Genetically Engineered Foods. Are They Safe? Essay, Research Paper
Many argue that Genetically Engineered food is dangerous to humans and even though you may not know it Genetically Altered agricultural products have been used by a majority of Americans for many years with no more side effects than regular home grown products. The problem being that the consumer does not know if he or she is consuming a Genetically Engineered product or even which products are deemed Genetically Engineered by the Food and Drug Administration. This being the main concern we must first examine the safety of these products and determine if the labeling used is misleading to the consumer as stated by FDA in their Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act in 1994 (Winn 1999, p.4).
The safety of these products is something not new to the whole agricultural scene. Since true Genetically Engineered foods, or Genetically Engineered foods as we think of it not just selective breeding, first became an idea in the early 1970 FDA has kept a close watch on the development of this somewhat new technology and the effects it could potentially have on the human race. One such organization devoted to the safe development of new Agricultural Technologies is The Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, which holds annual symposia to discuss and publish these advances. The symposia started around the time concern arose for the safety of the Genetically Engineered products being developed.
Proof of safety is not a difficult to come across as one might think for a positive stand on this issue. Some would state that the proof is already present as some Genetically Engineered foods have been in use for many years with little reported incidents and of these incidents almost all have been found to be of a fictional basis. Other forms of proof could be found in the science of the process itself stating that no new material has been added to these foods to deem them different from the original form. I would like to focus mainly on the first form of evidence.
Not only have these products been on our store shelves for quite a few years but they have also been in quite a few experiments. One study performed with potatoes has the potential to change even the way we are medicated when sick. It could have a profound impact on us sooner than most of us would expect due to the advances in Genetic Engineering technology. This study was performed by a Dr. Tacket who found a way to medicate a diarrhea germ through the use of a genetically engineered potato. Dr. Tacket has “hopes that doctors could one day vaccinate people with fruits and vegetables instead of needles.” (New York Times, inc., 1998). The germ targeted was a form of E. coli that is the major cause of diarrhea in people who travel. This would make for a more pleasant medication than the usual pills or gooey liquid.
The Genetic Engineering process is the reason we have our vaccines today. Without technology of genetics diseases and viruses like smallpox and anthrax would be running rampant today with no check in sight to combat these deadly killers. Many advocates of anti-Genetic Engineering technology would say we do not know enough about this process to have the right to use it. I guess they think we didn’t have the right to save millions of lives.
To argue that these products cause us danger in any direct way without pertinent proof makes for a very difficult argument. Regardless, many still waste valuable air in the futile effort to prove something that has no proof. David Ropeik of the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis mentioned in his letter to the Boston Globe on April second 2000, that the evidences to the dangers of Genetically Engineered foods is scant and vague and that there is ample evidence to suggest that these foods could in many ways improve life and push forward advances in the agricultural industry.
So in sight of this evidence why is the idea of foods bred and modified to possess certain preferred traits so unnerving to most people and why do we fight against it so. I think David Ropeik said it best when he compared hard to understand vs. easy to understand. “Nuclear power is high-tech stuff that scares a lot of people. Burning coal and oil is simple and generates less fear. Yet pollution from fossil fuel burning kills tens of thousands of Americans every year, far more than Three Mile Island and Chernobyl combined. To most people, not being up on the latest in biochemistry, eating something that has had the amino acid sequence of the exoms of its deoxyribonucleic acid altered sure sounds scary.”(Ropeik, Boston Globe, 2000). David really hit the nail on the head when he said this, identifying the fear that many of us face. It is the same fear that our ancestors used to protect themselves from dangers in the wilderness. It is much safer to jump back from a stick that looks like a snake than to think about it and investigate and come to find out that indeed it is a deadly snake. We are more likely to trust in something we feel we have control over even when we are in more danger. This is like driving a car and flying in a jet. One you are racing down a runway at 150 miles an hour and the other you are cruising at sixty. Yet the former is much more safe with far fewer accidents and fatalities. Yet we still want to believe the dangers and trust in our own expertise when we can’t even grow a decent garden ourselves.
One of the leading political organizations that oppose this subject is the Natural Law Party that recently made a run for President of the United States. They have many views that are very conservative and usually discourage the use of technologies on modifying the process and uses of agricultural products for human consumption and use. This party makes many assertions that Genetically Engineered foods are a hazard sating that it is an imprecise technology and that these foods could cause potential mutations (Mothers for Natural Law, 2000).
Organizations throughout the world both for and against have stated time and again their stand on the subject, the major difference being the proof presented by each group. In day-to-day life many of us namely consumers will come in contact with this issue of Genetically Engineered foods and their affect on each one of us. We might even find ourselves engaging in idle conversation as to prove a point that really is not that important to us or our daily lives for as we may argue that these altered foods are dangerous, not fit for human consumption even not needed we prove ourselves wrong by going to the store to buy these very same products with our knowledge or without. We choose to trust in the agricultural community as we have done since the late 1970’s in concern with foods altered by the engineering of genetics.
Ropeik, D. (2000, April 2). Genetic Engineering, Fears and Phobias. The Boston Globe, pp. E.3.