Genetically Modified Foods: Key Aspects

Introduction

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are living organisms whose genetic components have been changed through new genetic engineering advances. Recombinant DNA technology is a new technological invention that introduces a new set of genes into an organism. Genetic engineering accurately and rapidly produces plants with improved traits. The GMO whose DNA was extracted from another species is called a transgenic organism whereas a GMO whose DNA originates from the same species is called Cisgenic. This modification of plants creates more crop yield by producing plants resistant to drought, cold climates, pests and herbicides and this helps to improve the economy of a country.

It is very clear to us that genes exist naturally from the beginning, and no human being has invented them. However, individuals and organizations have been granted exclusive rights on the seeds of nature, what we call patents. These organizations have devoted their time and money in research based on creating genetically modified organisms.

In the United States today one may wonder why patents are issued for manipulation of the seed genes. However, it is issued to corporations because they are in charge and partly also run the governments. A good example is the food and drug administration, which is run by the drug company while the U.S department of Agriculture is run by the dairy farmer and beef industries. The verdict that is made by USDA, FDA and various other relevant government departments is a decision that only benefits the people in big businesses. The decisions made are in favor of not only protecting the businesses but also helping them to achieve maximum profits.

The arrogance of modern men today

Humans think that they are smarter than nature and then try to take all the glory and ownership of the things in nature. They believe that they are gods who possess the natural world and that they can exploit it in whichever way to suit their own desires. This attitude is in a greater part of the population today and it is associated with the people who run big corporations sand the governments. They claim that nature is there for them to exploit. This is evident in the intellectual laws of property, which state that we own nature and that anything that we happen to trip against becomes our property from then henceforth. With this, kind of attitude people go out to explore the planet. They strip the earth off its minerals, all the available raw materials, clean water and natural food (Adams). They go further and pollute rivers, oceans and streams; release toxic fumes into the environment and destroy fauna and flora. With all these destruction, the corporations go a head to say, they have written permission from the U.S patent office. The papers go ahead to indicate that they own that gene sequence, or that particular seed or even a piece of land. These monopolies of the corporations’ intellectual property are usually issued by the U.S patent Trademark office. These monopolies range from genes of animals, human beings and seeds. Monsanto exemplifies this; Monsanto is an American company that was granted intellectual property rights to make GM seed crops.

The USDA today is focusing on bailing out the agricultural biotechnology companies who contaminate the food supply chain by selling unproven genetically engineered crops. These particular companies have governed the whole food. They have also introduced pesticides and viruses and as though that is not enough they have invaded the genes of most of the common stable food and destroyed the livelihood of many farmers. They are powerful and use their authority to conquer by utilizing all the possible legal threats, bribes and monopolistic market deals to gain control of the global market supply (Adams).

The U.S department of agriculture declared that there were traces of bio- engineered long grain rice in the commercial rice sold in stores and that it had entered the food supply. There also are many more foods in the food supply, which are genetically modified, some of them have highly toxic ingredients, and yet the EPA allows farmers to grow them and ultimately permit them back to the food chain. Although these GMO pose a risk to the environment and human health there are also consumers who support them claiming that they are adequate, of good quality like the long grain rice and they help solve hunger problems in the world today.

Genetically modified crops and foods have had supporters and criticizers’; arguing their views from different perspectives, either on how they affect the environment, health, economy and ethical issues.

Supporters of Genetically modified organisms

People involved in agribusiness, consumers, the government and other interested parties have welcomed the invention of GM crops into the U.S. markets in claim that genetically modified food is of good quality and it yields maximally bringing about good financial results after sell. The consumers are making more informed decisions concerning their nutritional, agricultural and scientific needs.

Farmers due to increased crop yields their incomes have increased and they spend it on their families to provide both basic and secondary needs. GM crops have come with the introduction of more friendly bio-herbicides and bio-insecticides that reduce environmental degradation (Raeburn 46). The fast growth of GM crops have resulted to forestation to feed the world’s vast growing population due to the decrease in atmospheric pollution, caused by carbon dioxide which adds to depletion of the ozone layer causing global warming.

GM foods are rigorously tested unlike traditional foods making them safer for consumption. Consumers are protected from eating food treated with chemicals, which can cause harmful health effects. Technological advances in genetic engineering have introduced an apple that acts as a vaccine against a common type of virus that causes pneumonia in young children.

