Is GE Food Safe?
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- This page: https://www.globalissues.org/article/189/is-ge-food-safe.
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The potential benefits of genetically engineered food are exciting. At the same time though, there are real concerns on biodiversity, the ecosystem and people's safety if such food has not been tested properly and guaranteed to be safe. As economics are factored in, there is also some concern as to who benefits from such technology, people in need, or people who need more.
On this page:
No Adequate Testing.
The reason that genetically engineered food could be dangerous is because there has been no adequate testing to ensure that extracting genes that perform an apparently useful function as part of that plant or animal is going to have the same effects if inserted into a totally unrelated species. It may be that in the long term, genetically modified food could provide us with benefits and be a safe alternative, but we cannot know that at this time due to the lack of safety testing.
The testing that has been done is often to ensure the crop grows. There has been less emphasis on testing the effects or testing the wider ecology and the associated impacts.
A Bit Different to the way Nature Works
Crossbreeding by farmers and evolution by Nature, has always involved gene transfer between similar species, not completely different species like a fish and a potato.
With the increasing drive for maximized productivity and profits, the diversity of crops used is being reduced. If the diversity is reduced enough the benefits that the diversity gives -- resistance to disease, better ability to cope with environmental extremes, increased yields etc. -- is also reduced.
Scientists have warned that non-target species can be affected by genetically modified food. They also urge a precautionary approach to allow science, law and regulations to catch up with the advances that have been made. Some GM crops still seem to require pesticide use as well.
Long Term Effects are Unknown
Even if there has been some testing, the long term effects to humans, animals and the environment are unknown. The full ramifications of modified genes "escaping" and mixing with unmodified ones are unknown.
It may be that genetically modified food can benefit us, but we cannot know that at this time because much needed testing has not been done and current studies point to dangers rather than benefits. However, a group of scientists in UK do claim that GE food may be safe, but mention that the long-term effects are still unknown. (Also, note that a lot of field tests that companies do perform are aimed at assuring that their products are grown as expected, not always necessarily looking into wider effects.)
Reducing Pesticides, Increased Yields?
Part of the promising and exciting aspects of biotechnology is that it could perhaps reduce harmful pesticide use, and increase yields to help provide food for the hungry and large world population. However:
- As this article points out, pesticide usage has actually remained the same, or even increased, with the use of GE food. And the companies that make pesticides are the ones that also make GE food ingredients. (See the previous link for many more interesting points).
- The Institute for Science in Society reports, for example, that as well as pesticde usage increasing, yields have been lower with GM Crops.
So why are they still being given the go-ahead?
- One reason is that there is a lot of money and profit involved in this. Hence from a business perspective it is more favorable, for example to produce crops that can be resistant to your pesticides (so that you can apply more of them). If you are a chemical company that produces pesticides as well as GM crops, then this is a good way to sell both products, as Monsanto do for example with their Roundup Ready GM Soybeans. (The Monsanto section on this site will discuss this a bit more.) The following also puts it more bluntly:
- Another reason seems to be that in campaigns and referendums, a lot of emphasis is put on the fact that transgenic research-animals would help in the field of medicine and so distorts the purpose of the referendums that are usually about patent and food related effects of genetic modifications.
From a science perspective there are many issues to address, and there are chances that the GM technology can improve over the years. However, the issues above hint towards some of the political and economic issues of this which can be very significant. As a result, these factors influence the claims of biotechnology being able to feeding the world comes, which we look at next.
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