Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Precautionary Measures for Genetically Modified Foods Essay

Genetically modified (GM) foods, a fairly recent development that came about from research in genetic engineering, pose a potential threat to human and environmental health. The basis of genetically modifying foods is the transferal of desirable genetic traits of plants to an agricultural crop. Genetic modification creates crops that are resistant to herbicides or can repel insects. Genetic modification also makes growing crops easier and allows for higher production rates. Anytime genetically altered crops are consumed by humans, the GM crops should be subjected to rigorous testing to assure that it is safe for human consumption and safe for the environment. When it comes to the environment and human safety, one cannot be too cautious. Some say that further safety testing of GM foods is not necessary because there is no evidence of GM foods being unsafe (Cockburn 2002). The truth is that the public does not yet trust that genetically modified foods are completely safe (Harlander 2002). The only way to convince the public that GM foods are safe and to create a market for GM foods is to perform further safety tests, such as a human study or controlled experiments. I propose that you fund this necessary and fundamental testing to ensure that GM foods are safe for the environment and for human consumption in order to help create a market for this life-improving product. Genetically modified crops were first commercially introduced in the United States in 1996; and by 2001 24% of the corn, 63% of the soybeans, and 64% of the cotton being grown in the U. S. were genetically modified varieties (Harlander 2002). Through genetic engineering, scientists have created varieties of crops that are insect-resistant, virus resistant, and herbicide tolerant. These qualities allow for improved yield and reduced use of potentially dangerous pesticides, as well as improved weed control reduced crop injury, reduction in foreign matter, reduced fuel use, and significant reduction in soil erosion. All of these consequences seem to be beneficial for the human race and the environment. It is important to prove to the public that GM foods are safe so that such a beneficial technology will not be under-utilized. In the United States, three government agencies are involved in the approval of genetically modified crops. These three agencies are the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) (Harlander 2002). These agencies are responsible for ensuring that the GM crops are safe for the environment and for human consumption. More specifically, the USDA ensures that the GM crops are safe to grow, the EPA makes sure that the GM crops are safe for the environment, and the FDA ensures that the products are safe to eat (Harlander 2002). The three agencies put the genetically modified crops through rigorous environmental and food safety assessments before they can be commercialized. However, Susan Harlander reminds the scientific community â€Å"an effective food safety evaluation system minimizes risk, but it is important to remember that food is not inherently safe† (2002). Tampering with the genetics of a crop increases the possibility of that crop being dangerous to the environment or to human health. Bettie Sue Masters, PhD, states, â€Å"All evidence to date indicates that any breeding technique that alters a plant or animal, whether by genetic engineering or other methods, has the potential to create unintended changes in the quality or amounts of food components that could harm health† (qtd. in Panasevich 2004). It is highly likely that this lack of inherent safety is a reason why the public is so cautious about the acceptance of GM foods. The key to diminishing the public’s fear of GM foods is to extend the safety evaluation process. Consumers have two main concerns about genetically modified foods: first, that GM foods are unsafe to eat; and second, that their cultivation will harm the environment (Gasson 2001). Currently the most widely used safety evaluation process is called substantial equivalence. Michael Gasson and Derek Burke discuss substantial equivalence: Substantial equivalence recognizes the fact that conventional foods have been eaten by many people over a long period of time and have an established and accepted level of safety. Genetic modification involves the introduction of a limited amount of change and substantial equivalence uses a comparative approach to reveal both intended and unintended differences between a genetically modified (GM) food and its conventional counterpart. (Gasson 2002) If the genetically modified food is substantially equivalent to, or similar to, it’s conventional counterpart, then it is generally regarded as safe. Thus far substantial equivalence has been effective, but as genetically modified foods become more and more complex there is no guarantee that this method will continue its success. More in-depth testing is required to ensure the safety of future GM foods. Genetically modified crops should be tested on living subjects in addition to applying the substantial equivalence method. Animals or human volunteers are essential in proving the safety of the genetically modified crops already approved by the FDA, EPA, and USDA, in addition to the GM crops to be introduced in the future. The risk of harm to a living being would be low as the GM food would have already passed the substantial