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What are GM foods? - Assessing the risks and benefits

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Introduction

WHAT IS GM FOODS? GM is an abbreviation for 'genetic modification'. GM is the transference of genes from one species into an unrelated species; it allows genes to be crossed between organisms that could never breed naturally, making new types of plants that are used in foods. Scientists now understand that DNA, a molecule containing genes that instruct a plant how to grow, can be read like magnetic tape. With this discovery, scientists have been able to add in new instructions into the plant, with the final product being a genetically modified food. A gene from a fish, for example, has been put into a tomato so it remains fresh for longer, with the tomato becoming a GM food. TECHNIQUES OF GENETIC MODIFICATION One of the most successful ways to move genes into host organisms is to use 'agrobacterium', a soil-dwelling bacterium, as a go-between to introduce genetic information into more than 100 plant species, mainly into wide-leafed plants such as tomatoes, apples and pears. A wide variety of plant and tree varieties have been altered by this method, and the technique was used to modify the first genetic plants ever produced, such as tobacco, petunia and cotton. When the bacterial DNA is integrated into a plant chromosome, it effectively hijacks the plant's cellular machinery to ensure that the bacterial population proliferates. ...read more.

Middle

Prakesh and Andrew Apel, GM foods are "even safer than water." CONCERNS ABOUT GM FOODS One of the main concerns about GM foods is antibiotic resistance. This risk occurs from the transfer of antibiotic resistance from a marker gene contained in a GM plant to a microorganism normally present in the human gut. The potential risk of spreading resistance to therapeutic antibiotics could have serious health consequences and therefore should be avoided. The ACNFP in the UK has recommended that antibiotic resistance marker genes should be eliminated from GM food micro-organisms that have not been inactivated by processing or cooking, for example, live yoghurt. Another worry about GM foods is that of allergies, where the possible introduction or amplification of allergies is a huge concern. A situation has already occurred where genetic material from a brazil nut was transferred into a soya bean, where the allergy of the brazil nut was also transferred to the soya bean. The resulting soya bean could have affected those allergic to soya, as well as those allergic to b razil nuts but the latter group wouldn't have been aware of the risk. The product did not reach the market. Scientists should take greater care in ensuring that allergies are not inadvertently introduced into the diet, by assessing the allergies of a new protein by predictive methods, experimental testing and a post-marketing surveillance based on traceability. ...read more.

Conclusion

For example, animal genes can be inserted into vegetables. This can cause a problem for vegans, vegetarians and certain religious groups who do not eat anything to do with animals. To overcome this problem, GM foods should be labelled adequately, yet it would be better for all concerned if animal genes were restricted to animals and vegetable genes to vegetables to avoid any bother. There is an argument that GM interferes with nature and farmers should stick to the traditional methods of selective breeding and hybridisation (controlled pollination of plants) as scientists could be creating obscene 'Frankenfoods.' A group of independent scientists, who look at the moral implications of modern technology (The Nuffield Council of Bioethics) said, there was a "compelling moral imperative" to accept GM crops in order to combat world hunger and poverty. However, anyone who does believe GM food is unnatural and immoral should be able to avoid it. CONCLUSION GM foods are produced in great amounts by farmers, and will very likely continue to increase in production in the future. Concerns about GM foods will linger, until scientists are more than sure that there are no dangers, therefore a wider assessment of the environmental and safety risks are required to reduce public unease. With time and increased research, I feel GM foods will be hailed as a safe and a practical solution to third world problems such as hunger and malnutrition. Anyone who does not agree with GM foods can consume organic produce instead. ...read more.

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