Genetically Modified Foods

Genetically modified organisms are as a result of alteration of the genetic make up of the organisms involved. Basically, genes are deleted or inserted to the organisms DNA to produce a superior quality product with a pre-determined nutrient content or reproductive capacity. Additionally, the products come with superior qualities such as resistance to droughts and attacks by destructive pests. The process of altering the genetic material of organisms is extensive and cannot possibly be exhausted easily. Debate has however shifted to the GMO foods that are sold commercially especially in the United States, Africa and Europe their characteristics, effects on the consumers, the pros and cons surrounding their safety issues and the whole process that surround their production.

Genetically modified foods have been approved in many countries while many more have adapted a wait and see attitude. The fact that the foods genetic make up has been altered is the bone of contention.  Advocates for genetically modified organisms have touted them as the best solution to rampant nutrition and hunger problems especially in the third world. However, there are experts who contend that the foods have long-term effects on consumers and therefore commercial consumption should not be allowed
This paper will seek to address the above issues in a little more detailed manner to shed some light on whether the its safe to consume GMOs or not..
2. Commercially Sold GMOs
Due to the resistance to GMOs by non governmental organizations and various governments, there has not been widespread commercial success as far as they are concerned.  Full commercialization of the GMOs has not been possible since most governments of the world have feared backlash from consumers. A regulatory approach has been the policy adopted by most countries in approving GMOs. Uptake of GMOs remains geographically limited and by 2008, only 25 countries carried out any significant commercial planting of GMOs. Only a small number of crops are produced commercially. They include cotton, soybeans, corn and tomatoes (Nelson, 60).
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Picture of GMO tomatoes (source  HYPERLINK httpwww.inhabitat.comwp-contentuploads201002tomatoes-the-ewan.jpg httpwww.inhabitat.comwp-contentuploads201002tomatoes-the-ewan.jpg)

The US, Brazil, Argentina, India and Canada are the leading commercial producers GMOs. In the US, at least 70 of all foods sold have GMO content (Paarlberg, 2010 p 166). Nearly all transgenic crops approved so far have been industrial crops like soybeans and yellow maize. Only South Africa had by 2008 approved a GMO variety of maize that is a staple crop in the country (Paarlberg, 166). Philippines has also approved GMO maize for animal use only though.
3. Process of altering genetic make up of an organism
Every living organism has a definite genetical make up that gives it characteristics typical of the species it belongs to. These characteristics are contained in coded information stored in the DNA of cells.
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Picture of DNA (source  HYPERLINK httpwww.csb.yale.eduuserguidesgraphicsribbonshelpdna_rgb.html

Some characteristics in organisms both plants and animals are more desirable than others. For this reason, scientists seek to change the building blocks of DNA by deleting and adding some Genes with desirable characteristics to produce a sort of designer hybrids of an organism. This process is referred to as DNA manipulation or Cutting and splicing DNA (Sanderson, 141). This process therefore involves the taking of genes and segments of DNA from one species and inserting then to another artificially modifying the DNA of the other species (Smith, 1). Through the process of recombinant-DNA formation, genetic material is transferred from one organism to another.
3. Differences in GMOs
There is not marked difference between GMOs and the traditional foods from which they are derived. The main aim of carrying out genetic alteration of organisms is to confer on them the desired characteristics. Therefore, the differences are varied depending on the preference of the interested parties developing them. Many organisms spot the physical characteristics that they have been tailored to have. For instance, if scientists wanted bananas to taste and smell like fish they can easily alter the composition of banana genes to that effect.
4. Safety
Safety standards for GMOs and ways to ensure safety have been a subject of discussion in many jurisdictions. Substance equivalence is one of the approaches that tests for safety and eliminates any risks that may be posed by the products FAO, 16). This process seeks to ensure that any GMO product is not drastically different from its traditional counterpart. The process includes the identification of the source of the product, its effect on cooking and processing, the transformation of its DNA, effects on function, potential toxicity, allergenicity and possible secondary effects. If A GMO derived food is drastically different from its traditional counterpart, further tests are carried out before its released for use (FAO, 16).

