GM food: We need more science, not less.
Lately genetically-modified foods (GM foods) have made a big splash in the news. European environmental organizations and public interest groups have been protesting actively against GM foods.
What are genetically-modified foods?
The term GM foods or GMOs (genetically-modified organisms) is most commonly used to refer to crop plants created for human or animal consumption using the latest molecular biology techniques. These plants have been modified in the laboratory to enhance desired traits such as increased resistance to herbicides or improved nutritional content.
Genetic engineering, on the other hand, can create plants with the exact desired trait, very rapidly and with great accuracy.
The new genetically-modified plant will also gain drought tolerance. Not only can genes be transferred from one plant to another, but also genes from non-plant organisms may be used.
The best known example of this is the use of B.t. genes in corn and other crops. B.t., or Bacillus thuringiensis, a naturally occurring bacterium that produces crystal proteins lethal to insect larvae. B.t. crystal protein genes have been transferred into corn, enabling corn to produce its own pesticides against insects, such as the European corn borer.
Environmental activists, religious organizations, public interest groups, professional associations, scientists and government officials have all raised concerns about GM foods, criticized agribusiness for pursuing profit without concern for potential hazards, and the government for failing to exercise adequate regulatory oversight. It seems that everyone has a strong opinion about GM foods.
Their effects on human health are unknown and there is a growing concern that introducing foreign genes into food plants may have unexpected and negative impacts on human health. A recent study examining the effects of GM potatoes on the digestive tracts of rats, discovered that there were appreciable differences in the intestines of rats fed with GM potatoes and rats fed with unmodified potatoes.
Moreover, the gene introduced into the potatoes was a snowdrop flower lectin, a substance known to be toxic to mammals.
In the last few years Europe has experienced two major foods scares: bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease) in Great Britain and dioxin-tainted foods originating from Belgium. These food scares have undermined consumer confidence in European food supply, and citizens are disinclined to trust government information about GM foods.
In response to the public outcry, Europe now requires mandatory food labelling of GM foods in stores, and the European Commission (EC) has established a 1% threshold for contamination of unmodified foods with GM food products.
People have the right to know what they are eating, argue the interest groups, and the industry has historically proven itself to be unreliable in self-compliance with the existing safety regulations.
It could easily upset the delicate balance between our physiology and the food we eat. There is already ample scientific justification for an immediate ban on genetically modified foods in order to safeguard our health.
We need more science, not less.