Concern About GM Crops and Animals and Their Health Impact on Human Beings

Data and Facts

The cultivation of GM crops has increased exponentially since 1996 when less than three million hectares of crops were GM’ (Grossman 258). In 2008, over 125 million hectares were used to grow biotech crops globally. The United States is the world’s largest cultivator of GM crops with over half the world’s total hectares of GM crops (62.5 million) being in the United States. The GM contribution to the total number of maize, soybeans and cotton crops in the US is significant. Grossman documents that 91 percent of soybeans, 85 percent of maize and 88 percent of cotton in the US is genetically modified (258). These are important crops both for human use and for animal consumption.

A major concern about GM crops and animals is the health impact that they may have on human beings. GM foods have been dispersed all over the US and people have been consuming GM foods for over a decade without any adverse reactions being noted. By the year 2005, more than 60 percent of processed foods in the US had GM substances. The increase of GM products has only increased with Laux, Mosher and Steven noting that by 2008, 70% of food products sold at supermarkets included ingredients using genetic modification (2). It can be safely assumed that well over half the US population has been exposed to GM products. Laux et al. note that it avoiding GM foods requires a great deal of effort and unusually advanced knowledge of the food and agriculture system and this knowledge is lacking in most people (7). Agricultural research reveals that “most of the substances that are being introduced into food by genetic modification have been safely consumed as food [already] or are substantially similar to such substances’’ (Wohlers 24).

The world population has over the decades increased significantly and the food produced using conventional means is no longer able to feed the entire population. Bachas-Daunert reveals that there are over 780 million people worldwide who are suffering from hunger and out of this, over 10 million died as a result of starvation (341). The fall in world food stocks is responsible for the food crisis currently experienced and a way to produce food quickly and sustainably is required. The proliferation of genetically modified food can have the potential of reducing world hunger since it increases the food production per hectare and it can therefore be used to combat the food crisis faced by the world. GM crops are lower maintenance and their nutritional value is great. Advocates of these products, therefore, argue that biotechnology is the solution to world hunger.

Pests and diseases in crops are a problem that has affected farmers since pre-historic times and these problems have been responsible for hunger as entire crops are destroyed. Traditionally, farmers have relied on pesticides to fight pests and diseases and therefore safeguard their crops (Mae-Wan et al. 66). However, pests and diseases are known to develop immunity over time which makes pesticides ineffective after some time. In addition to this, pesticides have a negative environmental impact. GM crops are modified to provide immunity over pests and diseases, therefore, ensuring that the farm is assured of a good harvest (Wohlers 22). The Australian government dedicated over $2 million to a ten-year project that aimed to come up with genetically engineered peas that could be resistant to the pea weevil which was responsible for the destruction of up to 30% of pea yields (342). The success of this project would result in the saving of millions of dollars’ worth of peas that would otherwise have been destroyed by the pea weevil.

GM crops have some major health consequences as a result of the manipulation of the genetic information in the crops. Bachas-Daunert notes that there is a high possibility of allergenicity of GM foods by the manipulation of genes due to the insertion of coding for new proteins (341). GM can cause allergenicity by either introducing allergens into a crop or by altering the nature of an allergen already present in the crop.

Farming land is quickly becoming a scarce resource as the human population increases and because of climate changes. Conventional crops are therefore finding it hard to survive in harsh environments and the output of these crops is therefore low. GM crops are designed to have high tolerances for stresses such as cold, drought and even high salinities in soil (Grossman 257). These crops can therefore be cultivated in the land that could otherwise have been deemed unsuitable for farming. Genetically Modified animals also exhibit better performance than conventional animals. The growth rate of GM animals far outpaces that of traditional animals which means that these animals can be used for food at an earlier time. The immune system of GM animals is also superior since their genes can be modified to prevent them from succumbing to certain diseases (Grossman 257). This means that the cost of maintaining a GM animal is less and the produces are more which makes them desirable to farmers.

The use of GM crops has increased greatly during the past decade and this use can only be projected to increase due to the desirable traits of insect and herbicide resistance and improved nutritional content that GM crops have. Legge and Robert demonstrate that many developing nations are struggling to meet their citizens’ food and nutritional needs and with the global population projected to increase by 50% in the next 40 years, there is concern that food needs cannot be met without causing large-scale environmental problems (59). The predictability associated with genetic modification in agriculture has the potential of strengthening the agricultural sector of a country.

Genetically Modified foods cannot be reproduced which means that the farmer has to rely on the producers of the product. With natural crops, the farmer is able to replant seeds over an indefinite period of time. Grossman notes that this is not the same situation with GMOs where the farmer is forced to keep buying seeds from the corporations which produce these GM crops (260). To make matters worse, Technology Protection Systems have been introduced as GM crop use increases which means that the science behind a genetically modified organism is owned by the corporation.

Public opinion has some influences on the manner in which policymakers respond to the perceived opportunities and threats that GM crops pose. There is a great gap in knowledge concerning GM foods between scientists and nonscientists. Laux et al. blame this lack of awareness and understanding of biotechnology by the American public for the increased uncertainty about the safety of GM food products (2). Research by Laux et al showed that people with increased knowledge of GM foods also had a higher level of acceptance for these crops (6). This is important since there is a positive link between the acceptance of GM food products and the perception of the safety of the same.

