There exists a long lasting and confusing debate over genetically engineered or modified food (GMF). The genetic makeup of organisms has been altered by human being since 30,000 years. With the advent of recombinant DNA technology, the process of selective breeding was first used to produce breeds of organisms with desired traits. Flavr savr tomato was the first genetically modified food developed in the year 1994 by Calgene. Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) crops were approved for cultivation in 1995, to produce pesticide resistance (Hiatt & Park, 2013). Golden rice was the first step taken to enhance nutrient quality of food. On the other hand, AquAdvantage Salmon was the first genetically modified animal, developed in 2015. A growth hormone regulating gene with a promoter, from Chinook salmon was genetically modified to prepare this GMO that increased its growth speed and benefitted the aquaculture industry.
The major steps involved in developing GMF are: isolation of the gene of interest that contains the desired trait, insertion of the gene inside plants using the Ti plasmid from Agrobacterium tumefaciens followed by its integration inside the genome. The transformed cells are selected by antibiotic resistance and the plant performance is tested and sent for safety assessment (Prado et al., 2014). The benefits of GMOs include production of crops that are resistant to insect, drought and herbicide. These crops show enhanced resistance to diseases. They have longer shelf life, reduce soil erosion and green house gas emissions and lead to better nutrition. Moreover, genetically modified animals show better health, resistance to diseases and better production of eggs, milk and meat.
Transformation of agricultural organisms has been the subject of ethical dilemma since last century and has triggered controversies. While GMF claims to address malnutrition and food shortage, consumers are concerned about their long term effects on human health. Some of the risks pertinent to use of GMF include nutritional changes, antibiotic resistance, toxin formation and hypersensitivity. GMF have the potential to trigger disease or allergies in humans. An allergenic protein is expressed by Bt corn that alters immunological reactions in our body (Bawa & Anilakumar, 2013). The use of GMF has been linked to a skin disorder, Morgellons disease. Analysis of the fibres produced from the itchy sores found DNA from fungi and bacterium, used in commercial production of GMF (?eminur Topal & Gürda?, 2012). The presence of antibiotic resistant genes in these foods can be passed on to microbes that can cause health problems. Cry1Ab Bt toxins have been found to cross the placental boundary and reach foetuses (Qaim & Kouser, 2013). GM crops reduce weed flowers and lead to less availability of nectar for pollinators. They also impose a risk to food web. GM sugar beets that were produced for herbicide resistance helped in reducing weeds. However, they endangered the existence of skylark birds that consumed the seeds. Another study showed that GM corn led to death of Monarch butterfly caterpillars, which fed on them (Kamle & Ali, 2013).
Thus, it can be concluded that though GMF production is a huge global experiment to meet food supply, it has several associated risks concerning contamination, allergies, biodiversity disruption and diseases. Therefore, strict vigilance by all countries is needed for production of GMF. Moreover, international bio-safety guidelines should be met before these foods are released for consumption.
Bawa, A. S., & Anilakumar, K. R. (2013). Genetically modified foods: safety, risks and public concerns—a review. Journal of food science and technology, 50(6), 1035-1046.
Hiatt, S. R., & Park, S. (2013). Lords of the harvest: Third-party influence and regulatory approval of genetically modified organisms. Academy of Management Journal, 56(4), 923-944.
Kamle, S., & Ali, S. (2013). Genetically modified crops: detection strategies and biosafety issues. Gene, 522(2), 123-132.
Prado, J. R., Segers, G., Voelker, T., Carson, D., Dobert, R., Phillips, J., ... & Reynolds, T. (2014). Genetically engineered crops: from idea to product. Annual review of plant biology, 65.
Qaim, M., & Kouser, S. (2013). Genetically modified crops and food security. PloS one, 8(6), e64879.
?eminur Topal, R., & Gürda?, H. (2012). Chapter 10 Millennium's Dilemma: Genetically Modified Products from the Social Responsibility Perspective. In Business Strategy and Sustainability (pp. 213-230). Emerald Group Publishing Limited.