equivalence test before being consumed. Long term testing would be able to prove that there are no mal-effects resulting from the consumption of GM foods. While long term testing may seem unappealing, it is a small price to pay for improving the quality of life for a nation. The public’s concern extends beyond the effects of GM crops after human consumption all the way to GM crops’ effects on the environment. Many environmentalists as well as non-affiliated persons think that genetically modified crops have a negative effect on the environment. Traits meant only for agricultural crops can be transferred to other plants through pollination; traits, like being herbicide tolerant or virus-resistant, which would diminish natural and artificial checks and balances on plants (Guebert 2004). The best way to ensure that the GM crops will not harm the environment is to perform experiments and further safety assessments. Convincing the public that genetically modified crops are safe for the environment is pivotal towards creating a market for GM foods and in turn improving quality of life. The testing and assessing of the safety of GM foods that I propose will be divided into two categories: the safety of genetically modified crops for the environment; and the safety of GM foods for human consumption. The testing of the safety of GM crops for the environment must be performed under controlled conditions. Our testing will take place in a greenhouse, where any negative effects will be contained and kept away from the environment. All genetically modified crops would be tested for two factors: whether or not the trait is likely to be passed on to other plants; and what nutrients in the soil the GM crop depletes and how fast it does so. These two factors are essential in proving the safety of genetically modified crops for the environment. If a GM crop passed traits, such as herbicide tolerance or virus-resistance, on to other plant species, it could potentially change the ability of that species to survive and thrive and wreak havoc on the delicate balance of the ecosystem. This risk of upsetting the ecosystem frightens would-be GM food consumers from supporting the industry. In order to test the ability of the genetically modified crop to pass on its genes to another species of plant, it would be planted for two growing seasons in the presence of varying plant species found around the agricultural United States. The soil will be tested for nutrients before and after each growing season in order to keep track of the nutrient depletion rate. Any genetically modified crop that depleted the soil of essential nutrients at an abnormally fast rate would be rejected. A genetically modified crop’s failure to pass any of the tests or assessments would not be approved, thereby leaving no reason for the public to fear for the safety of the environment on account of the GM foods on the market. To test the safety of GM foods for human consumption, a comparative study must be performed. In order for the study to be effective and result in usable data, several hundred human volunteers will need to participate. The volunteers will be divided into two groups. The first group will be asked to incorporate a specific genetically modified food into their everyday diet. The second group will be asked to incorporate the conventional counterpart of the same GM food into their diet. The study will last for 2 months with the participants receiving weekly physicals to check for any changes in health. A change in negative change in health in a number participant from group one, the group consuming a GM food, would indicate that the genetically modified food is playing a role in the deterioration. The GM food in question would then either be taken off of the market or subjected to further testing, depending on the extent of the data acquired from the study. With this study in place, consumers would feel much more comfortable purchasing, and creating a market for, genetically modified foods. By proving that genetically modified foods are safe for human consumption and for the environment, we are proving to the public that there is no cause for fear. In the absence of fear, consumers will no longer object to buying GM foods resulting in a market for genetically modified foods. The increase in demand for GM foods will result in more research and development and bring advances in GM technology. Genetically modified foods have the potential to improve the quality of life of people all over the world, and it would be a shame to let this technology go to waste. If you give us this grant, there will be numerous benefits that can come from our work. Please consider the well-being of the people that will be helped by our work while you are making your decision. Thank you. Works Cited Cockburn A. Assuring the safety of genetically modified (GM) foods: the importance of an holistic, integrative approach. J Biotechnol. 2002; 98 (1): 79-106. Harlander SK. Safety assessments and public concern for genetically modified food products: the American view. Toxicol Pathol. 2002; 30 (1): 132-134. Gasson M, Burke D. Scientific perspectives on regulating the safety of genetically modified foods. Nat Rev Genet. 2001; 2 (3): 217-222. Guebert A, Cousins D. Welcome to the world of unintended consequences. Farmers Weekly 2004; 141 (9): 64. Panasevich CL. Risk assessment urged for genetically modified foods. Nation’s Health. 2004; 34 (7): 25.

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