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Dec 11, 2012 (4 years and 6 months ago)

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Genetically Modified
Food
s




CMPE 80e

Spring 2005







Project Engineers:

Jon Faerber

Terrell Edwards

Andre G
o
enawan


Shogo Osawa




March 23, 2013

I
NTRODUCTION

Throughout history, humankind has attempted to make various thing
s easier
for them by controlling the world around them. It started with the domestication
of animals around 50,000 B.C. After altering animals, as humans evolved into an
agricu
l
tural based society, they started breeding different strains of plants hoping

to get the best possible plants for food. These practices have continued
throughout history, but as sc
i
entific understanding of breeding and technology
grows, the methods of going about a
l
tering plants and animals have changed.
Now, rather than breeding

two similar types of plants or animals together, eng
i-
neers and scientists can directly alter the genetic sequence of the DNA of a sp
e-
cies. This possibility of altering plants and specifically crops for the food supply
raises many ethical and possible saf
ety issues which need to be e
x
plored.

This paper will explore many of the social and ethical dilemmas associated
with GMO's in our food supply. Specific focus will be given to the technical a
s-
pects of genetic modification, possible positive and neg
a
tive e
ffects of genetically
modified foods, laws on genetically modified foods in the United States. The goal
by covering all of these diverse topics is to help the reader be well informed of all
aspects regarding g
e
netically modified foods so that they can com
e to their own
ethical stance. We propose that the government create a law requiring

the labe
l-
ing of all GMO products. This is cu
r
rently done in all European nations and
should also be obligatory here in the United States. This will leave the ultimate
d
ecision regarding GMO's to be made by way of an informed consumer choice to
spend their dollar.

T
ECHNICAL
A
SPECT OF
GMO

There are several rising concerns about the upcoming push of genetically
modified foods, due mainly to the emergence of new products fro
m GM comp
a-
nies. For centuries, we have been doing our own sort of genetic modification, by
manipulating certain breeds and species. One example would be the selective
breeding of plants; by selec
t
ing certain seeds with more resistance to disease
and pest
s than others, farmers are able to produce more crops. However, with
the introduction of genetic engineering, modifications to plants and animals no
longer have to be done through the selective breeding process. Genetic eng
i-
neering has allowed the proces
s to speed up considerably faster, allowing far
m-
ers to produce crops that are immediately resistant to strains of bacteria or inse
c-
ticides. It also has the advantage of cross species manipulation, providing for an
unlimited number of possibilities. So wh
at is the process behind all of this?
There are several techniques available with today’s technology to modify plants
and animals through genetic engineering.

The use of genetic modification has become relatively common in today’s
technolog
i
cally expandi
ng world. By taking specific long strands of DNA (genes)
and inserting them into other species of cells, it is poss
i
ble for the new cells carry
on useful traits. These new cells that emerge with foreign genes are called
transgenic organisms, and are also

known as genetically modified organisms
(GMOs). Generally, plants can be genetically modified easily because they can
be grown from a single cell or piece of tissue.

The process of genetic enginee
r-
ing requires the successful completion of five i
m
portant

steps, each varying in
length of time to complete: DNA extraction, gene cloning, gene design, transfo
r-
mation, and backcross breeding [1].

The first step that takes place is DNA extraction
. During this step, the selected
gene is extracted from an organism
. The gene is then cloned thousands of
times, so that it can be successfully inserted into cells. Next, the gene is d
e-
signed to be effective when placed inside a different organism. This step is done
by modifying three regions, the promoter, coding regi
on and termination s
e-
quence [1]. The promoter region essentially turns the gene “on” and “off” like a
light bulb switch and also specifies the number of times a protein will be pr
o-
duced. The coding region is where the important DNA info
r
mation is stored,

and
gives off the desired traits. The termination sequence signals the end of the
gene so the entire chromosome is not read, which is important because unne
c-
essary genes should not be read.

Transformation is where a new gene is delivered into the nucleus

of a plant
cell and inserts into a chromosome [1]. The term transformation means to g
e
ne
t-
ically change a living organism. It is typically done on tissue culture, so that the
cells can be grown into whole plants with a copy of the transgene. Once the
ge
nes transfer over,
they are then regenerated through a special growth medium
containing antibiotics. There are several methods for delivering DNA into the n
u-
cleus of plant cells, such as injection, gene guns, and agrobact
e
rium (Boucher,
1).

One type of s
oil bacterium, called agrobacterium, has the natural ability to
transfer DNA into plants, and has thus been called “Nature’s own genetic eng
i-
neer”. Since agrobacterium usually causes disease, those genes are removed
without compromising the gene
-
transferr
ing ability. Scientists insert special
genes into this strain of bacteria, and then place the agrobacterium into a sol
u-
tion with calluses, which are clusters of undi
f
ferentiated plant cells. Once in the
solution, the agrobacterium work their way into the

target calluses, eventually gi
v-
ing rise to a new breed of plant cells [3].

