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The Concerns And Disadvantages Of Genetically Modified Crops

1442 words - 6 pages

The Concerns and Disadvantages of Genetically Modified Crops

The debate about the safety and need for genetically modified crops
and foods has raged since the mid '90s. A lot of time and money has
been spent by biotechnology companies, scientists, and governments, to
convince people that there is really nothing to worry about, and that
this technology will provide benefits to all. But while GM crops are
now being used widely by farmers in the USA, consumers in the European
Union and Japan have reacted strongly against them1. Although this has
slowed the rate at which GM crops and foods are being introduced, the
biotech industry is continuing to promote them.

For numerous generations agriculturalists have used selective breeding
to improve characteristics such as size. However Genetic Modification
is very different. It is a process whereby genes are translocated from
one organism to another; subsequently changing the characteristics of
the 'acceptor' organism2. This transfer of genes is a difficult and
haphazard procedure, and at present there is no standard way to
control the outcome. It is now known that genes are found in groups,
and that inserted genes tend to end up in these; so randomly inserting
a new gene has the potential to disrupt the native genes and how they
operate. In fact, such disruptions are quite common. Inserted genes
can sometimes fail to work, or behave in unexpected ways; or affect
the functioning of native genes.

Scientists have voiced concern that such disruptions could lead to
unexpected toxins being produced, or to changes in the levels of
nutrients and naturally occurring toxins. There are examples of
genetic modification changing plants in entirely unexpected ways. For
example, when researchers in Germany tried to boost the starch content
of potatoes using genes from yeast and bacteria, they found that the
starch content actually fell and other, unexpected, compounds were
produced3.

Genetic engineering is an unpredictable and imprecise process. By
inserting 'alien' genes from organisms which have never been eaten as
food, new proteins are introduced into the animal and human food
chains. There is concern that these could cause allergic reactions or
other negative health effects. In other words, they are a potential
"poison," as was stated by the Zambian president Levy Mwanawasa4.

The safety testing of GM foods is based on the concept of 'substantial
equivalence'. This is the idea that if a GM food can be shown to be
'substantially' the same as a non GM food then it is considered to be
safe. It was developed because of the difficulties and cost of
conducting traditional safety tests (like those used for new drugs) on
GM foods. But it has been severely criticised by some scientists
because it is not clear what level of similarity makes something
...

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