For many years, traditional methods like selective breeding, cross-breeding, and mutation breeding have been used to come up with plants and animals of desired traits. For example, early farmers used cross-breeding to grow corn with a range of colors, sizes and uses. Another example is the cross between a strawberry species native to North America and a strawberry species native to South America.
However, changing plants and animals traits through traditional breeding could take a long time, and it was difficult to get very specific changes. This is where scientists came up with genetic engineering in the 1970s. Through genetic engineering, they were able to obtain more specific traits in a shorter amount of time.
So, what are genetically modified foods?
According to the world health organization, genetically modified (GM) foods are foods derived from organisms whose genetic material (DNA) has been modified in a way that does not occur naturally, e.g. through the introduction of a gene from a different organism. The technology is often called “modern biotechnology” or “gene technology”, sometimes also “recombinant DNA technology” or “genetic engineering”.
With genetic engineering techniques, one can get new traits, as well as gain greater control over plant and animal traits, compared to previous methods of selective breeding and mutation breeding.
Most genetic modifications initially focused on cash crops that were high in demand by farmers like soybean, corn, canola, and cotton. All this was intended to improve yield and reliability through getting varieties that are resistant to drought, pathogens, pests, and variants with better nutrient profiles.
So far, we have AquAdvantage salmon (an Atlantic salmon) as the only animal the FDA has approved for commercial production, sale, and consumption as genetically modified. FDA determined that AquAdvantage Salmon is as safe to eat, as nutritious as non-GMO Atlantic salmon, and has no negative impact on the U.S. environment.
How food is genetically modified
Making genetically modified food involves several processes. Let us outline these few steps below;
- The first step is that scientists need to identify an organism with the desired traits or genes such as resistance to drought, herbicides, or insects.
- The second step is to take the gene from the cell and replicate or copy the desired gene
- Next, scientists use tools to insert the gene into the DNA of the plant they want to genetically modify.
- Scientists then grow the new plant in the laboratory to ensure that it has adopted the desired traits. When this is successful, the plant is first grown in a greenhouse and then in small field tests before moving it into a larger field.
- Genetically modified foods go through various reviews and tests before they are ready to be sold to farmers.
What are some genetically modified foods?
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a list of bioengineered foods available throughout the world. And the new National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard maintains that “bioengineered” foods should have labels.
It is very likely that once or more often you have eaten foods and food products that contain GMO ingredients that come from GMO crops.
Some GMO foods include; corn-starch, corn syrup, corn oil, soybean oil, canola oil, or granulated sugar.
Fresh fruits and vegetables in GMO varieties, including potatoes, summer squash, apples, and papayas.
Is genetically modified food safe?
Scientists unanimously agree that food derived from GM crops poses no greater risk to human health than conventional food.
However, the legal and regulatory status of genetically modified foods varies from one country to another. Some countries ban or restrict them, while others permit them.
In the U.S. the FDA maintains that GMOs are “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS) and do not require additional testing more especially if the GMO product is substantially equivalent to the non-modified product.
But if strange substances are realized in the product, further testing is required to investigate claims of toxicity, allergenicity, and possible gene transfer to humans.
Three government organizations are responsible for regulating GMOs in the U.S. These include the following:
- The FDA checks the chemical composition of organisms for potential allergens.
- The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is responsible for field testing and distribution of GM seeds.
- The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for field testing and the distribution of crops in contact with pesticides to ensure environmental safety.
What are the pros and cons of genetically modified foods?
The possible benefits of genetic engineering include:
- Because genetic engineering gives you control over the traits, you can get more nutritious food and tastier food
- Through genetic engineering, we can get the disease and drought-resistant plants that demand less environmental resources
- With GMOs, you will use less or no pesticides at all since the new variants always resistant to pests
- The plants grow very fast. You will increase yield (supply) at a lower cost within a short period.
- GMO’S have a longer shelf life
- GM foods have fewer cancer-causing substances when fried. This is because you only have desirable traits.
- Genetic engineering has paved way for the manufacture of vaccines or other medicines
Cons of genetically modified foods
There are allegations of an allergic reaction, toxins, and harmful genetic changes but these concerns unfounded. Such problems have not been seen in GE foods used today. Like we said above, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) assesses all GE foods to make sure they are safe before they are sold out.
In the same aspect, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulate bioengineered plants and animals. They scrutinize GE foods to assess their safety to humans, animals, plants, and the environment.
Other application of genetically modified foods
Genetic engineering is not only important to the food industry. These techniques have been used to create medicines as well. Genetic engineering was first used to make human insulin, a medicine used to treat diabetes.
GMOs are also important to the textile industry. GMO cotton plants are used to create cotton fiber which is used to make fabric for clothing and other materials.
GMO’s are “Generally Recognized as Safe” by the FDA. However, biotech companies should proceed with caution to avoid causing unintended harm to human health and the environment.
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