Genetically Modified Food:
World Wide Panacea or “Frankenfood” to Fear?
Never before in history has mankind so masterfully commanded its food chain. Thousands of years ago, much of our species made the leap from a hunter-gatherer level of subsistence to an agricultural society. With agriculture, slowly but surely many modifications were made to plants and animals used and domesticated by us for the purpose of feeding ourselves. New specialized varieties with specific desirable traits slowly emerged; with the advent of knowledge of hybridization, this process was greatly expedited. By today, much has changed in the way we shape the foods we put into our bodies. With modern food science has come the dawn of genetic modification. Food scientists working in tandem with genetic engineers can now isolate the genes for specific desirable traits from an entirely unrelated organism and splice them into an organism that we have traditionally consumed—say hello to “frankenfood.”
As a practice, genetic engineering is the careful modification of a living organism done by essentially rewriting its DNA, thus altering its genetic makeup “in a way that does not occur naturally” (Domingo 535). The process of genetically modifying a plant entails inserting genes into plant cells by injecting viruses which copy specialized DNA into the cells. The end goal is that specific traits deemed beneficial become newly expressed in the GMO (genetically modified organism). The movie Food Inc., narrated by well-known authors Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser (authors of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Fast Food Nation, respectively), dedicates a large portion of time to the modern use of genetically modified food—particularly soybeans—in American agriculture. The film hints at the various effects of using GM soybeans in agriculture, yet seems to be mainly focused on the economic impact the Monsanto GM soybean has on Midwestern farmers. It does at times indirectly suggest some possible health effects, though, at the time the movie was produced (2008—only four years ago), not nearly as much was known about such ill bodily effects.
The pro-GMO food camp often boasts of the feats of this space age engineering in terms of productivity, efficiency, and health benefits. Skeptics, on the other hand, see how this practice can wreak havoc on the environment, exploit the economically disenfranchised, and also pose many risks to human health. Here, through the scope of the critical, food-safety concerned (people identifying with the questions raised by authors Pollan and Schlosser), we will explore these various claims about human health as they pertain to the most current technologies in “frankenfood.”
One of the main purposes of genetically modifying crops is to improve nutrition. There is simply less food to go around in today’s world. With the growing population and lessened crop yields due to drought (a likely implication of climate change), “the price of wheat and corn [has] tripled” (Bourne) in recent years. Multitudes of people have been negatively affected by this. The frightening shortage has prevented many of the world’s poorest citizens from getting the basic, nutritious food staple they need to survive. In some of the hardest hit places, food riots have broken out in response to the startling scarcity. One of the clear potentially benefits of genetic modification in plants is its capability to lessen hunger worldwide.
Genetically modified crops could help reverse the decline in yield growth by increasing drought tolerance, nitrogen efficiency, pest resistance, and photosynthesis rates (Crosson and Anderson). The “challenge of putting enough food in nine billion mouths by 2050 is daunting” (Bourne) with the increasing prevalence of food shortages. Genetic engineering of plants on a global scale may prove to be pivotal in averting a Malthusian catastrophe; that is, necessary for the survival—or at least...