Genetic engineering is a science that involves the modification of plants and animals’ genetic material. This was historically practiced by farmers, but recently, it was approved as a food production technology. The manipulation of DNA and transferring it to a different organism introduces a trait of any organism to animals, virus, bacteria or plants, and the transgenic organism are programmed to produce in bulk substances such as hormones, nutrients, monoclonal antibodies, enzymes, and various pharmaceutical products such as vaccines and drugs (Uzogara, 2000). This technique is used to transform animals and plants for use as food, and this has created a controversy of whether the food is good for human consumption or not. This paper will discuss the possible effects of chemically modified foods on human health and environment.
Chemically modified foods were developed to save the human race and animals from the problem of food crisis, however, according to critics of this technology; the foods produced have raised concerns, not only for the altered nutritional quality, carcinogenicity, toxicity, allergenicity and safety, but also for the effects it has on the environment (Amin & Jahi, 2004). The critics highlight that the transfer techniques of genes can lead to mistakes that are beyond correction by human efforts (Uzogara, 2000). The genetic materials might not be transfer to the target cells, any transfer to the wrong cell might lead to unexpected mutation, causing infertility, toxicity or unsuitability. The potential risks associated with such an occurrence are;
Alteration in the Quality of Foods
When genes are transferred to the wrong cells, they might cause a change in the nutritional value of foods; the levels of certain nutrients might increase as the level of other decrease. However, there is little research on the effects of the change in the levels of food nutrients. Critics highlight that the technology of chemically modified foods changes at a greater pace that scientists are not able to predict the effects and the extent of the effects on pediatric nutrition; for this reason, they advise people to avoid feeding infants with chemically modified food products.
Allergenicity from Chemically Modified Foods
Critics also concerned with the effects that might be caused by the chemically modified food plants; these foods might transfer allergenic characteristics of the gene donor plant or animals to the recipient plant or animal. Moreover, the chemically modified foods use donor micro-organisms whose potential to cause allergenicity is untested or not known (Uzogara, 2000). There is a potential for new gene combination and non-food sources to cause allergic reactions or aggravate the existing ones.
The modified foods are also accused of enhancing natural plant toxins; according to the Uzogara, as the desired gene is switched on in plants, the gene might also increase the capacity of the plant to release poison. According to Uzogara (2000, p. 185), “Genes for some natural toxins such as protease inhibitors in legumes, cyanogens in cassava and lima beans, goitrogens in canola species, and pressor amines in bananas and plantains, may be turned on and lead to an increase in levels of these toxins which can pose a hazard to the consumers of these crops.”
Resistance to Antibiotics
Maker genes with antibiotic resistance are mostly used in genetic engineering; there are concerns that when antibiotic resistance genes are used in breeding food crops, they might have harsh consequences to the consumers of the breed food crops. A report from the British Medical Association highlights that when maker genes with antibiotic resistance are inserted in some crops, they transfer microbes that cause diseases in animals and people consuming the foods. This might cause antibiotic resistant microbes in the animal or human population, thereby causing antibiotic resistance among the population (Wieczorek, 2003).
The human and plant populations are affected by any destruction done to the environment, and this is why the environmentalists are concerned about the effects of the genetically modified food crops. According to Amin & Jahi (2004, p. 103), “the environment is valued for what it can provide for humans, and we protect it so that the resources will be there for our use and that of future generations”. Genetic engineering recommends the cultivation of crops that are resistant to insects and contains herbicides, however, according to environmentalists, these crops could pollinate wild species, creating super-weeds among wild plants; this might have consequences that are yet to be known (Wieczorek, 2003). These super-weeds can affect plant yields, whose consequences include a disruption of the natural ecosystems. The weeds might be difficult to control, thus requiring expensive control programs. Also, the genetic engineers work hard to enhance plant resistance, and if they do not take precautions, they could introduce new viruses, which might pose risks to other organisms in the environment.
Benefits of Genetically Modified Foods
The genetic engineers have defended these claims by saying that, foods that are manufactured through genetic engineering are subjected to rigorous testing before are made available for human consumption. Besides, these foods also have health and environmental benefits. For instance, chemically modified fruits such as tomatoes have an improved shelf-life as well as quality. AccordingWieczorek (2003, p. 2), “Farmers use crop-protection technologies because they provide cost-effective solutions to pest problems which, if left uncontrolled, would severely lower yields”. The production of chemically modified foods enhances milk and meat production among other foods, which helps to alleviate nutritional problems around the globe.
Genetically modified foods also have environmental benefits; they come up with biological defense against stresses, viruses, herbicides, pests, weeds and diseases. Also, the genetically modified plants have been found to remove industrial waste and recycle toxic wastes.
Analyzing the debate on genetically modified foods and its effects on human and animal health, as well as the environment, more research has to be done on this issue in order to clear the doubts of consumers, and for genetic engineers to be sure of the effects and implications of genetically modified foods before releasing it for human consumption.