Current paper examines the concept of GMO’s and how they have been received by the general population so far. The aim is to find out where the problem is and what can be done to settle the debate once and for all. To do this, the paper will cover the GMO’s, their pros and cons, the policies and ethics evoked in the debate and what could be done to end the debate satisfactorily for all sizes involved. Genetically modified foods have existed since 1994. They are foods produced from organisms that have specific characteristics which have been artificially introduced to their DNA. Genetically modified food engineering process is held in labs and is operated by altering the foods’ genetic composition and testing them to acquire the desired results. Basically, they are foods that are not exactly in their most natural configuration; for example, they could have animal cells in a given plant to alter its size or growth rate.
Genetically modified technology has been and ongoing discussion since its inception in the 1970s. Although it has played a crucial role in the alleviation of hunger to millions, its place in the modern world remains debatable due to various concerns, ranging from ethical to religious (LeVine, 2006). The next moment you are out in a grocery store or a supply chain store spending money for food and buying cereals, a few questions should linger in your mind, questions such as where do the grains grown? Why are they grown? How are they grown? Or even how common are they?
GMOs are engineered to provide better resistance to pathogens, withstand herbicides and also to provide higher nutrient profiles (Malamed et al, 2002). By cloning, removing or adding genes to plants genome, plants are improved to be resistant to a number of pests, fungi and even herbicides.
The improvement is mainly done on taste, look, content and storage. Once the desired plants are acquired, the company applies for a field test, once approved, the company mass produce them and sell them to farmers (MacKellar et al, 2012). The farmers then grow the GMOs produced and later sell them. Only then, the genetically modified foods get their way into the supply chain.
GMOs are one of the most debated topics in food politics in the US (Launis et al, 2008). The discussion about how safe GMOs are, if they affect the environment or add any nutritional value to consumers and whether or not labeling is a must has been in the mainstream media for almost two decades now.
While some developed countries, including Australia and Japan have dismissed them as unsafe and, therefore, not appropriate for human use, some countries in the European Union have imposed significant restrictions or outright ban on sale and production (Launis et al, 2008). No genetically modified food meant for human consumption is grown the UK. The US government has gone ahead to approve them, based on reports conducted by the very firms that produce them.
A number of countries produce GMOs, including Argentina, Canada, Brazil and Paraguay and in 2011 USA was the top producing with 69 million hectares.
So far with what has been argued the question then remains why should governments allow the growing of GM crops?
Any time this question comes up, you will receive a ‘yes’ and or a ‘no’ answer and each side gives a powerful counter argument that leaves one wondering whether we should engage in this exercise and if yes, is it safe for us or even to the environment?
The industries, the government and research scientist embrace the advantages of GMOs, while the human rights activists, religious groups, consumer groups and minority research scientists put effort to show and warn the negative health effects of GMOs to the environment and human health (Launis et al, 2008). The debate goes on to discuss labeling, so that consumers can be aware of it when purchasing products.
Proponents for the debate argue that malnutrition is a prevalent case in developing countries because they rely on a single staple food like rice or corn; scientist, therefore, wishes to develop food by adding minerals and vitamins (Brunk & Coward, 2009). Vitamin A deficiency kills over two million children every year and leaves another half a million blind. Scientists have come up with the golden rice which triggers our bodies to produce vitamin A. They argue that GM foods can be used to deal with malnutrition problem in developing countries.
Pests and insects are a major problem for both developed and developing countries, they cause major physical damage to crops and also deprive them off their nutritional value. The farmers end up making losses. With the help of GM foods, scientist can help raise pest resistant crops. In an effort to contain the pests’ farmers spray large amounts of killer sprays and it is a tedious exercise (MacKellar et al, 2012). Their residue then finds their way to the foliage that wildlife feed on, hence they eat contaminated foliage. Crop scientists promise to provide resistant crops and with a single spray the crops can withstand a broad spectrum of these pest and insects. They base their argument and say that as a pro GM food are resistant to pests and help deal with the residue foliage.
They also wish to achieve minimal or no till farming in order to curb soil erosion that is also a major global problem with an estimated 25 billion tons of topsoil being lost every year from runoff and wind (Brunk & Coward, 2009).
