Genetically modified foods is an issue that many Americans feel passionately about. This is a sample essay that weighs the benefits and drawbacks of genetically modifying food. One must be informed, especially in regard to the food we eat. This sample health essay explores the concerns of eating genetically modified foods.
Background on genetically modified foods
Food safety and security is a popular topic of recent debate, and one topic that comes up is increasing food resources through genetic manipulation. While some people think that genetically engineering food is economical, healthy, and beneficial to consumers and producers alike, others feel that the risks associated with genetically modified foods are simply not worth taking.
Genetically modified ingredients are in an estimated 70% of all processed foods in the United States (“Genetically Modified Foods”). Many common foods that we see and eat every day are genetically modified, and because the United States does not currently have any laws in place that would require manufacturers to disclose information on genetically modified ingredients, we usually never know if we are consuming them or not.
There have not been any long-term studies on the effects that genetically modified foods have on humans over years of exposure, making many hesitant to buy genetically modified produce or products that contain genetically engineered ingredients. Yes, there are some benefits to genetically modifying food, but there seem to be many more negatives than positives.
Defining genetically modified foods
Humans have been genetically enhancing other organisms through selective breeding. Purebred dogs, produce at the supermarket, and the neighbor’s prized rosebush are all examples of humans selectively enhancing desirable traits into living things (“Genetically Modified Foods”). Another type of genetic enhancement goes beyond selective breeding and has garnered much attention and concern.
The biotech industry has created organisms that are not naturally produced by nature and have special qualities. This is done by removing the genetic material from one organism and inserting it into the permanent genetic code of another; the result is corn with bacteria genes, fish with cattle growth genes, and tomatoes with flounder genes (“About Genetically Engineered Foods”).
Genetically modified chicken and tomatoes
This helps farmers and ranchers grow food and livestock at an increased rate while keeping the products relatively harmless. For example, farmers genetically modify chicken by augmenting its DNA with disease resistant and weight increased properties. Thus, the farmer can produce larger, healthier chickens in less time.
One common genetically modified food is tomatoes that contain a gene from a bacterium. When scientists inserted the gene into the tomato’s genome, the tomatoes grew more resistant to outside forces. The gene itself encodes a protein that is poisonous to certain types of insects (“Genetically Modified Foods”).
Once scientist locates and identifies the desired gene, they can literally remove the gene from the bacteria and insert it into the genome of the tomato plant. Once introduced, the gene can be passed from generation to generation by being bred to create a unique strain.
Foods that are commonly modified
The most common genetically modified food in the United States is corn. Currently, ninety-two percent of corn grown in the United States has been genetically modified (Kelly 2012). The vast majority of corn grown in the United States is feed corn used for livestock. The rest is usually processed into several different food and drinks like corn starch and high fructose corn syrup (Johnson and O’Connor 2015”). Some of the corn is also used to be converted into biofuels.
The second most common genetically modified food is soybeans. Soybeans are the second largest crop in the United States and ninety-four percent of it is genetically modified (Johnson and O’Connor 2015). Genetically modified soy is used mainly for both animal feed and soybean oil. Soybean oil is widely used in restaurant chains for processed foods and makes up over sixty percent of Americans’ vegetable-oil consumption (Johnson and O’Connor 2015”). Soy is also used to make soy lecithin, an emulsifier that is present in many processed foods, including many candies.
The third most common genetically modified food in the United States is cotton. Like soybeans, ninety-four percent of cotton is genetically modified. The majority of the genetically modified cotton was turned into cottonseed oil, commonly used for frying in restaurants and in packaged foods like potato chips, oil-based spreads like margarine, and even in things like canned oysters (Johnson and O’Connor 2015). Parts of the plant are also used in animal feed and to create food fillers like cellulose.
Drawbacks to genetically modified food
One concern about the dangers of genetically modified foods is toxicity or allergic reactions. Large numbers of people suffer from allergies to various foods like nuts, wheat, or eggs. This draws concern that protein products of the genes introduced into foreign environments could result in something that it allergenic or toxic to a significant percentage of the population (“Genetically Modified Foods”).
We would not have any idea how our bodies would respond to these new genetically engineered foods. One possible solution to this concern is to necessitate clear labeling of genetically modified ingredients on processed foods. There is currently an initiative to require food manufacturers to do this, which would make it easier for people with certain allergies to avoid any food that might be dangerous to them. However, unlike countries like Japan and Australia, there is no legal requirement in the United States that demands that companies do so currently.
Genetically modified food and antibiotic resistance
Another negative to genetically modified foods is that there is a risk of decreased antibiotic efficacy. There are some genetically modified foods that have antibiotic features that make them immune or resistant to disease and viruses. When eaten, these antibiotic markers persist in your body and make actual antibiotics less effective (Duvauchelle 2014). There is concern that regular exposure to these foods can contribute to the decreased effectiveness of antibiotic drugs.
