Genetic modification occurs when science is used to change the genetic makeup of an animal or a plant. New technology that involves recombinant DNA allows research scientists to combine genes from more than one organism, resulting in a genetically modified animal or plant. Genetic modification not only appears in medicines like vaccines, it is present in some of the foods we eat as well. One of the hardest parts of genetic modification of food is finding the plant and animal genes that are beneficial in increasing pest resistance, or boosting the food’s nutrition. Genetic modification research is happening every day, and genome sequencing has been done for hundreds (perhaps even thousands) of different organisms.
As of 2006, there were over 250 million acres of genetically altered food crops planted by a little over ten million growers. Most of these crops were insect and herbicide-tolerant alfalfa, cotton, corn, canola, and soybeans. Other foods like sweet potatoes, rice, and plants that are able to resist drought, harm from pests and insecticides, and cold are in the testing stages.
Genetically modifying foods may one day create things like apples that bolster our resistance to diseases like hepatitis. It will also result in animals that mature more quickly, and are resistant to conditions such as mad cow disease. There is tremendous potential in genetic engineering, but due to the large number of unknowns, there is danger there also. In this article, we will discuss some of the pros and cons of genetically modified foods.
On the “pros” side, genetically modified food can be easier on the environment, because they allow for the creation of environmentally-conscious insecticides and herbicides. Genetically altered foods also help to conserve energy and water because processing is easier.
Genetic altering improves the quality and taste of food. Most modified foods have more nutrients, as well as higher yield. It takes less time to grow them, and they are more resistant to disease and pests. Because they mature so quickly, genetically altered foods may be key in solving world hunger issues.
Genetically altered animals have better health due to their resistance to disease.
However, there are some distinct disadvantages as well. Genetically modified foods can be dangerous to human health, because they create allergic reactions in some people and allow us to become resistant to antibiotics.
There are ethical questions surrounding the altering of animals and plants. Many think that it’s “playing God” and taking away from the inherent value of a species. No one really knows the full result of combining genes from various animals and plants.
These foods can harm the environment through unintended cross-pollination or loss of biodiversity. They can also kill off beneficial soil microbes.
Different countries have different rules for the labeling of genetically altered foods. Some do not require that they be labeled, which means that consumers can’t make an informed decision on whether or not to buy a genetically modified product.
Genetic tinkering can, sometime in the future, create a situation where most food production is controlled by a select few companies. Those in developing countries may end up more dependent on more advanced nations, and these more evolved countries may end up exploiting others for their natural resources.
Genetic modification of plant and animal foodstuffs is in its infancy, and it is expected to grow exponentially in the next few decades. Because the process is in its earliest stages, no one is fully aware of the benefits and the dangers that come when a plant or animal is genetically altered and then consumed as food. There are a lot of advantages to genetically altering foods, but there are a lot of disadvantages as well.