The method of genetic modification by ways of using biolistics, also known as
“gene guns” or “the shotgun method,” can be applied to any plant cell. This
method works by shooting
DNA into the plant cells, using microscopic gold or
tungsten particles coated with DNA. Tissue culture cells are put in a vacuum
cha
m
ber and the metal particles are propelled with high
-
pressure gas, such as
helium, and is released in a sudden burst. DNA
that penetrates the nucleus of
the plant cell are eventually regenerated with sp
e
cial laboratory procedures. The
gene gun method is used where agrobacterium is not suitable for use, such as in
wheat, rice, and corn [4].

There is another method of which in
volves injecting DNA with a very sharp
needle into cells. This has been used primarily on animals, but unfortunately has
a high rate of failure. Similar

to the gene gun method, the genes from one orga
n-
ism are transferred to a foreign cell through special
ly designed needles. In an
i-
mals, the injected cell is usually a fertilized egg which can be put back into the
female uterus and develop normally.

The process of delivering DNA into the cell via electroporation uses quick
pulses of electricity. It is done

by first creating and mixing a solution containing
cells and DNA molecules. By

“electrocuting” the cells, tiny pores in the walls
open up, allowing the DNA molecules to fit through them [1]. However, this pr
o-
c
ess usually requires repeating hundreds of t
imes before success, since there is
no control as to how the gene gets i
n
serted into the chromosome.

Once the gene is successfully inserted, plant cells are immediately go through
a sp
e
cial process called regeneration. “Plant cells or tissue into which ge
nes
have been introduced can be regenerated in the laboratory by the use of appr
o-
priate plant ho
r
mones, and careful culture, into whole plants” [1]. However, there
is no universal method in the regeneration of plants because each plant r
e-
sponds differently
. Ther
e
fore, culture and regeneration methods must be
adapted depending on both plant cell type. Shortly thereafter, they are cros
s
bred
with non
-
modified plants, making a new line of plants which are again bred with
the hybrids, until the offspring have
99+% of the transgene [1]. After that, scie
n-
tists check to see if the inserted genes work, and monitor the future offspring of
the plants.

One important thing in this field of technology is the use of marker genes.
New genes that are intr
o
duced into plan
t cells have beneficial characteristics,
such as the ability to produce their own insecticide or i
n
creased nutritional value.
The problem with genetic engineering is that the success rate isn’t very high; only
a fraction of genetically modified cells take

up the new genes. Marker genes a
l-
low scientists to tell if the new genes is present in a cell or not, giving them ident
i-
fiable characteristics in the early stages of cell development; this saves scientists
time and resources [4]. For example, some marke
r genes give cells the ability to
withstand antibiotics and herbicides. When they are treated with antibiotics or
herbicides, these cells will survive, while the u
n
treated ones die. Other marker
genes can turn cells into a distinct color when treated wit
h chemicals, or glow
under a certain kind of light [5]. Marker genes are essential in genetic enginee
r-
ing because it provides a powerful tool to the scientist: determining whether or
not a cell has been successfully modified.



Among crops that are gen
etically modified in the United States, soybeans,
corn, and cotton are the most commonly produced [6]. The goal of most biotec
h-
nology products are to tolerate herb
i
cides, resist pets, improve color and flavor,
increase nutritional value, and provide longer

storage times. For example, the
process behind creating a new breed of corn that can withstand insects can be
done in a few steps. By inserting a gene from the bacterium Bacillus thr
u-
ingie
n
sis (Bt) into plants, it instructs them to produce a protein tha
t is toxic to
some i
n
sects, such as caterpi
l
lars, but harmless to most other creatures. First,
the gene from the Bt bacterium that directs cells to produce a toxic protein to ce
r-
tain i
n
sects is isolated, then i
n
serted with the marker gene into plant cells

by
method of very sharp needles. Once that is done, scientists create a condition
where only the cells that have taken up the genes will survive, such as by expo
s-
ing the cells to an antibiotic. Once d
e
termined, the new cells are allowed to grow
into pla
nts, where they eventually produce seeds for companies to collect and
redistribute.

With such a promising future for genetic engineering, the applications are limi
t-
less. “On the horizon are bananas that produce human vaccines against infe
c-
tious diseases s
uch as Hepatitis B; fish that mature more quickly; fruit and nut
trees that yield years earlier, and plants that produce new plastics with unique
properties” [7]. As researchers gain more information on this subject, GM pro
d-
uct development will continue t
o progress in unprecedented ways, possibly all
e-
viating i
m
portant issues such as world hunger and crop failure
s.

