With the increasing advancement in technology, scientists are currently introducing genetic material from a certain organism, one which contains the desired traits, to another organism, either of the same species or of a different species. This technology is referred to as genetic engineering or recombinant DNA technology. Though this technology was initially practiced on animals, it is now being applied to plants hence genetically modified food crops are getting produced.
The main idea of this practice is to give a certain plant the characteristics that it would never develop naturally. The whole genetic composition may be changed since the natural traits that are not desirable may as well be suppressed. However good it may sound, genetically modified foods have their own risks especially on our health. It is alarming how their consumption is increasing every day despite the fact that inadequate study on their health risks has not been done.
What’s more, the available safety tests are not adequate enough to fully access their safety (Pusztai 1). However, there are a few positive impacts of the GM foods although they do not justify their use. This paper will prove that genetically modified foods are more harmful to our health than they are helpful.
Health risks associated with genetically modified foods
Genetically modified foods have been associated with toxicology evidenced by a number of allergic reactions especially towards corn and cotton. Genetically modified forms of these two crops are engineered in such a way that they produce their own pesticide. This in built pesticide is poisonous to animals as well as man. The pesticide, Bt, is produced by a bacterium that inhabits soil called Bacillus thuringiensis. Though the use of the Bt genes is based on the fact that farmers use a Bt bacterial spray to control insects, the Bt toxin produced in genetically modified crops is much more concentrated than the natural one.
It is thus, more toxic and contains allergenic substances as well. In addition, it cannot be washed off the plant unlike the natural one. The common allergic reaction associated with the Bt gene is flu-like symptoms. Other symptoms include nausea and skin rashes. Another major health risk associated with the consumption of genetically modified foods is the dysregulation functions of the immune system where the levels of cytokines may increase and result to conditions such as allergic inflammations and even asthma attacks. Most of these immune reactions result from the use of Bt corn and genetically modified soy.
The two food crops contain high levels of trypsin inhibitor which is allergenic to many people. Genetically modified foods have further adverse health effects with their potential to cause cancer on human. It is caused by a protein, GH, which is usually introduced to cows to stimulate the pituitary glands’ ability to produce large volumes of food. This protein enhances the increase of a chemical hormone, IGF-1 which has high potentials of causing breast and prostate cancer. It also has the potential to increase the mass of the spleen hence causing it dysfunction which may result to development of leukemia (Smith 1).
All these effects affect children more than they do to adults because children are more vulnerable to toxins and allergens and hence they are easily affected by these as well as other nutrition associated problems. This is because the little ones consume lots of milk most of which is gotten from cows which may be with genetically modified insecticides or may be feeding on GM feeds. Genetically modified foods have also been associated with the development of antibiotic-resistance diseases.
Similarly, this affects children more especially those who suffer from recurring infections. In addition, consumption of genetically engineered foods by pregnant mothers can affect and disrupt the normal development of the embryo because they are so sensitive to new substances. Alteration of gene expression may as well occur.
For instance, an unborn child may take the foreign genes in place of the natural parental ones and this may affect the child’s health especially if the replaced genes were responsible for vital body functions such as immune response. There are, however, some long term effects of genetically engineered food although many people focus on the short term effects alone.
One of the major long term effects is the possibility of outcrossing of the foreign genes where genes that had been initially introduced into a certain plant, are later transferred into another that was not meant to be modified (Whitman 1). Due to this unintended transfer of genes to food crops, we are faced with dangers of food safety and security more than we can imagine since assurance measures will not e taken in such cases.
Benefits of genetically modified foods
Besides the health risks that genetically modified foods pose to our health, GM foods are still beneficial in other ways. Scientists and nutritionists have used genetic engineering crops to facilitate the enhancement of particular nutrients essential in the body. For example, a gene for vitamin A is being introduced into rice from a certain plant. This technology has helped a lot in providing nutrients that tend to be deficient to many people such as iron.
Through introduction of such nutrients, people are able to get access to them and improve their health. Genetic engineering technology is also being used to remove undesired traits from food crops such as the genes responsible for allergic reactions especially in nuts. Scientists are now claiming that genetically modified food stuffs are less expensive and more nutritious, something which is required to feed the ever growing population especially now that our economy is subsiding gradually.
The production of food crops that can withstand various climatic conditions has been quite helpful in ensuring that all populations have access to the various nutrients essential for our health. The technology of DNA recombination has also enabled the production of foods that contain medicinal properties such as bacterial or viral antigens as in the case of genetically modified bananas (Battalion 1). Genetically engineered food crops are, indirectly protecting us from various infections.
For instance, when pesticide genes are introduced into a food crop, it produces healthy products, which we may consume directly or through cow’s milk and this protects us from getting infections associated with many plant pests.
Genetically modified foods as well as organisms are both beneficial and risky especially to our health. However, the various benefits of such foods do not justify their use because after all we can find other ways of replacing the health roles played by theses foods. For instance, various nutrients can be made available to the population through other ways other than producing engineered foods. People should, therefore, look more into the risks that these foods have on our health other than encouraging their use.
For instance, if an embryo’s development is affected early in the mother’s womb, there is little or nothing to be done to improve its health whereas, a certain population can always look for other safer and healthier sources of the various nutrients other than consuming the engineered ones. Many tests by scientists done on rats have proved that genetically engineered foods cause various health problems (Wolfson 1). This should give us enough reasons to avoid the use of the same to prevent these health risks since after all; our health should be the important thing.
Since the technology of transferring genes from one organism to another has become so common, the use of genetically engineered foods can never be completely banned especially with the benefits that they may bring along. However, they should not be used anyhow but rather be used by professional who will ensure that negative repercussions are avoided. Again, all engineered food should be tested properly to ensure that they are not harmful to users.
This could be done by limiting the amount of foreign genes to be introduced into another organism. In addition, proper packaging of these foods should be ensured to prevent outcrossing of genes which is a long term effect having impacts on many generations as we have discussed earlier. However, people should focus more on the natural foods as they find alternative sources of nutrients to avoid, as much as possible, the use of these engineered foods. This way, we will have both nutrient benefits as well as freedom from health problems.
Battalion, Nathan. “Harmful effects of genetically modified foods”. 2009. Web.
Pusztai, Arpad. “Genetically Modified Foods: Are They a Risk to Human/Animal Health?” 2000. Web.
Smith, Jeffery. Genettically modified foods unsafe? Evidence that links GM foods to allergic responses mounts. 2007. Web.
Whitman, Debora. “Genetically modified foods: Harmful or helpful?” 2000. Web.
Wolfson, Richard. “The risk of genetically engineered foods”. 1999. Web.