The opponents of the debate give a rather emotional perspective on the subject. They question whether we have the right to alter the genome and whether we have the right to play God (Bodiguel & Cardwell, 2010). This is a question of ethics and morality. The religious leaders have warned about this time. Nature, they argue, takes centuries before it can alter or cause genetic changes, so ‘why should we?’, they ask.
Many people feel that it is immoral and that it does not respect the principles that have lasted for ages about the relationship between humanity and nature. What is an even more serious and emotional debate is when it comes to cloning animals; the religious leaders and religious groups have come out strongly condemning this act. Most people fear that the GM food may present allergies to children or even adults which would pose a health issue (MacKellar et al, 2012). Also, the fear that bacteria in our guts would pick up resistant genes has also come up in the discussion. How do we engineer GM food? To help us explore this question we go back to the origin in 1983, the first genetically modified plant was produced using resistant tobacco plant (Tomiuk et al, 1996). A decade later in 1994 the first genetically modified crop was approved for marketing in the US.
Another con pointed out is that GM foods do not add any economic value, they just take as along to mature and just as much effort as one would traditionally breed foods. In an interview Thierry Vrain PhD., explains why he moved from GMO and adopted organic farming instead. Thierry in his interview explains that there are findings that show eating GM foods could cause indirect effects such as toxins, allergens and even nutritional deficiencies (MacKellar et al, 2012). He says that these warnings were initially ignored, but later a number of publications are confirming these earlier concerns.
Policies and Ethics
The policies in question with regards to this GMO debate are about safety in terms of the environment and the health of the people consuming these products. The countries that have banned GMO’s are heavily against them based on the notion that they are unsafe for human consumption (Ruse & Castle, 2002). Based on the fact that they are modified artificially, there are questions about their long term effects on the consumers.
With regards to ethics, it remains up to one’s religious subscription to dictate on whether they think it is unethical or immoral to ‘play God’ and alter nature for whatever reason. This debate could be countered given that there are many courses of nature that are altered, including diseases, natural disasters like flooding and even droughts.
The policies and ethics that guide the debate on GMO’s are not entirely rooted on either side. Both the proponents and opponents have a lot going for them such that they could both be right or wrong. This implies that neither the opponents nor the proponents have the final say and that a compromise should be reached with regards to a middle ground.
Given the pros and cons argued by both the proponents and the opponents, the question to ask is from which text should we read? Are genetically modified foods safe to use as the mainstream media make us believe? Should we take caution when consuming them? Should the discussion have them labeled be introduced again and let the consumer make their own informed decision on whether to consume or not? Polls from time and again show that a considerable percentage of Americans prefer to have prior knowledge if the foods they are purchasing contain GMOs or not. A Mellan group poll in 2012 found out that 91% of Americans would like GMOs labeled. In a separate poll by the CBS/ New York Times reveal that 53% of consumers would not purchase genetically modified foods.
If the polls are anything to go by the government should introduce measures to listen to the consumer’s views and feelings. It is their right to know exactly the content of what they are consuming. Consumer activist organizations such as non-GMO are doing a commendable job in educating the consumers and giving them an informed decision; in my opinion, they fill up the gap that the government should take. By making consumers change their strategy in the market place, goes a long way in ensuring that if they stop buying genetically modified foods, the companies will stop using those (Gaskell & Bauer, 2006). The US government should follow the example set by their counterparts in the European Union and regulate their sale and distribution, just like they would any other product, requiring extensive testing to ensure public safety (Tomiuk et al, 1996). It is evident from the argument that the food politics is a discussion that entails production, regulation control, inspection distribution and consumption. It is, therefore, affected by a number of factors, ranging from culture, values religion, morality or ethics as have been evidenced.
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It is apparent that there is more to GMOs than what meets the eye, a thorough and exclusive research is necessary, factoring in contributions, feelings, fears and concerns from all involved parties. In so doing, the consumers are given the opportunity to make an informed decision. Religious groups who ask the question of morality and values get a chance to put in their views, other minor groups such as vegetarians do not feel cheated after finding out that the tomato they consumed had a pig or fish gene in it (Gaskell & Bauer, 2006). Perhaps in so doing, the longest standing debate in food politics will have been put to rest with all parties satisfied.