B
ENEFITS OF
G
ENETICALLY
M
ODIFIED
F
OODS

With an ever increasing global population, massive 3rd world hunger, and the
health risks of pest
i
cides,
it would
seem as if genetically modified organism
(GMO's) would be seen as a hero coming to the world's rescue. Instead ho
w
e
v-
er, many people see GMO's as the greatest threat ever to human civilization

[8]
.
But genetic engineering or biotechnology is cre
ating new novel strategies to help
scientist solve the problem of how to feed the world. It has been estimated that a
child dies every two seconds world wide from starvation; this does not even take
into account the number of people who are mal and undern
ou
r
ished. We have
the technology to transfer potentially any gene from any organism on the planet
to another organism. There is a great promise in the use of this tec
h
nology to
benefit not only the farmers, but also societies worldwide.

The growth in agr
iculture production has increased since genetic modification
first became available. As an example: corn, wheat and protein production has
increased 333%, 136% and nearly 300% respectively, according to The National
Research Cou
n
cil. Corn is the most imp
ortant and widely grown grain in the
United States. As Noel Vietmeyer of the National Academy of Science pointed
out, corn does much more than just feed America, “You rely on corn products
each time you read a magazine, walk across carpet, mail a letter,
eat steak, drink
beer or a soft drink, eat candy, chew gum, or take an aspirin." Among the many
strengths corn has, it also has a major fatal weakness, it cannot reproduce wit
h-
out human aid. Its tight husk prevents the corn kernels from escaping and reac
h-
ing the soil to germinate. It is also vulnerable to many pests and diseases, and
corn requires a lot of nutrients.

Some opportunities to use GMO's for good is: creating plants better resistant
to weeds, pest and other diseases such as corn, foods wit
h better texture, flavor
and nutr
i
tional value, produce with a longer shelf life for easier shipping, bigger
yields to create more efficient use of land, less uses of herbicides and other pe
s-
ticides, and finally GMO's can create an essential sustainable wa
y to feed the
world.

In the United States we have already begun to grow our first generation of
transgenic herbicide and pest resistant crops. This has allowed farmers to not
only use fewer pesticides, but the ones they are choosing to use are more env
i-
ro
nmentally friendly. It is also hypothesized that future generations of transgenic
crops will lead to the creation of foods that can improve human health
[9].

We
should not be afraid of biotechnology. Humans, plants and animals are more
than just our gen
es, changing one or two genes do not make food products u
n-
acceptable for consumption.

Positive Environmental Impacts of GMO's

Soil salinity has become a major problem in all agriculture especially in the
San Jo
a
quin Valley [10]
. Salts have built up due to

a decrease in the water table,
poor dr
ainage, and topical irrigation [11]
. The increase in salinity has made crops
less able to grow and in some cases unable to grow at all
[10]
. The pictures in
figure one and figure two show areas of salt concentration

in the San Joaquin
Valley as a result of irrigation practices.


(Figure 1. A cornfield in the San Joaquin Valley 15 miles north of Kettleman
City along Highway 41 showing salt damag
e.)


(Figure 2. Soil just outside agricultural water holdi
ng land in the San Joaquin
Valley 20 miles north of Ke
t
tleman City along Highway 41. The soil is now white
because of significant amounts of salt.)

Areas of salt
concentration

Water holding area

Areas of salt co
n-
centration

Decreasing soil productivity in a nation requiring the diminishing agricultural
land to be more pr
o
ductive

will not allow enough food to be grown for the globally
expanding population. Thus

we need to r
e
search the possibility of using the
genes of salt tolerant plants species in our agricultural crops.

Mangroves are one such plant species, which may be able t
o provide several
options to decrease the amount of salinity within the soil. Mangroves have the
unique ability to bring in salt water through their roots, remove it from the water,
and release the salts through their leaves where wind carries it away. I
t may be
possible to remove some of the salts in the soil by gro
w
ing mangroves in areas
of high salt content or by isolating the genes that allow them to grow in areas of
high salt concentration and placing them in our traditional field crops.

Plants are
being classically bred for salt tolerance but nothing has

been su
c-
cessful [12]
. An alternative to plant breeding is to genetically modify plants to be
salt tolerant. Salt tolerant plants may contain genes vital to genetically modify
c
rop plants to be sal
t tolerant [12].
Mangroves contain genes allowing it to tole
r-
ate and live in saline conditions. A gene from the grey mangrove,
Avicennia m
a-
rina
, has been genetically implanted into a tobacco plant

[13]
. The plants survi
v-
ing the gene transfer show an inc
rease in the ability of the tobacco plant to tole
r-
ate salt stress as well as showing tole
r
ance to other ionic stresses
[13]
. It may
be possible to use the gene found in the grey mangrove as well as find other
mangrove genes allowing it to tolerate salt
and transfer them to food crops. Food
crops with the ability to tolerate salty soil would potentially be able to remain pr
o-
ductive in the San Joaquin Valley
.