In traditional farming the use of chemicals cause a lot artificial waste management from run off water while in GM crops there minimal use of chemicals hence good natural waste management. This crops also due to there herbicide tolerance, they reduce the levels of agricultural wastewater runoff which is carried to surface and underground water contaminating it. The polluted water affects plants, animals and causes health hazards to humans (Raeburn 55).

Pest resistance is one of the biggest discovery of genetic engineering. Over the past years in America crop losses due to pests, has brought vast economic losses to farmers and have caused malnourishment in majority of the third world countries. Growing GM foods like BT. maize, which, do not need the use of chemical pesticides cuts down the cost production. GM crops are resistant to many disease-causing fungi, viruses and bacteria, which in turn brings about a great increase in crop yield.

GM plants are tolerant to herbicide hence this is cost effective in terms of manually weeding and tilling. Majority of farmers apply large amounts of weed killers. This consumes time; it is very expensive and if not carefully applied the chemicals cause environmental damage. GM plants resist cold especially when there is frost, which is known to destroy young crops. In plants like potatoes and tobacco due to there vulnerability to frost a new antifreeze gene, which, was extracted from a cold-water fish, was introduced to enable tolerance to cold. (Mellon and Rissler 90)

Due to the vast growing population, land has been utilized for construction. This has forced the farmers to grow crops in land that was not suited for cultivation purposes. This has brought about the need to create plants that are drought and saline tolerant like GM plants. Issues of malnutrition have been solved by introduction of GM crops like the golden rice, which was introduced by the Rockefeller Foundation. Rice is a stable food to majority of people and the golden rice contains adequate nutrients to overcome malnutrition.

Criticizers of Genetically modified organisms

Criticism against GM foods has been rampant among, Environmental activists, spiritual people and institutions, the government, scientists, professional societies and many other public interest people. They claim that GM crops can cause unintended harm to other species of organisms. E.g., it has been evident that pollen that falls from B.t. maize kills a lot of butterfly’s caterpillars and many other larvae of different insects. There have also been concerns that there is a possibility of transferring genes to the genus that have not been intended. This could come as a result of crops that are tolerant to herbicides by cross breeding with weeds to form tolerant There is also a possibility of weed modified crops cross breeding with unmodified crops. These weeds are a form of super weed and getting ride of them can be nearly impossible. There have also been fears that genes could be switched accidentally in a situation where the dormant genes could replace the active genes making them it silent. This can be hard to detect especially in trees since they take long to mature.

Controlling the GM crops when the get to the environment is nearly impossible e.g. a strain of sugar beet that was modified to resist herbicide in Britain, in the long run became resistant to another. It has been feared that insects will gain resistant to certain pesticides hence the reduction of pesticide effectiveness. There has been a report of genetic pollution of soil, which is irreversible compared to a farmer who uses chemicals for years and later stops farming for sometime to give it time to convert back for the purposes of organic farming. It is also alarming to farmers who entirely rely on farming as their major financial asset. There has been a genetically modified soil bacteria, which causes permanent contamination of the soil.

The genetic engineers are benefiting a lot from genetically improved seeds. However when farmers plant this seeds in case of a fungi or viral attack there will be a enormous crop failure since these crops have the same gene structure. Growing GM crops is very costly. Being a modern biotechnology, this calls for professional people and expensive equipment for a farmer to start planting GM crops compared to traditional crops (Mellon and Rissler 37).

There is a great risk of destroying the food web. The skylark bird feeds mainly on the seeds produced by the weeds in both winter and autumn. Genetically tailored sugar beets that were produced as a resistant plant to herbicides distress skylark bird. A silent alarm has also been raised of bees disappearing due to the pollen grains that come from genetically modified plants. Lastly, some critics of GMOs claim that it is unethical and unnatural to alter genes of organisms by transferring animal genes to plants and switching genes of different plants. They claim that by doing so it is mocking God’s creation and playing God and that animals involved in the process are subjected to pain.

Some verdicts made by judges in United States of America

On Monday, a federal judge struck off patents on genes that were associated with breast cancer and cancer of the ovaries. The ruling made by the judge opens up doubt on other patents issued to cover different patents of intellectual property. In the United States, one of the district judges by the name Robert Street came up with a verdict to nullify patents that related to the genes that were associated with cancer due to their mutations they were the BRCA1 and BRCA2.(Schwartz and Pollack). The civil liberties body together with the public patent foundation of New York and other individual patent bodies and medical companies came together to dispute the patents. They said that genes are natural and should not be patented. They claimed that the patents muffled the entire research advancement and they limited different options of testing.

