Don t Mess With My Food!
Technology has been in full swing for years, but only recently have some of these developments been placed in front of us at the dinner table. The genetic engineering of food is a hot topic; that with each meal, there is the possibility that we are putting genetically modified organisms (GMO) in our mouths. These toys of technology may make the apples look bigger and juicier, but who is to say that these science experiments will not have long-term hazardous effects? There are many advantages to the science of genetic engineering, but the uncertainty of the science outweighs the seemingly safe benefits. Simply, what some of the major arguments boil down to is that genetically modified organisms are potentially harmful to the environment, and most importantly, they are potentially harmful to humans. Are we willing, at this point, to take that risk? I agree with Dr. Suzanne Wuerthelle when she says, the bottom line, in my personal view, is that we are confronted with the most powerful technology the world has ever known, and it is being rapidly deployed with almost no thought to its consequences (Grogan 44). We need to think about consequences before we leap into the unknown.
Undoubtedly, there are arguments in favor of genetic engineering. Pesticides are literally poured on many rows of crops daily. Farmers stop at no length to protect their precious fields of profit. In turn, the groundwater is polluted and the general population is effected by the toxins floating in the soil and the water. By mutating pest resistant genes and installing them into these plants, they become pesticides within themselves and less add-on pesticides are required to keep these crops bug free. Not less significant are the recent discoveries on how to enrich our foods with vitamins and minerals that would not otherwise be present in these foods, thus making crop area more efficient. In this way, scientists (or rather corporations) hope to be able to feed people who would have otherwise gone hungry, and more impressive is that the foods will actually be healthier. So there are, or seem to be, valid arguments as to why these GMOs would be potentially helpful to us and our food.
However seemingly convincing the arguments for these technological advances, I am not swayed. In the long run, genetically engineering our crops may do more harm than good. Michel Lane states, Genetically engineered organisms pose the greatest risk to ecosystems, since they can become dynamic living parts of them. While some endeavors in genetic engineering may prove successful in keeping pests away, others may pass their anti-bug genes on to their relatives, making them not only bug resistant but pesticide resistant. These cousins could potentially be weeds, and in this case, pesticide use would not only increase but it would have to change in form. In addition, many plants are being genetically engineered to be fruitful in more marginal environments and to reproduce more readily. Both of these traits, wanted in favorable plants, can unfortunately confer to the same plants the potential to become unwanted weeds, invading ecosystems that aren t even their own, taking over and even becoming fatal to various plants and animals, disrupting the food chain, and permanently changing natural habitats (Lane). In a study conducted in the 1996 issue of Nature magazine, the introgression of genes from oilseed rape to its weedy relative Brassica campetris was studied. The results showed the occurrence of fertile, transgenic weed-like plants after just two generations of hybridization and back crossing suggests a possible rapid spread of genes from oilseed rape to B. campestris. They go on to state that this should be taken into account when considering the consequences of transferring new traits (Mikkelson 31). The least harmful pesticides had been used in the past, but now farmers may have to switch to less earth friendly chemicals to deter their plant predators. This reverse effect could have a potentially irreversible effect on our environment and ecosystems, not to mention that farmers could face huge financial losses if their fields are contaminated by wind borne pollen from neighboring genetically modified crops (Grogan 44). Some researchers say that the world s fields are becoming a laboratory for the largest unplanned ecological experiment in agricultural history (Spotts). As Michel Lane states, Risks to ecosystems are, of course, eventually risks to human health and health is something that none of us wants to lose.
The fact that some foods may be improved by having different genes may mean different things to different people. Not only may the genes that are added into the crops be against moral and religious beliefs, but they could be harmful to their health on a short-term and a long-term level. Without proper labeling and precautions, people have no idea what they are eating. For example, muslims have strict religious beliefs against eating pork. If they ate cereal genetically engineered with a pork gene, are they not compromising their religious beliefs due to lack of information? If you have an allergy to the original strain of a gene, would you still have the allergic reaction to the altered and injected gene? Soy information online says that there have been a 50% increase in soy allergies in one year since genetically engineered foods entered the United Kingdom (Lacey). And not all genetically engineered foods have more vitamins. A study in a 1999 issue of the Journal of Medicinal Food indicates that compared with nonmodified soy varieties, genetically altered, herbicide-tolerant varieties may contain lower levels of potentially beneficial plant estrogens (Grogan 46). Not enough research has been done to answer these frequently asked questions, but these are probable concerns.
In addition to being harmful to many species of plants, this GEO kick may not be the best of news for the animal population either. In the current issue of the journal Science, a pair of British Scientists suggest that starling populations could drop by as much as 90% if farmers adopt a new strain of sugar beets tailored to tolerate herbicides. (Spotts) Another study states that monarch butterflies are threatened by pollen from corn that is engineered to produce a toxin fatal to a particular pest (Spotts).
Many genetically engineered foods have been linked to some cancer-causing agents. In a 1996 article in the International Journal of Health Services, it warns that milk produced from cows injected with Monsanto s genetically engineered bovine growth hormone (BGH) contains higher levels of a hormone that could be linked to higher breast and gastrointestinal cancer rates in humans (Grogan 46). BGH milk differs from natural milk chemically, immunologically, pharmacologically, and nutritionally, besides being contaminated with pus and antibiotics resulting from mastitis induced by the biotech hormone (Researcher warns of Cancer Risk from rBGH Dairy food). An interesting fact on this issue is that Americans have been drinking this unlabeled BGH-produced milk for years, but never has it been allowed in Europe or Canada (Grogan 46). Ever wonder why?
A plant geneticist Alan McHughen says, We look at genetically modified crops, and we know what the potential hazards MAY be, but we want to know what the hazards really are before they go out into the marketplace (Spotts). In the U.S, regulators only require a one year trial before any given seed is ready for sale. (Spotts). This simply is not enough. As Congresswoman Kaptur stated , Because we have never before had these genetically engineered crops, we really do not know their long term effects (The Campaign). That is the bottom line. There may be numerous seemingly beneficial effects of genetically modifying our crops and foods, but not nearly enough time has been put into researching possible side effects. We do not want to be feeling the repercussions of these so called miracle-genes fifty years down the road. Simply, more research must be done before it becomes common practice for us to be putting these fake foods into our mouths.