interpret the results of those analyses. But advanced chemical and genetic profiling techniques that use a "molecular genetic, proteomic (analysis of complete complements of proteins), and metabolomic (global analysis of nonpeptide small molecules) approach," are beginning to produce chemistry-related strategies that do provide an "enormous amount of data" that could help scientists understand the impacts on human health (U.S. IM).
In conclusion, as stated in the thesis for this paper, many questions remain unanswered regarding the safety of genetically modified foods. It may be too late for an objective analysis through the most advanced technologies -- regarding the safety of humans and the environment -- but it is never too late for caution and for continuing deep research to prevail over a seemingly mad rush by corporations to plant most of the world's crops using genetically manipulated seeds.
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Dona, Artemis, and Arvanitoyannis, Ioannis S. (2009). Health Risks of Genetically Modified
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