Genetically Modified Foods - Friend or Foe

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In 1998 the first genetically modified (GM) food was approved for public consumption. Since then GM foods have become part of the world’s food supply and are produced in several countries. While horror stories in the 90s promised dire consequences for introducing GM foods to the populace most of those problems have failed to arise as promised. Some scientists say that GM foods are completely safe and the proof might be that we are all still here to debate the point. GM foods are not labeled in the United States and chances are that most Americans have already eaten GM foods. Still, how much is known about the GM foods that Americans are unknowingly feeding to their families? Is managing to survive the experiment the only yardstick we should use to measure risk? Genetically modified foods might be dangerous and more testing is desperately needed to avoid health hazards. While the FDA and their scientists say that GM foods are safe, the U.S. government is already aware that there have been problems with GM foods. Even before genetic modification became the industry it is today there were problems linked with hormonally enhanced foods. Small changes in our food supply can cause large results. Of course, the problems are just a small percentage of the whole. In 1998 Harvard Medical School released a study (as cited by Larsen, 1998, ¶ 1) showing evidence that a product known as Recombinant Bovine Somatotropin (rBST) increased the chances of humans developing cancer. Bovine Somatotropin is a hormone produced by cattle which is also known as Bovine Growth Hormone. The Recombinant status means it was synthetically produced using recombinant DNA technology. The synthetic chemical is injected into cows to stimulate milk production. Milk cows in the United States and England were once treated with this chemical but England banned its use after the link between rBST and cancer was shown (Larsen, 1998). The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) says that the chemical is safe and not only approves of its use but does not allow labeling of the products that come from the cows that are injected with rBST (Epstein, 1996; FDA Consumer, 1999). Of secondary concern when dealing with rBST injected cattle is the worry of infection. The more milk a cow produces the more likely it becomes that she will suffer from udder inflammation. This inflammation is regularly treated with antibiotics to which the cows are developing a resistance to over time. Not only can this resistance be passed along to the humans who drink the milk but humans can also have allergic reactions to the antibiotic traces left in the milk (Epstein, 1996). In 1989 approximately 5000 individuals became suddenly ill. This illness was later traced back to a health food supplement that had been created using GM enhanced bacteria. Of those 5000 people, 37 later died and 1500 were permanently disabled. The toxin which caused the problem was present in only 0.01% of the product. One percent is below the level that would have caused concern or a halt of production. In 1996 a company created a B2 vitamin to be sold with GM bacteria and the FDA approved it as long as any contaminants were not found at greater than 0.01%. With that standard in place the 1989 toxin problem would not be detected even if it happened today (Antoniou, 1996, ¶ 5-6). While the FDA does set the standards there is very little actual oversight of the biotech companies. As of 1992 (as cited by Whitman, 2000) the FDA policy is that biotech companies may voluntarily ask for a consultation with the FDA. The consultation is not compulsory and even if used the company does not have to follow the FDA recommendations. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has the power to quarantine crops that are a danger but the biotech companies do not require a permit from the USDA as long as their product meets a short set of standards created to ensure the safety of the crop itself. To put it...
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