Creating a Sustainability through GMO's

Food in the U.S. is relatively inexpensive, abundant, sa
fe and readily available
because of the su
c
cess of modern plant breeding and genetic engineering. The
growth in agriculture production has increased since genetic modification b
e-
came available. Though, the American food supply may be on the verge of

co
l-
lapse as depletion of crop gene pool continues. Among the less fortunate people
of the world catastrophic agricu
l
ture collapse have already taken place.


Some of the most exciting advances in genetically altered plants are for
non
-
food sources. Edible

vacc
i
nations are one such area.

It has the potential to
provide more convenient, less costly immunization strategies. Dr. Charles
Arntzen said, "The dramatic impact of modern vaccines is not reaching the d
e-
veloping world where it is most needed." There i
s a lack of equipment needed for
making, storing and delivering va
c
cines in these under developed nations, and
also a cultural barrier that impedes the acceptance of injection
-
based immuniz
a-
tion. What if people were able eat foods that where part of their

normal diet, but
that could
also i
m
munize against diseases?


This question has lead to scientists pursuing the creation of food products,
which would protect people from cholera and diarrhea. These two are the lea
d-
ing causes of infant deaths in developin
g parts of the world. Already transgenic
potato plants have been produced that were demonstrated to be effective in i
m-
munizing mice against the bacteria that cause diarrhea. The potatoes were then
used in the first
-
ever human clin
i
cal trails utilizing a
genetically engineered food
to deliver a pharmaceutical. The trials were successful
[9]
. The genetic enginee
r-
ing of plants has the potential to provide edible plant vaccines that could be used
to immunize ind
i
viduals against a wide variety of infectious d
iseases ranging from
cholera to potentially AIDS. Such develo
p
ments have profound implications for
improving human health worldwide and save millions of lives.


It has been shown that plants have a great economic value to pharmace
u-
ticals, cosmetics, and ot
her i
n
dustries. As the world population continues to grow
an increased demand has been placed on our Earth's resources. Farmers su
s-
tain billions of dollars in crop loss each year that has the potential to be controlled
by gene modific
a
tion. Genetic eng
ineering is a major innovation for agriculture
providing growers with other alternatives to conventional pesticides.


There are a number of social and economical risks of GMO's but these
risks are not a consequence of the technology but of its use. Progre
ss with g
e-
netic engineering is no different from any of our other technological progress.
Most people in industrialized countries are willing and able to accept a techno
l
o-
gy like the autom
o
bile. Just as many negative things could be said about our
cars a
s could be said about GMO's such as they co
n
tribute to green house ga
s-
es, kill about a half million people a year in the United States alone, and adds
nothing important to our lifestyle except for convenience of fast travel. So why is
genetic engineering
pe
rceived as b
e
ing too risky?


Humans cannot escape the facts that we are part of the Earth's ecosystem
and in every ecosystem there are producers and consumers. Currently we have
no reason to think that genetic engineered plants are not safe to eat. Peo
ple
now consume about 100,000 different genes daily, and the DNA is efficiently br
o-
ken down in the human i
n
testinal system. Though consumers want to eat what
they see as natural products and many think of genetic engineering as unnatural
because it involv
es laboratory procedures and field
-
testing. Many experts b
e-
lieve the only way to overcome consumer r
e
sistance to genetically engineered
foods is to clearly label pro
d
ucts especially fruits and vegetables, derived from
transgenetic plants. The Food and Dr
ug Administration (FDA) the agency of the
US Government that overseas food safety made its policy in May 1992 that food
obtained from transgenetic plants need not be labeled as such. The FDA d
e
ci
d-
ed that what is important to the consumers is the material
content of the food n
u-
tritional, allergenic, pesticide and not the process used to ge
n
erate the plant.
What counts is the end product, not the methods used to produce plant variety.


It has been argued that the world already has enough food sources to
fee
d the world and that the only problem has been transporting the food to the
people. This is currently the case in our dilemma of how to feed the world. Ho
w-
ever, we must continue to be on the forefront with our research on new sustai
n
a-
ble ways to feed the

ever
-
expanding current populations. Our current methods of
commercial mass production agriculture are not sustainable in the long run. We
have poisoned our soils and waters to the point that previously fertile lands are
no longer productive. It is our
duty to further expand our research on GMO's, as
this may be the only way to feed our children in the future.


