Genetically modified (GM) foods aka transgenic or biodynamnic foods are foods that have been engineered in some way, generally through the insertion of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) – that is, organisms in which their genetic material has been artificially altered in order to possess some desirable trait [1, 2].
One of the most commonly used GMO is the bacterium, Rhizobium radiobacter (previously known as Agrobacterium tumefaciens). Other methods for introducing foreign genetic material into plants include the use of viruses, plasmids,and electroporation.
Tomatoes were one of the first approved GM foods. Since then several GM foods have been approved and are classified into 3 categories :
1. Food that are genetically modified e.g. potato,tomato, soya, maize, sunflowers, rice, pumpkins, melons, grapes
2. Food that contains components of genetically modified plants e.g. starch, oil, sugar, amino acids, vitamins
3. Food that contains genetically modified organisms e.g. yogurt
Organic Food vs GM Food
Organic food is a broad term used to encompass any naturally grown food or plant and has received no artificial interference during any part of the food process. In the US and Canada, a plant or livestock is considered organic if it receives no antibiotic, growth hormone, conventional pesticide, synthetic or sewage sludge-based fertilizer, ionizing radiation,or genetic modification .
Why GM Foods?
One of the arguments supporting GM foods is that as the population increases, we need to produce food faster and maintain the quality of food longer. As such the majors reason include [2,3]:
1. Enhanced growth rates
2. Addition of nutrients in plants
3. Tolerance to pesticides & insects
4. Suppression of traits harmful to humans, e.g. allergenic proteins
5. Resistance to diseases caused by microorganisms e.g. bacteria, viruses,& fungi
6. Tolerance to cold temperature
7. Tolerance to drought and salt concentrations in soil and groundwater
8. Use in pharmaceuticals, e.g. adding vaccines to food
9. Phytoremediation e.g. using trees to “clean up” polluted soil
10. Economic benefits – GM food companiescan produce faster and more sturdy crop
GM Food Concerns
There are several concerns regarding GM foods including health risks in humans, environmental hazards, and economic considerations.
With respect to the environment, some researchers are concerned that pollen from GM-foods, such as B.t. corn, are toxic to insects like the monarch butterfly and insect larvae. Similar to the concerns that the overuse of antibiotics leads to bacterial resistance, there are concerns that insects can develop resistance to pesticides and that weeds can develop resistance to herbicides causing the formation of “super-weeds”.
Despite the assurances of many biotechnologists, some scientists are concerned that the introduction of foreign food proteins can cause the increase of allergies and disease. Researchers are also concerned about diminished reproduction and altered metabolism leading to increased cancer. There is also the possibility of an anti-nutrient effect in which a gene introduced into a GM food may prevent the uptake and/or use of a nutrient in the body . For example,compounds found in GM soybean prevents the activity of the enzyme trypsin, which is responsible for the digestion of protein leading to the uptake of essential amino acids .
Pro-GM researchers argue these points reporting that since proteins are digested when eaten, they do not enter the blood stream directly and should not cause the above issues. Additionally, since proteins are sensitive to heat and chemicals, the physical process of cooking should contribute to the breakdown of potentially harmful proteins.
On the economic side, research-to-market costs of GM-foods are high. Patent wars are already ensuing between large GM-seed companies like Monsanto and organic growers. Such lawsuitsarecostly and there seems to be no end to the fights in the near future. One suggestion is to have GM-plants last only for one season, meaning that each year crop would be replanted. This is a reasonable suggestion for large companies but smaller farmers may not be able to afford these annual costs as easily.
Federal Regulations & Labeling
Both the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Health Canada approve the distribution of GM crops. Several GM animals are in the late stages of investigation (safety tests) but are not approved for marketing at this point. Two genetically modified animals currently in the pipeline are the Enviropigâ„¢ (Ontario Pork, ON) and AquAdvantageâ„¢ Salmon (AquaBounty Technologies Inc., MA).
Unlike several countries around the world, GM-foods are currently not required to be labeled in North America. Several organizations like http://justlabelit.org/ are advocating that consumers have the right to know that they’re eating.
I can’t say that I eat only organic food although I do try and buy local, fresh produce as much as possible, which typically is organic. Eating organic can get expensive and is not always available readily and I’m neither going to break the bank nor starve. Unfortunately, I can’t say “Ignorance is Bliss”because I am aware that there are limited studies regarding the safety of GM-foods. I will say this: I am a strong advocate for free-will and personal choice and the lack of labeling of GM-foods does bother me. I say label the food and the consumer decide!
1. A. Constable et al. History of safe use as applied to the safety assessment of novel foods and foods derived from genetically modified organisms. Food and Chemical Toxicology. 2007;45(12):2513-2525.
2. Krentz C. Perceived and potential human health risks associated with consumption of genetically modified animals. National Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health. 2013
3. Verma C, et al. A Review on Impactsof Genetically Modified Food on Human Health. The Open Nutraceuticals Journal. 2011;4:3-11.
4. Natural Standard.2013.Organic Food. Accessed on August 2,2013 from http://www.naturalstandard.com
5. Cichosz G, Wiackowski SK. Genetically modified food – great unknown (Abstract). PolMerkurLekarski. 2012;33(194):59-63.
About the Author
Visit http://rubydeubry.com/genetically-modified-foods/ to view the article’s pictures.
I’m a Pharmacist, Personal Chef, and Lifestyle Model working to develop a culinary and lifestyle television show called Savvy Chic Cuisine. The show is tailored for today’s progressive cooks and health-conscious viewers and will combine chic, contemporary cuisine with savvy health tips.