Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Donnie Dann / Genetically Modified Food, Triumph or Disaster

Donnie R. Dann

Volume 11 Number 1 January 2007


Genetically Modified Food, Triumph or Disaster

For many centuries humans have tinkered with plants to improve taste, variety and productivity. Farmers and scientists have employed grafts, cross-bred species, encouraged drought tolerance, and altered a plant’s environment in a variety of ways. Now, technology has successfully modified a plant’s own DNA, with some remarkable outcomes. Is this good or bad? The reality is that 60 % of U.S. grocery food currently contains genetically modified (GM) ingredients and biotech plants are now grown on about 130 million acres in 13 countries. Examples include some sweet corn, long-lasting tomatoes, and golden rice. In 2001, 3.6 million acres were used for GM crops in the U.S. and more than 60% of all processed foods in the U.S. contain ingredients from GM soybeans, corn, or canola. Whether it’s a bonanza or a problem genetic modification is here to stay.

Advantages of genetically modified (GM) foods

Supplies essential food needs for the increasing world population
Improves the land’s efficiency and yields increase
Uses fewer herbicides and can be more disease, pest, and weed resistant
Provides longer shelf life and is easier to transport.
Some have better flavor, texture and nutritional value
Conventional breeding is slow and less predictable but GM plants can be bred in one generation

Problems with GM foods

Uncertain health risks to humans
Inadvertent harm to wildlife populations
Possible herbicide resistance passed on to weeds
Few long term studies of potential harm, and in some cases inadequate testing prior to their use
Potential for genes from GM plants moving to other organisms

Clearly GM foods and crops have potential for great good. If genes can be successfully manipulated to grow basic crops in marginal conditions in third world countries to effectively “feed the world” it will indeed be a triumph for humanity. However, there is at least a degree of uncertainty that these crops could be detrimental to human as well as environmental health. Living organisms are complex and tampering with their genes could have unintended impacts. We must demand that regulatory authorities require mandatory labeling of GM products, and continue to independently test for safety and environmental impact. Equally important is to require biotech firms to incur liability for any harm these products cause. Let’s reap the benefits but do so very, very carefully.

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