N
EGATIVE
A
SPECTS OF
GMO’
S

The use of genetically modified plants and animals has already become co
m-
monplace in today’s society wit
h
out many peopl
e being aware of it. The lack of
consumer consent in the choice
to eat genetically modified foods creates an eth
i-
cal dilemma. In an online article “Super Organics” from Wired by Richard

Ma
n-
ning, he discusses g
e
netically modified organisms and new, more n
atural ways
of altering plants. Manning reveals that as much as “70 percent” of food pr
e-
packaged in a normal grocery store contain genetically modified foods, partic
u
la
r-
ly “corn and soybean[s]” [14]. When in a store there is no way of identifying
which f
oods are genetically modified. The only po
s
sible exception is those foods
clearly labeled as organic are not modified, unless the crops have unknowingly
been
contaminated. To further complicate the issue, some of the modified foods
found in stores were n
ever intended for human consumption. One particular
strain of genetically modified corn called StarLink corn was designed specif
i
cally
for pig feed but has found its way into the national corn supply. In a Mercury
News

article titled “Banished biotech co
rn not gone yet” by Paul Jacobs, he di
s-
cusses StarLink corn. Jacobs states that a program by the federal government to
test corn has found traces of StarLink corn in “more than 1 percent” of the corn
tested from various suppliers and growers of corn in th
e last year [16]. The pr
o-
liferation of genetically modified foods in the food supply has grown and shows
no sign of sto
p
ping.


A majority of consumers do not want genetically modified foods. This fact
was clearly revealed by the public response to the Fl
avr Savr tomato. Flavr Savr
was a brand of genetically modified tomato created by Calgene, which had the
gene removed that caused the tomato to decay (in order to spread its seeds).
Without this gene, the tomatoes were able to ripen on the vine and still

remain
firm during transport to the markets where they were sold. Traditionally tomatoes
are picked before ripening while still green and allowed to ripen during transpo
r-
tation. Despite being genetically eng
i
neered, Flavr Savr tomatoes turned out to
be
less resistant to pests and easily caught
diseases, which made the crops even
more costly to grow.
When Flavr Savr tomatoes were released, there was a
large public backlash against genetically modified foods. The term “Franke
n-
food” was generated to descr
ibe any engineered foods. Public groups like the
Pure Food Campaign stalled the
US Food and Drug Administration’s aproval of
the sale of Flavr Savr tomatoes for over three years, and by the time the tom
a-
toes were released many people refused to purchase t
he modified food. The r
e-
fusal to buy Flavr Savr tomatoes was both due to their increased price, as well as
being genetically modified. This led to the bankrupcy of Calgene, which was
eventualy bought up by a larger agricultrual company, Monsanto. In man
y cou
n-
tries in the world, there are laws either banning the sale of genetically modified
foods or requiring the labeling of foods that have been genetically
altered. The
large agricultural companies in the United States have used their financial bac
k-
ing o
f members of congress to prevent any laws restricting modified food from
passing in America. This

pressure applied on the government is another tactic
used by large GMO companies which raises ethical concern about trangenetic
foods. The companies’ stance

against labeling is due to the fear that such laws
would hurt their sales when people avoid modified foods.


Another example of the desire by the populace to not have genetically
modified foods was demonstrated in 2004 when
Monsanto

announced it would
not

market genetically modified wheat.
In a BBC News article titled “Monsanto
drops plans for GM wheat” it is stated that due to customer resistance Monsanto
would drop their efforts to grow a version of Roundup Ready wheat. While they
market other Roundup
Ready products it was found that wheat was too readily
identifiable with common foods such as bread which most consumers found di
s-
turbing
[17
].
This reveals that Monsanto knows that consumers do not want their
genetically modified products yet they willin
g to continue to push the products
when the consumers are not well informed. This lack of respect for persons and
the ability to make fully informed choices on the food they eat shows bad faith in
the genetically modified food industries. One of the most

important ideals when
making ethical choices is letting those who might be effected make a well i
n-
formed choice with full informed consent.


This attack against the consumer’s informed consent upon knowning what
they are eating has further come under atta
ck. An attempt to undermine the abi
l-
ity of the organic label was brought forth in 2003
. A
c
cording to an article “
True to
its roots
” in the
Sacramento Bee

there was an attempt by GMO companies that
even animals fed up to 15% of genetically engineered food

should still be able to
be labeled as organic [15]. This attack further demonstrates the desire to keep
consumers in the dark about what they actually are co
n
suming.


One of the most common claims about genetically modified foods is that
they are better
than their regular counterparts. This claim is often backed with a
false statement that modified crops require less pesticides and herbicides than
traditional crops would require.

The world’s largest supplier of genetically mod
i-
fied seed for crops is Mon
santo, which happens to be one of the larger producers
of pesticides and herbicides. Monsanto owns scores of patents on different g
e-
netically modified seeds for various types of plants. One of their popular pro
d-
ucts is Roundup Ready Soy. This is a modif
ied version of the soy plant designed
to resist the Monsanto made herbicide roundup. Now, rather than specifically
spraying specific plants in a field of soy, the entire field can be crop dusted with
roundup. An average of three times as much Roundup is
being used in these
Roundup Ready Soy fields. While this requires less manual labor in money in
farm workers it leads to an increase in funds towards Monsanto. This creates
another group of people who are affected by the choice to use GMO foods, the
farm

workers who are losing their jobs in favor of extra chemicals. In an online
article by Eva Cheng titled "Genetically modified food: Bush promotes a `biolog
i-
cal time bomb,'" she di
s
cusses the way large corporations have pushed modified
foods and how many
scie
n
tists agree they are dangerous. “Seventy
-
five percent
of GM crops are genetically m
a
nipulated to be herbicide tolerant (but usually only
to brands produced by the same mu
l
tinational corporations) and to be cultivated
with heavy doses of the designate
d herb
i
cide so that ‘everything else’ is killed but
the GM crop” [18]. The use of pesticides and herbicides in fields has been well
documented as unhealthy due to the many ways it e
f
fects the environment as
well as human consumption when the food product
is eventually eaten and still
contains traces of the chemicals.


