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Genetically Modified (GM) organisms are those who have had their genetic characteristics altered by having a modified gene or had a gene from another organism inserted by a genetic engineering technique.
GM foods are becoming very common nowadays; these can be bacteria, fungi, fruits, vegetables or animals. GM crops being grown in the US include sugar cane, zucchini, corn, soy beans, sweet peppers, yellow squash, potatoes, strawberries, tomatoes, cocoa beans, pineapples, and bananas. The most grown GM crops are corn and soy as they are used in biofuel and many processed foods.
Although it is now thought that 60% of the processed food that we eat contains GM ingredients, nobody actually knows what effect these ingredients will have on human health. Modern technology means that new types of GM foods are developed very rapidly.
There are two sides to the argument. Those in favour of GM foods think that changing the genes in crops has the same level of danger as selective breeding and cross fertilisation techniques that have been used by farmers for generations. Whilst those against it think that there are bound to be damaging effects on humans from messing about with natural genetic structures. They say that these effects will probably only show up in the long term.
It isn’t required under US law to label foods as containing GM ingredients. It is the producers who decide what is safe to eat not the government.
There are many processed foods that contain genetically modified organisms including popcorn, aspartame sweetener, dry cereal, canned soups, soy sauce, frozen dinners and pizzas and cookies.
Some experiments on rats have shown detrimental effects after they have been fed GM potatoes. The rats showed damaged vital organs, including shrunken brains and enlarged stomachs, as well as weakened immune systems.
When yeast was genetically engineered to make it produce greater amounts of the enzymes it uses to break down sugar, it also caused it to build-up levels of methylglyoxal which is toxic.
Antibiotic-resistant “marker” genes are used in genetically engineered crops. This leads to the possibility that antibiotic resistance will be found in the bacteria in the animal or human intestines that eat the crops. This could also lead to micro-organisms becoming antibiotic resistant, so antibiotics will no longer be able to fight disease.
There is also the possibility that GM food can introduce new allergens. These could be released into the food chain as they are new and test couldn’t be carried out for them as they wouldn’t be recognised. GM food should be tested in the same way as new drugs. Even more rigorous testing should be introduced as when people take drugs it is usually only a small amount for a small period of time but we eat tons of food over the course of our lives.
It is not certain what the long term dangers of GM food will be but some severe short-term reactions have already been reported.
L-Tryptophan is used for treating sleep disorders and in 1989, a GM version killed several dozen Americans and made several thousand ill before it was taken off the market. Allergic reactions causing anaphylactic shock which can kill is a danger when genes from Brazil nuts and soybeans are used. Mice fed on FlavrSavr developed stomach lesions and seven of forty rats who were tested with it died within two weeks.
Human physiology is affected by GM foods.
In a study in the Philippines, it was shown that the people developed antibodies to Bt toxin. This shows that their bodies processed the GM foods and responded to them. These people in the Philippines, who had eaten the GMO corn, also become resistant to the antibiotic ampicillin.
Nobody had expected this antibiotic resistance. This must show that there hasn’t been enough testing done into the possible effects of GM food on the human body. There is a great potential for GM food to cause damage to our genes and the physiological and biochemical effects are totally unpredictable. It is also possible that mixing genes could create brand new disease causing organisms that have been made up from the genetic material of many different species. The problem is that we really don’t know what could happen or how GM crops could threaten human health.