Genetically Modified Organisms
Generally, crops are genetically modified in order to attain a specific desirable trait, such as disease or insect resistance. Insect resistance traits provide farmers with protection against specific pests over the entire season, while also reducing input costs by decreasing the need for applying pesticides (Buiatti et al., 2013). Crops are also genetically modified to enhance drought resistance by enabling such crops to grow in drier areas, specifically by conserving their water use. Moreover, genetic modification of crops may also make them herbicide tolerant, thus allowing farmers to apply herbicides in fighting weeds without harming the crop or having to use till weeding methods that deplete top-soil. Finally, crops are also genetically modified to make them disease resistant (Buiatti et al., 2013).
On the other hand, although several genetically modified domestic animals have been developed for agricultural use, companies have not pursued this avenue seriously because of regulatory concerns and consumer acceptance (Buiatti et al., 2013). Currently, only AquaBounty has expressed their intention to commercialize genetic modification of livestock. In this case, they expect that genetically modifying domestic livestock like chicken, cattle, and beef would conserve populations of some declining species and breeds of animals. Some of these include salmon, which has declined in population because of its high rate of consumption across the United States (Buiatti et al., 2013). Moreover, genetic modification of livestock animals also enhances production traits and increases disease resistance.
The first step in creating GMOs is identification of a trait of interest. For example, if the scientist is looking for a trait that enables organisms to survive in a particular environment; they would identify organisms that survive in this environment (Buiatti et al., 2013). In this case, the researcher could identify organisms that grow in the presence of specific chemicals like herbicides. After identifying organisms with the genetic trait of interest, the next step involves the isolation of this trait. The researcher would compare genomes of organisms that exhibit the trait of interest, against the genome of those without the trait and isolate the genes responsible for that trait (Buiatti et al., 2013).
After isolating the genetic trait of interest, the next step involves inserting the gene into a new genome (Buiatti et al., 2013). For instance, the researcher could use viruses as carriers to insert the isolated DNA containing the gene of interest into the organism’s genome. Finally, the fourth step involves growing the genetically modified organism with the inserted gene of interest. In this case, the modified organism is able to replicate using its new genome sequence and produces the traits that the inserted genes codes for. However, it is important to check the organism’s genotype to ensure that one is propagating organisms or crops that have a correctly modified genome (Buiatti et al., 2013).
There are several foods in the supermarket that contain GMOs safe for human consumption, with approximately 70% of the foods sold in American supermarkets containing ingredients that are genetically modified (Buiatti et al., 2013). Soy is one form of food containing GMOs, including soy protein isolates, lecithin, and soy flour; while other foods such as tofu, soy sausages, infant formula, protein powder, and enriched flours and pastas also contain GMO soy derivatives. Corn and corn products also contain GMOs safe for human consumption, including corn flour, corn oil, corn starch, syrups, and corn sweeteners. Safe GMO corn derivatives in supermarkets include corn chips, infant formula, tomato sauces, salad dressings, and cereals (Buiatti et al., 2013).
In addition, canola and canola derivatives are also safe GMO foods with various products containing genetically modified canola (Alberts et al., 2013). These are chips, cereals, crackers, frozen foods, snack bars, candy, canned soups, oil blends, and hummus. Sugar beets are also safe GMO foods, and can be identified in supermarkets as products that are only labeled sugar and do not specify ‘cane sugar’. These sugars are also used as ingredients in baking mixes, donuts, ice cream, cakes, cookies, juice, candy, and yogurt. Products containing genetically modified artificial sweeteners like aspartame may also be present in the supermarket and include yogurts, diet foods, and diet soft drinks (Alberts et al., 2013).
Foods that contain genetically modified organisms are safe to eat, as long as they are certified and follow regulations laid down by the relevant bodies (Alberts et al., 2013). The United States National Academy of Sciences have found repeatedly that genetically modified foods are safe for consumption with no adverse effects attributed to the products in the human population as of yet. Moreover, this body has also found that GMOs are more environmentally friendly than other crops since they have reduced insecticide and herbicide use; which means that they are also safer for consumption. Furthermore, the American Association for the Advancement of Science also says that crop improvement through the use of modern genetic and molecular biotechnology techniques is safe (Alberts et al., 2013).
The American Medical Association, which constitutes the country’s top physicians, have consistently found that genetically modified organisms and foods are safe to eat and are no more risky than the consumption of other foods (Alberts et al., 2013). In this case, they conclude that genetically modified foods do not require labeling or justification. The British equivalent, the Royal Society of Medicine, reports that they have never received a verifiable complaint of adverse effects after consuming GMOs. Moreover, the European Commission has said that eating genetically modified food is no riskier than consuming food farmed conventionally; despite Europe being one of the most anti-GMO food regions in the world (Alberts et al., 2013).
Several regulations exist for genetically modified foods in the United States. Regulation is mainly divided among the Environmental Protection Agency, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the Food and Drug Administration (Alberts et al., 2013). Each of the EPA, USDA, and FDA regulates genetically modified foods and crops from a unique and different perspective. For instance, the Environmental Protection Agency regulates bio-pesticides under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act. In this case, the EPA requires that the developer ensures that all foreign proteins in the GMO meant to boost resistance to such chemicals are not allergenic (Alberts et al., 2013). In addition, they also require that the developer ensures the safety of bio-pesticides used for GMOs to the environment.
The FDA bears the responsibility of regulating GMO crops safety, particularly those that are consumed by animals or humans (Alberts et al., 2013). In this case, the FDA considers the majority of genetically modified organisms and crops as significantly equivalent to crops that are not genetically modified. As such, the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act designates genetically modified organisms and crops as generally safe and not requiring pre-market approval. Nevertheless, where insertion of genes of interest lead to foreign proteins of significantly different function or structure being expressed, the FDA has the authority to use stringent measures to require developers attain pre-market approval (Alberts et al., 2013).
- Alberts, B., Beachy, R., Baulcombe, D., Blobel, G., Datta, S., Fedoroff, N., … & Sharp, P. (2013). Standing up for GMOs. Science, 341(6152), 1320-1335
- Buiatti, M., Christou, P., & Pastore, G. (2013). The application of GMOs in agriculture and in food production for a better nutrition: two different scientific points of view. Genes & nutrition, 8(3), 255-270
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