Another common claim is that genetically modified plants are less expe
n-
sive to grow and increase the productivity of farmers.

This is a claim put forth by
the agricu
l
tural companies performi
ng the modifications since it encourages
farmers to buy their products despite the fact that, many times costs raise rather
than d
e
crease.
Richard Manning’s

article “Super Organics,” which discusses the
Flavr Savr proves to be a prime examples of this. O
ver two hundred million do
l-
lars was invested in creating these tomatoes and almost none of the investment
was able to be reclaimed as the product was a bust [14]. Even successful pro
d-
ucts like Roundup Ready Soy increase the cost of farmer’s production by
requi
r-
ing more herbicides. Each year, new modified seed must be purchased from the
agricultural companies again to ensure that the crops will be the same genetically
modified strain. This ensures repeat business for the comp
a
nies from farmers
who want to

grow modified plants. The Independent Science Panel performed a
study about genetically engineered foods and published a report titled “The Case
for A GM
-
Free Sustainable World.” They state that, “GM crops have cost the
United States an estimated $12 bi
llion in farm subsidies, lost sales and product
recalls due to transgenic contamination. Massive failures in Bt cotton of up to
100% were r
e
ported in India” [19]. An article on Organic Consumers titled “
Bt
Cotton Fails Again in India
” goes into more detail
s about the crop failures in India.
While the Bt cotton was resistant to bollworms it was more susceptible to other
forms of failure. While non
-
modified plants were thriving all the Bt crops failed.
This lead to an alarming rate of farmer suicide to col
lect on insurance due to r
u-
ined livelihoods in the loss of farms and crops [20]. The only financial benefit
from modified plants is to the companies produ
c
ing them and the products that
accompany the modified seeds, not to the consumers or farmers.


A maj
or ethical consideration about the genetically modified foods is about
the amount and quality of testing preformed on the foods.

Genetic engineering is
a relatively new field of science, and the long term results of modification are not
clear. To be ethic
ally responsible for their product warning labels should be pr
o-
vided about the lack of long term testing. Monsanto and other companies have
started testing on the possible impacts of these foods but when unfavorable r
e-
sults start appearing these tests are

pushed aside losing fun
d
ing and other tests
which don’t show negative results are given more funding. This extreme bias in
testing raises the concern of in whose interest these tests are being preformed,
those of the public or those of the co
m
panies. Te
sting has been preformed but
there has been no unbiased long term testing preformed on the foods leaving a
void of information needed to accurately determine the safety of GMO’s as food.

Another major ethical issue is once the modified plant has been plant
ed in n
a-
ture, there is no way to remove the modification from the wild. This can have a
d-
verse effects on the environment which is a growing concern among the majority
of the populace. Pollen from modified plants spreads and will infect more plants
with t
his modification without any human help. StarLink corn has already been a
prime example of this. Once released, despite attempts at controlling it, there is
little that can be done to prevent the spread of the modification. In the Indepen
d-
ent Science Pa
nel’s study about genetically engineered foods titled “The Case
for A GM
-
Free Sustainable World,” one of the things revealed in this report is
“High levels of contamination have since been found in Canada. In a test of 33
certified seed stocks, 32 were fou
nd contaminated” [19]. Now, even those who
think they are growing natural products could possibly have crops that have been
contaminated. While there is concern about how fast the modifications spread,
there are other potential long term results that are

already showing up. These
modifications are also spreading to other varieties of plants; already, weeds fe
a-
tu
r
ing the herbicide resistant gene have starting appearing in Canada and parts
of the United States. As these genes spread, nature tries to adapt

to compe
n-
sate. Insects have been found that are resistant to the BT gene inserted into
corn and cotton in order to kill off pests. The ability of the modified gene to
spread to other plants and their effect on surrounding species can lead to the i
n-
trodu
ction of super viruses and other unknown combin
a
tions. The environmental
impact of genetically modified foods leaves many environmental ethic que
s
tions
to be considered.

The issue of spreading genetically modified pollen spreading was also demo
n-
strated in

Canada.