Different authorities have set up bodies that scrutinize and implement various guidelines meant to enhance the safety of GMOs. China has the agricultural GMOs Safety Administration Regulation. The European Union by far has the strictest standards as regards the safety of GMOs. In the EU labeling is seen as the consumers right to know what is contained in any GMO product (FAO, 16). Companies are therefore compelled to disclose the contents and effects if any a GMO product is likely to have.
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Labeled GMO Tomatoes (source  HYPERLINK httpbiologybiozine.comimagesinset_07.jpg httpbiologybiozine.comimagesinset_07.jpg)

5. Issues surrounding GMOs
The issues surrounding GMOs is multifaceted with different stakeholders holding different positions that influence the pros and cons of GMOs. Life science companies are the drivers of GMO technology and have always pushed for its wide implementation because they argue its the best way to deal with problems such as famine (Nelson 83).  The public sectors form another interest group that comprise governments, NGOs and politician and their parties who are concerned with GMOs. Most of these have been involved on the pros and cons of GMOs with no conclusive decisions. Governments have also been involved in the development or sanctioning the development of GMOs. Apart from the governments of the US, Brazil, Argentina and south Africa, few have fully adopted the use GMOs. The EU and other governments have adopted strict regulatory approaches to GMOs that do not promise any specific timelines for the widespread adoption of GMOs.

Genetically modified food has been around for along time. Though it has however gained not much favor with a majority of the populations and authorities for various reasons the attitudes towards it have been changing and more people than ever before are viewing GMOs favorably. Much of the antagonism to GMOs stems from the fact that first generation GMOs were made with farmers and companies interests in mind (Sanderson, 276). There was a feeling amongst consumers that only the benefits of companies and farmers were catered for. Quality was therefore going to be compromised as a result.

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Many consumers and Non Governmental organizations feel that there is still a lot of information that is needed in the public domain before authorities allow the commercial use of GMOs for food, citing unseen effects on human beings and animals and their effects on the environment. Unlike their American counterpart, many European governments fearing public backlash have developed strict regulatory mechanisms where all GMOs have to be labeled. Regulators in Europe have even been allowed to block the approval of a GMO whether or not it poses human or environmental risks (Paarlberg, 164). In the 1995-96 periods however some of European governments did approve a number of GMOs but the approvals were later reversed during the Mad Cow disease outbreak in the UK. Though there was no connection between the disease and GMO, the authorities needed to restore credibility and confidence in all food technologies.
Advocates of GMO cite numerous advantages which act as reasons supporting the development of GMOs and especially food. Through the genetic engineering, scientists are able to develop disease resistant crops that will ease the burden that plant and animal diseases impose on farmers. Resistance to abiotic stress for both plants and animals will be enhanced thorough genetic engineering that will produce genetically modified organisms. The organisms will be able to better adapt to the effects of temperatures, water and soil chemicals. They will survive in hostile conditions dramatically improving farmers yield. Additionally the organisms will be able to stand the assault from pets and insects that feed on them.

Safe for Burkina Faso, Egypt and South Africa not many countries in Africa have adopted the commercial use of GMOs. Advocates of GMOs have always fronted the idea that productions of GMOs hold the key to sustainable production of food in Africa and elsewhere in the third world. The production of drought resistant varieties and those that mature faster is touted as the best way to help the malnourished and underfed populations in the world. However many governments as seen earlier have either rejected the development of GMOs in their countries or permitted limited use.
6. Conclusion
The debate on the issues surrounding GMOs is far from over. GMOs have the potential to largely eliminate food related problems that the world faces today. On the other hand there is every reason to believe that they may be abused to benefit some companies or individuals. Besides, their effects on the environment and human beings have not been comprehensively addresses. The cautionary approach that most authorities have taken is right but there is need to move fast to save some dire situations that need GMOs.


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