Genetically Modified Foods - Do We Have A Choice?
Do you think you keep to a healthy diet, eat only natural foods, and do not consume GMO's? Think again. Virtually all processed meat products, chocolate, baby foods, (according to Greenpeace, even from reputable manufacturers) and the majority of confectionery and bakery products contain GMO's. First, let's try to understand what the transgenic products are and whether or not they are dangerous to human health and to other natural forms of life.
Genetically modified foods can be defined as those foods that have been obtained from genetically modified crops. Genetically modified crops are those species of plants that have been produced by manipulation of genes in the laboratory. Such manipulation of genes is also known as genetic engineering. The scientific study and application of gene manipulation techniques is known as biotechnology.
The manipulation of the genes is done at DNA level and changes to DNA in one generation are passed on to the subsequent generations. The maxim ‘Necessity is the Mother of Inventions’ stays true with genetically modified crops too. An ever growing food demand due to manifold increase in world population; dwindling farmlands; depleting water resources; pathogenic infestations and polluted ecosystem have put substantial pressure on the scientific community to bring out better crop varieties that would withstand these modern day deleterious factors.
Genetically modified foods are thus engineered for better growth, resistance to pathogens, nutrient value and tolerance to adverse environmental conditions like drought, frost or salinity.
Genetically modified foods have been in the market since 1994. These include tomatoes that have a better shelf life and tomatoes that can withstand frost. Genetically modified papaya that withstands the ringspot virus devastation and potato varieties that can resist late blight infection have been commercially successful. Soybeans, corn, canola and cotton are the most widely grown genetically modified crops.
GMO's have drawn substantial criticism. The most important of all is the harm these GM crops can cause to other life species. For example, the pollen from genetically modified corn has been shown to kill caterpillars of monarch butterfly species.
Most often, the pest resistance of the genetically modified crops is due to toxins produced by these crops. These toxins have not been able to selectively kill the target pests. The toxins kill various other harmless insects as well, affecting the ecological balance in a farm. Further, there is a potential risk of the pests developing resistance to these new toxins.
Unintended cross pollination due to various natural factors like wind, insects and human activity from these genetically modified crops into normal crops in the vicinity results in unwarranted gene-transfer. Crop varieties that come out due to such unwarranted gene transfers have been shown to cause allergy and other health hazards.
I'd prefer to go safe with natural breeding and pest control methodologies instead of experimenting with genes that have established themselves into specific domains through the complex process of centuries-long evolution.
Some historians insist that Roman Empire declined and fell because of using lead for water pipes, dishes, and other home appliances. Romans sincerely believed that it was good, it was comfort, it was progress. Were the Romans that foolish? Not at all, they just didn't have enough knowledge and experience and it took centuries to understand how dangerous the progress may be. I cannot judge GMO's good or bad for sure, I just wonder, do we need centuries or maybe our kids will tell their “thanks” to the contemporary biologists and us – the silent majority...
How can we tell that a product contains GMO? Quite simply: read the label.
And here I guess we have one more question, most likely a rhetorical one: Why would the food manufacturers want to conceal that a product contains GMO ingredients? Right, they earn millions, but does the profit justify it?
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