Mo
n
santo was growing some
genetically modified rapeseed

which it held a patent for near an organic farmer’s crop. Naturally pollen spread
between these two fields and the organic farmer’s crop was contaminated.
When Monsanto found out about this

they sued the farmer for growing patented
crops without paying Mo
n
santo for the seed. This legal battle made its way
through the Canadian legal system all the way to the Can
a
dian Supreme Court
.
In a BBC News article “Monsanto wins Canada seed battle” it

is stated while the
Can
a
dian supreme court
over turned a lower courts fine on the farmer that the
farm be turned over to Monsanto [21]. This case has become a ra
l
lying point of
those opposed to genetically modified foods as the unethical and one track mi
nd
towards monetary benefits that Monsanto has shown.

Another ethical concern raised in the use of genetically engineered crops is
the safety of those who consume the final product. The Bt toxin that is used in
most non
-
herbicide resistant strains of gene
tically modified plants was taken from
the Bt bacteria. This toxin is designed to kill pests that eat crops, to replace the
use of pesticides. Since the Bt toxin is inside the actual plant, there is no way it
can be washed off or removed before human con
sumption. Allergies and other
responses have been found in many people who eat these foods. These people
with food allergies towards engineered are left with no alternatives as the use of
genetically engineered crops spread and no labeling is preformed.

As stated ea
r-
lier, crops designed for pharmaceut
i
cal purposes are being grown. Rather than
produce the pharmaceutical products in labs, it has been found more cost effe
c-
tive to introduce a gene into a plant and let plants grow the pharmaceutical pro
d-
uct
then ha
r
vest it from the plant or simply be used as feed. As the pollen
spreads, genes from these pharmaceutical plants have made it into the food
supply. These are essentially drugs inside of the food that affect the immune
sy
s
tem and are being given to

people who do not require them. The over use of,
as well as unnecessary, pharmaceut
i
cals has been well documented as harmful
towards people, particularly towards young children and infants. These drugged
foods are more commonly being fed to animals that

are raised to be slaughtered
and consumed by humans. Meats as well as plants now contain antibiotics that
limit the ability of other antibiotics to treat illnesses when actually required.

Foods, specifically plants containing genetic modifications are a
lready co
m-
mon in the American ma
r
ketplace. The widespread use of genetically modified
food has, for the most part, been hidden from public view due to the large bac
k-
lash the public has against “frankenfoods.” The first step in helping solve the
pro
b
lem i
s to require all foods known to be derived from genetically modified
sources to be clearly labeled. While it is difficult to determine which foods have
been unknowingly contaminated, labeling allows the consumer to make the
choice whether to support genet
ically modified foods or not. It will also raise pu
b-
lic awareness that these foods are out there and how it may be a
f
fecting them.
For those consumers currently concerned about modified foods, their only choice
is to buy organic foods. Even organic crop
s and food sources are being threa
t-
ened by pollen from genetically altered crops. The demand for organic food has
consi
s
tently been on the rise for the past few years.

Genetically modified foods have not served any benefit to humankind or the
environment,

other than a few individual’s greed. The use of genetic engineering
in the food supply has many ominous problems that would require long term tes
t-
ing before it should be considered. For now genetically modified products pr
o-
vide no benefit towards consum
ers or farmers, and the practice should be
stopped. This does not necessarily mean that genetically modified foods hold no
potential for good use, just needs to be exercised with extreme caution and for
the good of all people not the power of a few indivi
duals. While the end of GMO
food is unlikely to happen, awareness of the problem should be raised until more
pressure can be put on the gover
n
ment and agricultural companies to control the
use of genetic engineering in the food supply.


L
AWS ON
G
ENETICALLY

M
ODIFIED
F
OODS IN THE
U
NITED
S
TATES

Unlike the EU, which has a comprehensive system in considering and contro
l-
ling the release of genetically modified foods into their market; the United States,
a country known for its health co
n
scious people, has a very
high confidence in
genetically mod
i
fied foods. Since genetic engineered crops were first introduced
for commercial production, the United States accounts for 63%, 105.7 million
acres of land, of all genet
i
cally modified (GM) crops planted globally [
22
]. Th
ese
crops include soybean, maize, co
t
ton, and canola. In addition, “it is estimated
that 70% of products on U.S. grocery shelves

include GM products” [7
]. They are
widely available and generally accepted by most consu
m
ers. A recent study on
March 1999 by t
he International Food Information Council shows that 77% of
Americans would be likely to buy products that had been genetically eng
i
neered
[
2
3].

Another study shows however, that “in 2001, 88% of Americans are concerned
about the n
u
tritional content of th
eir food. The number of consumers who have
changed ea
t
ing habits due to health and nutrition concerns rose to 72 percent,
the highest percen
t
age in the last four years” [
2
4]. Therefore, it seems that most
of Americans want to be healthy, but at the same ti
me, they are still a
c
cepting
genetically modified products. Do we really trust our health to the Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) or are we just being ill
-
informed or kept in the dark gene
t-
ically modified foods that are now extremely obtainable in the ma
r
ket?

