Genetically Modified Foods: How safe???

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There’s so much of serious discussion going on these days about the safety issues of the genetically modified foods or GM foods. So, here, first we’ll discuss about what exactly a GM food is and then come to see how it may affect our health including its pros and cons.

First things first, a GM food is produced by genetically altering the plant. Every living thing is composed of the basic building blocks called cells and usually every cell has DNA. DNA is nothing but a sequence of molecules. This DNA is inherited by the parents of the cell and its role is to determine the properties of that living-thing. For the sake of convenience in studies and research, scientists divide the DNA sequence into smaller sub-sequences called genes. Keeping it simple, one gene is usually responsible for one property of the living-thing. For example, color of a corn will be decided by one gene, while the amount of hair in the corn-cobs will be determined by some other gene. Now, if we can alter the sequence of a particular gene, we’ll be able to alter the property controlled by that particular gene! Similarly, new properties, like resistance against a particular bacteria can also be installed into the crop by introducing a whole new gene in the DNA. So, the crops produced by such alterations or additions in genes are called GM crops while the derived foods are called GM foods.

GM foods are produced to provide better quality in lower price range. How does it control the price? Well, let us see an example. Every year, a huge amount of crops get destroyed by infection from various microorganisms. We can prevent it to some extent by adding up a gene in the crop DNA which will give it the property of resistance against that particular microorganism. Crops get saved, we get better yield and prices get reduced. Most people think that traditionally grown foods are eaten from thousands of years by mankind and so it is safer while GM foods are unnaturally produced, so it might be risky. Well, it might be risky if proper risk assessment is not done! Traditional food could also be risky without proper risk assessment. According to the WHO (World Health Organization), here are the 3 ways a GM crop may harm us:

  1. Allergenicity: There are some common allergenic foods. Gene transfer from them is usually avoided to make a new GM crop, unless the proteins produced by the new crops are shown non-allergenic in lab reports.
  2. Gene Transfer: It may happen that after eating the modified food, the newly transferred gene in the food may get transferred or incorporated into the cells of our body! Which in some cases might be very dangerous for our health. Although the probability is quite low, but it’s still not zero.
  3. Outcrossing: It means crossing between the naturally occurring crop and the genetically modified crop to produce a new crop. They are proved to be risky in many cases.

Well, GM crops could be harmful to the environment too. The gene may enter other plants in the environment. The planting of pest-resistant crops makes the farmers to use more weed-resistant chemicals. The excessive usage of such chemicals not only pollutes the soil, but also the water-bodies in which they ultimately end up, where they are potentially harmful for the water biodiversity. There are still chances of those harmful chemicals to get incorporated into the drinking water as well. Overall, it has a very negative effective on the biodiversity.

Human body has a very strong immune system. Suppose you consume a genetically engineered crop. It may happen that the genetic changes in the food will produce some proteins which when enter in our blood-vessels could start the immune response. Many cases of harmful effects of the GM foods has been discovered by doctors around the world. There is still a lot of research to be done. The main problem that scientists face here is of a human sample. Who’ll volunteer to be a test subject to consume all those potentially harmful foods? So, the researchers end-up doing tests on mice. Mice and human may have a lot in common but eventually they’re different!

Currently in the market, GM foods occupy a big portion of the overall food industry. And in most of the countries, including the United States and Canada, they’re not labelled separately. GM foods are still not declared fully safe by the scientific community. There are just a few benefits, to mention, that makes these genetically modified foods to be used at such a wide scale over the world:

  1. Pest Resistance: They resist the pest better than the naturally occurring crops, eventually giving a high yield and so they become available at a lower price.
  2. GM foods are relatively better in taste and texture because they’re modified for the same!
  3. More nutrition. Crops could be engineered to produce foods having higher amounts of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients for the same amount.
  4. They could be grown in relatively lesser amount of time.

 

That was all of the pros. It’s upto you to decide if the pros outweigh the cons. There is still a lot of research to be done on GM crops and they should be used only if they get a complete clean-chit from the scientific community!

another muggle :|