Genetically Modified Foods: a Growing Concern?
Living in America, we sometimes forget what a huge problem malnutrition and starvation are in other parts of the world. It's estimated that over 852 million people in the world are severely food deprived. Now, imagine a world where no one goes hungry, a farmer's crop can survive a long drought or an early frost and still produce a large harvest, and harmful insects and weeds cannot survive in the same field as a crop. Imagine a world where malnutrition and vitamin deficiencies are a thing of the past, because the food we eat is so much more nutritious. Some scientists believe that, through new technology, this world could be a reality in our lifetime. I'm talking about genetically modified foods, or GM foods for short. People have been genetically altering foods for hundreds of years, but due to recent technological advancements, the potential of these foods have changed drastically. Many scientists believe that genetically modifying foods could help end world hunger while others say that it could result in human and environmental catastrophe. Although there are many potential risks there are also many potential benefits. Like the old saying goes, "with great power comes great responsibility." Like almost all new technologies, genetically modified food technology needs to be closely monitored and evaluated as it progresses. Ultimately, genetically modified food technology has too much potential to be completely halted.
So just what exactly is genetically modified food? In short, genetically modified foods are organisms that have had their DNA artificially changed to give them a new characteristic. Normally, these modifications are made to produce plants that are resistant to herbicides and pesticides, produce more food, have more nutrients, grow faster, or survive in harsher climates than usual. However, there have also been more unusual experiments done. According to American Scientist Magazine, a gene from a jellyfish has been spliced into plants to make them emit light. In another case the Monsanto Corporation (the largest genetically modified food company in the world) is developing grass seed that will produce different colored lawns. These altered organisms are commonly called genetically engineered, genetically modified, transgenic, or "Franken-foods". Genetically engineered foods first went on the market in 1994. The product was a tomato engineered by a company called Calgene. The species of the tomato was called the FlavrSavr. Ironically, it was considered to have a mediocre flavor and never sold well. The FlavrSavr was a commercial failure and was off the market by 1997. Despite the early failure of the FlavrSavr, GM foods have flourished in the last ten years. Odds are you've eaten many genetically modified foods and not even known it. Currently, The Grocery Manufacturers of America estimate that 75% of processed foods in the U.S. contain at least one genetically modified ingredient.
Although, genetically engineered foods have only been in production for the last 15 years, humans have been altering the DNA of plants for ages. For centuries, people have been using artificial selection to cross-breed plants. For example, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage have all derived from the same species of mustard. However, the process of artificial selection is very difficult and time consuming. Artificial selection is also limited to only plants of similar species. Fortunately, recent advancements in technology have made it possible to move DNA from one species to another regardless of their differences.
The process behind GM foods is very difficult and complex, so this is a very simplified explanation of how it works. There are two main methods of genetically modifying foods. The first method uses bacteria to modify the DNA. First, the scientist uses enzymes to cut the desired gene out of the DNA. The gene is then coupled by a...
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