There are three federal agencies that are responsible with the release of GM
food plants in the United States. They are the Food and Drug Administration
(FDA), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the Environme
n-
tal Protection Agenc
y (EPA). The FDA has the responsibility of regulating the
safety of most domestic and imported foods in the US market, except meat and
poultry, which are handled by the USDA. The EPA meanwhile has “jurisdi
c
tion
over activities that can potentially harm th
e environment” [
2
6], especially on pe
s-
ticides used in or on foods. Of these three age
n
cies however, the FDA is in
charge for most of the GM foods that is available in the US’s market.

The FDA is one of the United States’ oldest consumer protection agencies
. It
reg
u
lates over $1 trillion worth of products sale annually. It is also a public health
agency, in charge with “pr
o
tecting American customers by enforcing the Federal
Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act and several related pu
b
lic health laws” [
2
5].

In the food

safety sector, the FDA makes sure that the food consumers co
n-
sumed is safe, and wholesome. The agency’s scientists would need take food
samples and test it for any excessive pre
s
ence of pesticides and residues before
it is released to the market s [
2
5]. I
f contamination is ever detected, an appropr
i-
ate corrective measure is taken. The agency however, does not evaluate the pr
o-
c
esses used to manufacture these foods. In other words, for a GM food, the FDA
does not consider the fact that the sources of these f
oods are genetically mod
i-
fied organism [
2
6]. The FDA would only r
e
quire a label if they meet one of these
criteria: “First, if a GM food contains substantially different nutrient content than
its conventional counterpart, it requires labeling. Second, if t
he product is a novel
food, i.e., one never before pr
o
duced. Third and fourth, those GM foods contai
n-
ing a potential allergen or increased level of toxicity also must be l
a
beled” [
2
8].

The first commercially modified food crop was FlavrSvar, a tomato that
was
more r
e
sistant to rotting, created by Calgene [
22
]. In 1994, after it had passed the
FDA’s voluntary testing for safe h
u
man consumption, Calgene released it to the
market without any labeling i
n
dicating that FlavrSvar was actually genetically
modified.

The FDA allowed this as FlavrSvar was still actually a tomato with the
same amount of vit
a
mins, protein and mineral as non
-
modified tomatoes and did
not constitute any health hazards (alle
r
gen). Although FlavrSvar did not hit the
market very well because
of poor flavor, the FDA later received many criticisms
for not requiring labeling to FlavrSvar. This is also true that up till now, the FDA,
despite increasing pressure, does not require most GM foods such as B
t

pot
a-
toes that are readily available in groce
ry store to be labeled; si
m
ply because they
are just equivalent to the non
-
GM version and therefore their method of produ
c-
tion is irrel
e
vant.

Since the process of testing the safety of GM foods by the FDA is voluntary for
as long as the new product is “not

significantly different” from its traditional cou
n-
terpart, it is not surprising that if most of the products sold in the market now is
categorized as “substantially equiv
a
lent” and safe by their manufacturers. These
products could have too few health and
environmental safety checks and ther
e-
fore too much information being covered to the public. A report by the Consumer
Federation of America Foundation concluded that this flexible law by the FDA i
n-
cludes huge loopholes that could allow a potentially dangero
us GM food to enter
the food su
p
ply but still left the FDA blameless if that food is found to be unsafe
[
2
7].

A recent newspaper report on March 2005 said that one unapproved GM food
act
u
ally went into our food supply. It was the genetically altered corn s
eed, called
Bt 10. The seed was distributed by Syngenta. The seed was modified with a
gene from the pesticide
-
like bacterium. It was sold “accide
n
tally” to some US
farmers for four years and has occupied for around 37,000 acres of land since
then. Although

most of the corn is for industrial and animal use, Syngenta
spokeswoman Sarah Hull said that “It may have go
t
ten into the food supply” [
2
9].
Though according to the USDA and EPA that Bt 10 is safe, the fact that the fe
d-
eral government kept this news in se
cret for three months u
n
dermine the public
confidence in the growing field of genetically modified crops. In add
i
tion, if the
seed was safe in the first place, why was it not in the approved list of GM foods?

C
ONCLUSION

There are many ethical issues relate
d to the growing and consumption of g
e-
net
i
cally engineered crops. They hold potential to greatly increase the nutritional
value of food as well as the productivity of crops, while at the same time provide
many safety as well environmental concerns. These

decisions need to be looked
at by all of humanity since everyone is directly affected by the choices. While
each person can read these details and come to different conclusions on the va
l-
ue of genetically engineered foods as well as the ethical choices b
eing made by
the companies in charge of producing these foods. The ultimate choice on g
e-
ne
t
ically engineered foods should be placed onto a well informed consumer not
held in the dark by those in power of the government and large corporations
which may not

have the general public’s interests as their primary goal.
GENETI
CALLY MODIFIED FOODS


24

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