Many are also concerned over the lack of in-depth, longitudinal studies that have been done about genetically modified foods. We do not have the information to say whether or not it is safe for people to eat genetically engineered food in the long-term. Because of this, most people would not eat a food if they knew it was genetically modified (Lombardo 2015). Unfortunately for them, the United States does not require manufacturers to include information about genetically modified ingredients.
Vegans and genetically modified plants
Something that also draws concern about genetically modified foods is the cross in genes between plants and animals. A genetically modified plant might contain proteins from an animal. Some people choose not to eat meat for various reasons, whether they are allergen or allergy, religious, personal, or health-related. Someone may think they are eating a tomato or an ear of corn and really be eating something that contains a protein they are dangerously allergic to.
Another concern that many people have regarding genetically modified foods is whether or not it is safe for human consumption. One example is StarLink corn, which was specifically engineered for pig feed, marked unfit for human consumption, and was accidentally found in stores (“Negative impacts on GM foods”).
Genetically modified tomatoes have shown in some cases to have been less resistant to disease and cost a large sum of money to ensure the crop survived anyway. In other cases, pollen from pharmaceutical plants transferred genes into the food supply, which was fed to animals that were slaughtered and fed to humans (“Negative impacts on GM foods”). There have been enough cases of unsafe products to cause concern over genetically modified food.
Benefits of eating genetically modified foods
Though there are drawbacks to genetically modified foods, there are also benefits. One benefit is that the quality and overall taste of the food can be vastly improved and much more reliable. Through modification, we can enhance flavors to make a pepper spicier or a tomato sweeter. In addition, the plants can become more resistant to disease. We have the ability make potatoes resistant to bruising and tomatoes more resistant to hungry insects.
Plants can also be engineered to withstand extreme weather conditions and fluctuations, meaning crops can stay healthy and bountiful even during poor weather seasons (Murnaghan 2016). They can remain fresher on supermarket shelves and in shoppers’ refrigerator. Genetically modified foods can potentially produce higher crop yields and reduce the need for pesticides, in addition to reducing the manpower necessary to grow the crops (Johnson and O’Connor 2015).
Reduction in pollutions and greenhouse emissions
Because this would require fewer chemicals, it can reduce environmental pollution, greenhouse emissions, and soil erosion. Genetically modified foods can also be created to grow faster, allowing for two harvests in the time it would normally take to grow and harvest one, and can help ensure that each harvest produces higher yields. Scientists are also able to genetically engineer foods to have higher nutrient content that its natural form lacks.
One example is golden rice, a genetically modified food that is rich in vitamin A (Johnson and O’Connor 2015). There is also talk of incorporating vaccines and medication into food supplies to proactively treat certain conditions (Lombardo 2015). Though there may be drawbacks, the benefits are too significant to ignore.
The genetic modification of food and our ability to manipulate organisms to produce the characteristics we deem desirable has the ability to provide solutions for a number of problems. It can save time and resources, yield higher crops, and cost less money. However, there remains concern over the negative impacts of consuming genetically modified foods, especially over the lack of information on long term effects. Scarily, despite the fact that we are unsure of their effects, genetically modified ingredients can be found in a startling number of grocery store foods. Until concrete data can be collected and measured, the debate over genetically modified foods is likely to continue.
However, there remains concern over the negative impacts of consuming genetically modified foods, especially over the lack of information on long term effects. Scarily, despite the fact that we are unsure of their effects, genetically modified ingredients can be found in a startling number of grocery store foods. Until concrete data can be collected and measured, the debate over genetically modified foods is likely to continue.
“About Genetically Engineered Foods.” Center for Food Safety. Center for Food Safety, 2016. Web. 29 Feb. 2016.
Duvauchelle, Joshua. “Pros & Cons of GMO Foods”. Livestrong. Livestrong, 13 Jan. 2014. Web. 29 Feb. 2016.
“Genetically Modified Foods.” Learn Genetics: Genetic Science Learning Center. University of Utah, 2016. Web. 29 Feb. 2016.
Johnson, David and O’Connor, Siobhan. “These Charts Show Every Genetically Modified Food People Already Eat in the U.S.” Time, 30 Apr. 2015. Web. 29 Feb. 2016.
Kelly, Margie. “Top 7 Genetically Modified Crops.” Huffington Post. HuffingtonPost.com, Inc., 30 Oct. 2012. Web. 29 Feb. 2016.
Lombardo, Crystal. “Genetically Modified Food Pros and Cons List”. Vision Launch. Vision Launch Development, 2015. Web. 29 Feb. 2016.
“Negative impacts on GM foods.” Genetically Modified Foods. US Santa Cruz, 2005. Web. 29 Feb. 2016.