Genetically modified foods- “survival of the fittest” or “bane of evolution”?
- Rudrakshi Shetty, Intern, Northern State Medical University, Russia
- Dr. Tejaswini Ashok, Post Intern
GMOs or genetically modified foods are basically foods that have been genetically altered so as to have the most desirable traits in a crop. Learning about GMOs are of utmost importance since genetic modification have seeped into various industries right from agriculture to medicine to environmental management.
GMO foods have been linked to better taste and nutrition. A great success of agricultural biotechnology using transgenic crops was the golden rice, where biofortification of rice with beta-carotenes (precursors of vitamin A) assisted in the eradication of preventable blindness in millions of children in developing countries. It is also clear that the principles used in rice biofortification could be applied to many more crops for the future, in efforts of feeding the world. Despite the widespread use of modern biotechnology for genetic modification of food crops in the early 1980s, there has never been a direct safety hazard documented from any GE or GMO. Furthermore, throughout the last decades, governments have devised the most stringent testing standards for the safety of GMOs to ensure public safety and environmental sustainability, as stated in several scientific documents.
However, due to the risk of allergy, the World Health Organisation (WHO)Trusted Source forbids genetic engineers from utilising DNA from allergens unless they can demonstrate that the gene itself is not the source of the problem. Research from the mid-1990s discovered that combining a protein from Brazil nuts with GMO soybeans might cause allergic reactions in persons who are allergic to Brazil nuts. However, after this was established, scientists swiftly abandoned this GMO food .
Also, concerns have been raised that consuming GMO foods may contribute to the development of cancer by increasing the quantities of possibly carcinogenic substances in the body. This issue stems in part from an early mice study that connected GMO consumption to an increased risk of cancers and premature mortality. This research paper, however, was eventually withdrawn due to flawed study design . According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), there is no evidence to link GMO food consumption to an increased or decreased risk of cancer. Interestingly, the commercial planting of a potato genetically altered to minimise the quantities of a potentially dangerous component in French fries and potato chips has been allowed in the United States. The DNA of the potato has been tweaked such that less acrylamide, a chemical suspected of causing cancer in humans, is created when the potato is fried.
Another cause for worry is the use of food processing technologies at sub-lethal levels (such as alternate non-thermal treatments) and the purposeful addition of microorganisms to the food chain (probiotic or technological) with possibly transferrable antimicrobial resistance genes to the food chain. Few studies on GMO foods have shown hepatic, pancreatic, renal, or reproductive impacts, as well as changes in haematological, biochemical, and immunologic parameters. However, further animal studies and clinical trials are necessary for this judgement.
Several fruits and vegetables (for example, bananas, carrots, maize, lettuce, and potatoes) are being investigated as possible sources of proteins that might serve as edible vaccinations for infections such as hepatitis B, measles and cholera. There have been very few long-term research studies on the consequences of feeding GMO foods to animals or people. GMO consumption generated an immunological response in adult salmon, according to a 2007 article  and caused lasting abnormalities to the digestive tract of young salmon, according to a 2014 report . Despite the fact that neither research demonstrated catastrophic harm, and that observations in fish may not apply to humans, the need to be watchful for toxicity remains. Furthermore, this provoked scientists to advocate for improved GMO labelling.
If we keep environmental effects as the centre of our discussion, the benefits outweigh the risks by a mile. For instance, it is well known that GMOs require very few environmental resources like water and fertilisers. They can also grow in salty soil and absolutely thrive in a harsh environment, which makes them the perfect disaster and drought resistance plant. It uses less pesticides which could be appealing to the population since it can be categorised as organic food and it is also resistant to herbicides which helps in better control of weeds. However, there was a review article published in 2017 that stated that these factors of GMOs itself has led them to become resistant to insecticides and herbicides and this resistance would in turn lead to more use of insecticides. If at all you’re still on the edge about whether or not GMOs are actually that great, we have a point that might change your opinion: GMOs are produced at a relatively faster rate and has a longer shelf life as compared to regular food and it might be us being too optimistic, but this could be our start of getting closer to the solution of getting rid of world hunger.
After this article, you may still have your fair share of doubts and concerns. If you’re still conflicted, we encourage you to do your share of research and spread the word. Let’s do our part of learning together and doing what’s best for ourselves and the environment.