Actions and Outcomes

Advances in genetic engineering have led to the development of a number of genetically modified organisms many of which are genetically modified crops. As a result of the numerous benefits accrued from GM products, it can be projected that their use will increase in the future. As has been noted above, there are a number of issues that currently face GM products. This section provides recommendations that can be implemented so as to tackle these issues.

Support for the safety of GM foods has been based on the lack of evidence suggesting that GM products are harmful. Artemis and Sam assert that the lack of evidence that GM food is unsafe should not be interpreted as proof that it is safe (164). Strict regulatory policies for GM crops and food products should therefore be enforced and before a new GM variety can be allowed into the market, it should comply with federal laws and regulations. The US has such policies and a new product is required to undergo stringent testing to ensure that it is safe both for humans and for the environment. Policies that emphasize safety or minimal dangers to human health and the environment ensure that harmful GM products are never introduced to the market.

Genetically modified crops do not exist in isolation and they must coexist with other traditional agricultural systems. When GM crops and conventional crop cultivation take place in the same geographical region, issues arise since the GM material often spills over to the organic or conventional crops. Consuming food crops contaminated with GM crops containing genes for the production of drugs and chemicals that have not been assessed for their toxicity would have an adverse impact on human health.

From the data and facts highlighted in this paper, it is evident that safety concerns are the most prevalent issue on the mind of consumers with regard to GM crops. These concerns are increased due to the common assumption that traditionally cultivated foods are safer than GM crops. The low uncertainty tolerance levels in the US are partly responsible for the stringent regulatory policies adopted by the country with regard to Gm Crops (Legge and Robert 72). While public knowledge about biotechnology applications has increased significantly since the 1990s, the knowledge level still remains relatively low. As it has been noted, these products do not cause any significant health problems and the suspicion with which many people view GM products is because of ignorance. An increase in the knowledge regarding biotechnology can have a positive impact on the perception of GM products by the population.

The importance of GM foods in feeding the bulging human population cannot be overstated. GM foods should therefore be promoted but their safety levels must be unquestionable. These foods should be tested extensively and regulated to ensure that they are safe. Bachas-Daunert suggests that the testing of GM crops is the most exhaustive with bodies such as the EPA, FDA and USDA having stringent tests that GM crops have to undergo before they are introduced into the market (343). A crop is only accepted after repeated tests have proved that they are completely safe for consumers.

The possibility of allergenicity of GM foods is great and the consequences would be dire for the health of people. This problem can be mitigated through the development of comprehensive testing of the crops in development states to avoid the introduction of potentially harmful foods into the public market. At the moment, the GM products in the market do not cause any adverse allergic reactions. However, the high rate at which GM products are being developed may lead to the allergenicity of GM foods. Further research needs to be undertaken on the allergic reactions that can occur as a result of genetic engineering. This is so because new GM products which promise even more enhanced features are being produced

GM products play a major role in ensuring sustainability due to the lower economic risk associated with GMOs. These products can therefore increase food security by giving smaller farmers an opportunity to compete with commercial farmers who are able to take the risk associated with conventional crops. The predictability associated with genetic modification in agriculture can be exploited by governments so as to increase their agricultural stability by increasing food security.

While there is considerable opposition to the use of GMOs to solve the world’s food problem, this technology has proved to be the most feasible solution to date. The world’s population is increasing and food needs are growing at a high rate. Conventional agricultural practices will not be able to meet this demand in a sustainable manner. GMOs should therefore continue to play a major role in world food production. However, the safety of GM products must be ensured at all times through the measures proposed in this paper.

Works Cited

Artemis, Dona and Sam, Loannis. “Health Risks of Genetically Modified Foods”. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition 49.1 (2009): 164–175. Web.

Bachas-Daunert, Stephanie. “Should genetically modified foods be abandoned on the basis of allergenicity?” Anal Bioanal Chem 392.2 (2008): 341–346.

Grossman, Margaret. “Protecting health, environment and agriculture: authorization of genetically modified crops and food in the United States and the European Union”. Deakin Law Review 14.2. 257-304. Print.

Laux, Chad, Mosher Gretchen and Steven Freeman. Factors Affecting College Students’ Knowledge and Opinions of Genetically Modified Foods. The Journal of Technology Studies 12.2 (2010): 2-9.

Legge, Jerome and Robert Durant. “Public Opinion, Risk Assessment, and Biotechnology: Lessons from Attitudes toward Genetically Modified Foods in the European Union”. Review of Policy Research 27.1 (2010): 59-76.

Mae-Wan, Ho, Jow Cummins and Peter Saunders. GM food nightmare unfolding in the regulatory sham. Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease 19.2 (2007): 66-77.

Wohlers, Anton. Regulating genetically modified food Policy trajectories, political culture, and risk perceptions in the U.S., Canada, and EU. Politics and the Life Sciences 29.2 (2010): 17-39. Print.