Myriad Genetics is among the companies that have been assigned patent rights with a research foundation in the University of Utah; the company argued that patents, including separating DNA from the human body have been approved in the decades before and that the supreme Court permitted patents to be allocated on living organisms since 1980. The judge Robert Sweet concluded that patents were not properly granted, yet they involved the laws of nature. He ruled that the people who condemn gene patents believe that they are patents to isolate genes (Schwartz and Pollack).

There are several multi-billion companies in the United States that have been assigned patent rights courtesy of intellectual property rights; majority of these companies focus in human gene patents. Mr. Chahine, who once owned a biotechnology company, said that the industry needs to be more creative and attract capital in competition to other feeble patent protection. Further, another patent lawyer by the name Edward Reines who works for biotechnology companies said that not safeguarding patent would negatively affect the enticement of genetic research. He further said that the solutions for health problems of our time, have not yet been discovered and that for them to be found we need to give incentives to motivate the researchers in our country.

Mr. Hansen, a staff lawyer at A.C.L.U. said that there are endless stories and theories on genes and this calls for further venture into discovery and that the patents issued put a barrier to challenges by exchanging ideas freely on the genes. Bryan Roberts, a venture capitalist at Silicon Valley, said that the matter called for the universities to put more efforts on the diagnostic tests. He further stated that these calls for the government to fund the universities to do these researches in order to justify it academically (Schwartz and Pollack).

Conclusion

Many consider granting corporations licenses over seed and human genes, a threat to humanity. Today the world’s population has approximately over 7billion people and there is a possibility of this number doubling in 50 years to come. This calls for the need to make sure there is enough food to feed the overwhelming population. GMOs promise to meet the challenge. It has been proven all over the world, that every minute, 10 preschool children are reported dead due to hunger and severe malnutrition. Annually that adds up to 6 million children dying unnecessarily due top lack of adequate food. Additionally, there are over 800 million people globally who do not know what to consume for their next meal. Agricultural research is very important to help these people off their poverty by advocating GM food production and the policies that surround it.

The criticizers and supporters both should come up with an agreement and come up with solutions to avoid concerns raised on the disadvantages’ GMOs.Possible solutions could be to ensure that none targeted crops are not cross breed with pollen from GM plants and that would be by planting male sterile plants. Genetically modified plants S do not produce pollen grains. Creating buffer zones in planting fields r fields since the prevent pollen blown from going beyond buffer fields since the recommended width for the buffer zones is 6 meters and beyond (Ho and Ching 67).

Both should bear in mind that majority of the worlds population and especially the poor depend either directly or indirectly on agriculture as there main source of livelihood. This calls for agreement by both parties those who oppose GMOs and those who support GMOs and to have good policies to ensure safety of the environment and human beings. Lastly the regulatory systems in the U.S should come together to agree on issues of GM Plants. The corporations are said to do anything in there powers in order to protect all their profits. This would also include breaching the law to do things that endanger the lives of people oppose various corporate agenda. The government should amend their policies to protect its people by ensuring that they scrutinize the companies well before grating the monopolies. On The EPA should work to weigh up the potential environmental effects of GM foods, USDA work in evaluating if a certain plant is safe for growth, and the FDA should decides if the foods are fit for consumption. If all these organizations do there work collaboratively with no bias and self-interests considering the health of the people and environmental protection then the effects of GMOs will reduce rampantly (Environmental Protection Agency). The judges too have a role to play in fair judgment of those who breach the laws that have been passed by the above organization to ensure the wellbeing of the entire community.

Works cited

Adams, mike. Natural News.com. Judge strikes fear into biotech industry with nullification of patents on human genes BRCA1. 2010. Web.

Environmental Protection Agency. EPA’s Regulation of Biotechnology for Use in Pest Management. 2003. Web.

Ho, Mae –Wan and Ching, Li L. Exposing the Hazards of Biotechnology to ensure the Integrity of our Food Supply. New York: Vital Health Publishing, 2004. Print

Mellon, Margret, and Rissler Jane. The Ecological Risks of Engineered crops. Cambridge: MIT press, 2003. Print.

Raeburn, Paul. The Last Harvest: The Genetic Gamble That Threatens to Destroy American Agriculture. Nebraska: University of Nebraska, 1996. Print

Schwartz, John and Pollack, Andrew. Judge Invalidates Human Gene Patent. 2009.Web.