The genetic modifications of plants and animals is one of the biggest and most difficult environmental challenges of the 21st century. Did you know that [tag]GMO[/tag]s are found extensively in many [tag]food[/tag] products on the supermarket shelves and the chances are you have already eaten GMOs!
What is a genetically modified organism?
The general principal behind GMO is to insert DNA that has been taken from another organism and modified through [tag]genetic engineering[/tag] techniques into an organism’s genome to create both new and enhanced traits and phenotypes. By being able to take genetic material from one organism and insert it into the permanent genetic code of another, biotechnologists have engineered numerous creations, such as pigs with human growth genes, fish with cattle genes and so on.
What were the first crops?
The first commercially grown genetically modified food crop was the Flavr Savr tomato which was made more resistant to rotting. It was released into the market for sale in 1994. This tomato was found to cause damage to the stomachs of rats and was later taken off the market. This was followed by insect protected cotton and herbicide tolerant soybeans, which both were commercially released in 1996. Today the soybean is by far the world’s most cultivated GM plant, followed by corn, cotton and canola.
Foods that have been genetically modified
GM foods have been available to the public since the1990s, so the invasion of GMOs will continue in our grocery stores and in our kitchen pantries. The most common crops which have been modified and to watch for include:
* Soybean (Soy flour, soy oil, lecithin, soy protein isolates and concentrates).
* Oilseed rape – canola (Oil, fabric).
* Potato (Right now the only potato that has been genetically engineered is the Burbank Russet, but you still have to look out for potato starch and flour).
* Corn (flour, corn starch, corn oil, corn sweeteners, syrups).
* Dairy Products (Milk, cheese, butter, buttermilk, sour cream, yogurt, whey).
* Animal Products (Because animal feed often contains genetically engineered organisms, all animal products, or by-products may be affected).
Affects to human health and the environment
The GMO foods currently on the market have not undergone adequate testing to ensure their safety for human consumption and also to quantify what impact they have on the environment. Genetically engineered food can have a serious effect on human health, on wildlife and the environment. Human risks can include;
* Allergic/ toxic reactions (to hidden genes and combination)
* Antibiotic resistance
* Immune – suppression
* Increased cancer risk
* Unsuspected side effects
Environmental impacts can include;
* Uncontrolled biological pollution
* Threatening numerous microbial, plant and animal species with extinction.
* Potential contamination of non-genetically engineered life forms with novel and possibly hazardous genetic material.
* Increased use of and dependence on toxic herbicides.
* Harm to farming (deformed crops, increased pest resistance, increased farmer costs and debt).
* Crop failures.
* Biodiversity (implications for biodiversity, the balance of wildlife and the environment).
* Creation of GM “Superweeds” and “Superpests”.
* Damage to food quality and nutrition.
* Ethical Issues
How to avoid GMO
* The only guaranteed way to avoid eating GMOs is to buy fresh certified organic produce.
* Read labels – When buying a product check the ingredients on the label. GM soybean and corn make up the largest portion of GE crops. If they are listed then there is a good chance it is GM. Remember the label does not have to declare that it contains GM ingredients.
* Avoid processed foods – 70% of processed foods contain GM ingredients.
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