What is genetically modified food? How is it made? What are the advantages and disadvantages of it?
Genetically modified foods are produced by altering the DNA of an organism, usually a plant which produces food. It is then inserted into another organism’s genome to make a new, useful trait. These traits include a resistance to weeds, pests or herbicides, a faster growth rate, increased nutrients or a longer shelf life. You can also produce genetically modified food by changing the number of copies a gene has in an organism, modifying the position of a gene within the genome or simply by removing the gene.
There are many advantages to genetically modified food. GM foods can be made to be resistant to many diseases, weeds, pests and herbicides. They can even be made to be drought or flood tolerant. They can grow faster and have more nutrients than other crops while not going bad as quickly. They are also cheaper for farmers as you don’t need to use chemical sprays. These traits could be the solution to third world hunger. The crops in poorer countries wouldn’t be destroyed so easily after every drought or flood. They would be able to grow faster and there would be more of them as they are resistant to pests. The crops would also be healthier for people because iron and other minerals can be added to them, removing malnutrition problems.
Another advantage is that in the future, foods could be modified to make edible vaccines, like bananas that protect us against Hepatitius B. Edible vaccines would make large scale immunisations against diseases easier, painless and more accessible. Instead of waiting in line for a doctor you could eat a tomato.
Despite the many advantages to genetically modified foods there are also many disadvantages. First and foremost is that genetically modified foods are new and it is impossible to know all the future effects it could have on human health and the environment. The risks and benefits of new technologies are only fully known after they have been in use for many years. An example is nuclear power, forty years ago it was thought that t could solve all the worlds problems with unlimited, cheap and safe energy. Only now do we know the full benefits and risks of nuclear power.
Another disadvantage is the potential impact it could have to human health. The new genes that are put in food could be resistant to certain antibiotics; if we eat them the effectiveness of antibiotics could be reduced. New allergens could be accidentally created and known allergens could be transferred to other foods. For example, if a gene from peanuts was taken and put in a tomato, people allergic to peanuts could be allergic to that tomato. Most importantly, scientists can’t actually prove whether genetically modified foods are 100% safe because normal toxicology tests do not work for food.
There are many environmental problems involving genetically modified foods. These are mainly about pollination of plants. If genetically modified plants pollinate non-genetically modified plants this could spread them into the wild, where they could compete with other plants. This would upset the balance of nature, as these plants could easily take over. Plants that are made resistant to chemical herbicides could pollinate with weeds. This would be disastrous because then new, stronger sprays would have to be developed to counter them. This would increase ground and water contamination, something genetically modified plants are supposed to prevent.