Genetically modified (GM) foods are foods derived from organisms whose genetic material (DNA) has been modified in a way that does not occur naturally, e.g. through the introduction of a gene from a different organism. Currently available GM foods stem mostly from plants, but in the future foods derived from GM microorganisms or GM animals are likely to be introduced on the market. Most existing genetically modified crops have been developed to improve yield, through the introduction of resistance to plant diseases or of increased tolerance of herbicides. In the future, genetic modification could be aimed at altering the nutrient content of food, reducing its allergenic potential, or improving the efficiency of food production systems. All GM foods should be assessed before being allowed on the market. FAO/WHO Codex guidelines exist for risk analysis of GM food. Positive and Negative Impacts Genetically Modified Food Has on the World The term â€˜genetically modified foodâ€™, also known as â€˜genetically modified organismsâ€™, is most commonly used to refer to crop plants created for human or animal consumption using the latest molecular biology techniques. The reason these plants are being modified today is to enhance desired traits such as increased resistance to herbicides (pesticides used to kill unwanted plants) or improved nutritional content. In order to create these genetically modified foods, scientists must introduce specific changes to their DNA by using extremely precise genetic engineering techniques. While there are some benefits that genetically modified foods may offer, there are also some risks and negative affects that these foods can cause as well. Genetically modified foods have been helpful in many aspects of the world. Firstly, they have the ability to help meet the growing demands for food supply as the world population has topped 6 billion people and is predicted to double in the next 50 years or so. Ensuring enough food supply for this booming population is going to be a major struggle in years to come, and genetically modified foods will help do this in a number of ways. For example, crop losses from insect pests can be shocking, resulting in devastating financial loss for farmers and starvation in developing countries. By growing genetically modified foods such as B.T. corn, farmers can help eliminate the production of chemical pesticides that cause potential health hazards, and there will be higher crop yields that many experts argue can help to feed people in these countries. In addition to this, plants can be genetically modified to be resistant to bacterial, fungal or viral infestation. For example, sweet potatoes have been modified to improve viral resistance, and bananas have been modified to resist the Black Sigatoka fungus. Growing genetically modified foods will therefore lead to lessâ€¦ [continues] Harmful Effects of the Agent Genetically modified organisms (GMOâ€™s) are a broad group of plants, animals, and bacteria that are engineered for a wide variety of applications ranging from agricultural production to scientific research. The types of potential hazards posed by GMOâ€™s vary according to the type of organism being modified and its intended application. Most of the concern surrounding GMOâ€™s relates to their potential for negative effects on the environment and human health. Because GMOâ€™s that could directly effect human health are primarily products that can enter the human food supply, this website focuses on genetically modified food. To date, the only types of products that have been approved for human consumption in the U.S. are genetically modified plants (FDA website). All genetically modified foods that have been approved are considered by the government to be as safe as their traditional counterparts and are generally unregulated (FDA website). However, there are several types of potential health effects that could result from the insertion of a novel gene into an organism. Health effects of primary concern to safety assessors are production of new allergens, increased toxicity, decreased nutrition, and antibiotic resistance (Bernstein et al., 2003). Food Allergy Food Allergy affects approximately 5% of children and 2% of adults in the U.S. and is a significant public health threat (Bakshi, 2003). Allergic reactions in humans occur when a normally harmless protein enters the body and stimulates an immune response (Bernstein et al., 2003). If the novel protein in a GM food comes from a source that is know to cause allergies in humans or a source that has never been consumed as human food, the concern that the protein could elicit an immune response in humans increases. Although no allergic reactions to GM food by consumers have been confirmed, in vitro evidence suggesting that some GM products could cause an allergic reaction has motivated biotechnology companies to discontinue their development (Bakshi, 2003). Increased Toxicity Most plants produce substances that are toxic to humans. Most of the plants that humans consume produce toxins at levels low enough that they do not produce any adverse health effects. There is concern that inserting an exotic gene into a plant could cause it to produce toxins at higher levels that could be dangerous to humans. This could happen through the process of inserting the gene into the plant. If other genes in the plant become damaged during the insertion process it could cause the plant to alter its production of toxins. Alternatively, the new gene could interfere with a metabolic pathway causing a stressed plant to produce more toxins in response. Although these effects have not been observed in GM plants, they have been observed through conventional breeding methods creating a safety concern for GM plants. For example, potatoes conventionally bred for increased diseased resistance have produced higher levels of glycoalkaloids (GEO-PIE website). Decreased Nutritional Value A genetically modified plant could theoretically have lower nutritional quality than its traditional counterpart by making nutrients unavailable or indigestible to humans. For example, phytate is a compound common in seeds and grains that binds with minerals and makes them unavailable to humans. An inserted gene could cause a plant to produce higher levels of phytate decreasing the mineral nutritional value of the plant (GEO-PIE). Another example comes from a study showing that a strain of genetically modified soybean produced lower levels of phytoestrogen compounds, believed to protect against heart disease and cancer, than traditional soybeans (Bakshi, 2003). Antibiotic resistance In recent years health professionals have become alarmed by the increasing number of bacterial strains that are showing resistance to antibiotics. Bacteria develop resistance to antibiotics by creating antibiotic resistance genes through natural mutation. Biotechnologists use antibiotic resistance genes as selectable markers when inserting new genes into plants. In the early stages of the process scientists do not know if the target plant will incorporate the new gene into its genome. By attaching the desired gene to an antibiotic resistance gene the new GM plant can be tested by growing it in a solution containing the corresponding antibiotic. If the plant survives scientists know that it has taken up the antibiotic resistance gene along with the desired gene. There is concern that bacteria living in the guts of humans and animals could pick up an antibiotic resistance gene from a GM plant before the DNA becomes completely digested (GEO-PIE website). It is not clear what sort of risk the possibility of conferring antibiotic resistance to bacteria presents. No one has ever observed bacteria incorporating new DNA from the digestive system under controlled laboratory conditions. The two types of antibiotic resistance genes used by biotechnologists are ones that already exist in bacteria in nature so the process would not introduce new antibiotic resistance to bacteria. Never the less it is a concern and the FDA is encouraging biotechnologists to phase out the practice of using antibiotic resistance genes (GEO-PIE website).
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