31 May 2018
The genetic makeup of plants and animals has been manipulated by people for decades now.
This traditional cross-breeding involves selecting plants and animals with the most desirable characteristics in terms of their high yield, good meat quality, disease resistance etc.
Foods derived from genetically modified organisms are called genetically modified foods or GM foods. Basically, it’s any plant or animal that has been modified through genetic engineering. Well, of course, but, in reality, we’re not yet eating any animal modified in such ways. Animals eat genetically modified crops, but that’s as far as we have so far gone. Not a bad thing; we quite like our chicken tasting like chicken.
As for plants - whether fruit or vegetables - this rather controversial process works by modifying the plant’s genome to increase its size or crop yield. Feeling any more enlightened? Probably not.
Let’s just say this: genetic engineering takes the DNA genetic makeup of one plant and sticks the genes for one or two beneficial traits into another plant. Find out how genetically modified foods are regulated in accordance with the Food Standards.
Well, as already stated, they can produce bigger crop yields. Absolutely nothing wrong with that, especially if the beneficiaries are countries desperately in need of food.
Genetically modified crops are cheaper to grow despite the higher initial modified seed costs. It seems that modified crops are sturdier, standing up to more weather extremes and requiring less expensive pesticides and herbicides (that’s a good thing). Plus, they need less day-to-day TLC. Less people constantly tending the crops is a major cost-saving; a saving that may or may not find its way onto a supermarket price tag.
It only gets better from there. Genetically modified food is, from all accounts, considered to be of a high quality, more nutritious food.
Moreover, if a country’s diet is severely lacking in a particular nutrient, genetic modification is likely to help battle malnutrition with fruit or vegetables that are high in exactly what is needed. Impressive, yet scary stuff. And it’s hard to deny there are some huge pluses in there for all of us, but more especially, countries in dire need of some good news.
Did you know that frozen fruits are just as healthy as fresh ones? Find out the health benefits of frozen blueberries in our previous blog post!
Genetically modified foods do have some disadvantages as well. Some of these include:
People with allergies are a concern. With all this mixing and matching of genes, when is a cauliflower still a cauliflower and when has it become a cauliflower/broccoli hybrid. And what if you’re allergic to broccoli? Genetic modification blurs the boundaries of what people with allergies can eat and can’t eat safely.
There are also concerns about how genetically modified food will affect the overall food chain. A pest that suddenly stops being even remotely annoying to a sturdier crop can die out and leave an important link in the food chain with nothing to eat.
More concerning is the great unknown of genetically modified foods being responsible for gene transfer. A constant risk of GMO foods is that the modified genes of the organisms may escape into the wild. Brown University warns that herbicide-resistant genes from commercial crops may cross into the wild weed population, thus creating "superweeds" that are impossible to kill with herbicides.
More time, research and investigation need to be undergone to decisively reach a conclusion as to whether the pros outweigh the cons for genetically modified foods.
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