Genetically Modified Foods

A recent article reports that countries in Europe, Africa and Asia, specifically China, are relaxing previous restrictions on the importation and research of genetically modified crops.   This is because of the increasing demand for food from growing populations, which often results in hunger epidemics.  Genetic engineering has focused on producing plants which thrive in cold weather, droughts, nitrogen poor soils, among other desirable characteristics like herbicide and insect resistance.  On the one hand, genetic engineering does (more efficiently) what farmers have been doing for centuries-artificial selection through crossbreeding.  These developed traits allow for less fertilization (less chemical sprays in the environment and chemical residue on the foods) and higher yields to feed the public.  On the other hand, the public has voiced concern about the health effects of GM crops, or “Fraken-foods.”

GM crops are already in widespread use, especially in the US.  According to this article from C&EN,

In 2007 GM crops were planted in 23 countries across 281 million acres, a larger area than all the farmland in Europe.

Rice, corn, cotton, and soybeans are the major targets.  There is talk about requiring products made with GM crops to be labeled, and some companies are voluntarily labeling already.  Companies like Silk who use soybeans (the most GM crop) gladly label that they do not use GM beans.

I think the question here as in many of our debates is how much science should interfere with nature.  I’m actually not sure where I stand on the issue:  I see both sides.  It is the purpose of science to find a way to keep up with the growing needs of the world, and food is the most basic of these demands.  But at the same time, it is often difficult for scientists to accurately predict the full repercussions of their developments.  Are the risks worth it?  Both for our bodies and the environment?

Comments (7) Add yours ↓
  1. aferdous

    I think genetic engineering is a great way to help fight world hunger. When I first learned about GM crops in High School, I was a little skeptical about the process because I thought of it as just another way that science would be interfering with nature. However, in countries like China with a large population and a shortage of food, GM crops seem very applicable. However it would be nice for more research to be done on exactly how GM crops affect the human body.

    2 December 2008
  2. csimmons

    GM varieties that can grow in harsh environments are a great idea in my opinion, but actually giving away GM food like the U.S. does to Africa [] I’m not so sure about. Since we don’t know how different they are from normal crops like Aasia said, I think it’s too early to be giving the food out, especially if it will be a staple food and how it could affect children especially.

    2 December 2008
  3. adetmer

    I think the idea of GM foods is a good way to use science to help solve a problem. World hunger is a problem that is increasing in severity along with the increase in world population. Some may say that this is interfering with nature but I think that it is a good way to increase the amount food available. However, I do think that there should be a lot of research done to see how the body reacts to GM foods both short and long term as well as investigate if there are any adverse environmental effects.

    2 December 2008
  4. awood

    Yeah Christine, I read in the first article that Africa specifically had been rejecting the food aid from the US which was GM, but are now beginning to accept it. It is definitely not a good situation if countries are forced to accept GM food because it’s the only aid they are offered. We don’t know much about what the genetic changes mean in different ecosystems, with different insect populations and also going higher up the whole food chain that might be affected. So the international repercussions are a good point.

    But how do you feel about selling it here? Should it be labeled?

    3 December 2008
  5. rkoehler

    I agree with everyone else in that GM foods are a great breakthrough and in theory could bring about the end to the global food shortage. But in response to Alessa’s question, I feel as though GM foods sold here in the U.S. need to be labeled, at least until more research has been done. I feel as though much of the American public isn’t aware that GM foods do exist, so it is only fair to them to know what they are ingesting (even though the obese populus probably wouldn’t care anyway).

    Since current research hasn’t found any major problems with GM foods I don’t see any problem with selling them in the U.S. if they are labeled, but how far does this research has to go before GM foods can be designated as “safe” enough?

    3 December 2008
  6. csimmons

    I think selling it in the U.S. is totally fine. It should be labeled though. If, as the data about its effects come in, it is proven to have a negative effect, GM foods will disappear on their own (hopefully); if there is no difference in effects, I’m sure it would be fine to phase the labels out. But until then, there should definitely be labels for the wary among us.

    5 December 2008
  7. skassel

    My concern is in the unintended consequences from such complex systems where it is impossible to predict what may happen. It could be that the benefits trump any concerns, but rigorous oversight is still necessary.

    7 December 2008

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