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Many people are worried about consuming genetically modified foods. Some however argue that there is no medical proof that these kinds of products have any harm on human health. They therefore argue that no company is ethically obliged to label it as genetically modified food products. They claim that these foods are a boom on the market considering that they are cheaper as they can be produced in large scale within a short time.
There are those who have negative perceptions about the products and labeling might be of great help in ensuring that they do not consume such products. Each of the opposing views has solid justification on the matter. The real question posed is whether people should be informed about the products they consume or not (SIRC 2001)
Right to know
Consumers have a right to know whatever the product they are buying is made of. It is upon the food producers to label such products and leave it upon the consumers to decide on whether to consume these foods or not. Some of them resemble the natural types in appearance and hence making it difficult to differentiate.
This can be difficult for those who do not consume genetically modified foods. A genetically modified crop might for instance look and grow exactly like the natural crops yet it might be containing genes that are resistant to antibiotics or an insecticide mechanism that is built-in.
This might be harmful particularly to those consumers who are allergic to such. Different genes have been inserted into these foods yet the consumer has been left in the dark as he/she is not able to directly communicate to the farmer about the products he/she would like to consume (Whitman, 2000).
Most of the genetically modified foods have both known and unknown effects to mankind. Some of the effects for instance include the resistance to antibiotics.
Most of the genetically modified products are usually injected with substances that make them resistant to antibiotics and when consumed by humans, the same resistance develops in humans hence making them resistant to some drugs. This in the long run has catastrophic effects on the health of humans. As a result, there arises the need to ensure that these kinds of food are modified (Whitman, 2000).
Genetically modified products include foods as well as its ingredients, different medicines as well as vaccines, various feeds and fibers. It is therefore ethical for the manufacturers or processing firms to process label them if they are genetically modified so as to enable the consumers to know what they are consuming. Genetic information has to be availed to the consumers so as to enable people to make their own choices about consumption (Whitman, 2000).
Research has shown that most people would prefer to consume natural foods rather than that which is genetically modified. More than 80% of the people would prefer to have these foods be labeled. Most governments are doing very little to the same effect and it has been the responsibility of the consumer to make decisions about whether to consume these food products.
Consumers are therefore finding alternative methods of doing the same. Some of them have taken technological advancement into consideration and are therefore able to use an iPhone application otherwise known as ShopNoGMO which helps them identify those products that are not genetically modified (Whitman, 2000).
The Non-GMO project launched by food producers is aimed at ensuring that consumers are able to identify or find those food products that are not genetically modified. This is done through a system of certification that is independent. Most firms have been is support of the move at the moment many groceries use a seal that is labeled, ‘Non-GMO.’
The project also aims at informing the food producers about those food ingredients that are not genetically modified. The move is to help prevent genetically modified food from gaining ground on the food market. Government regulators have been very reluctant in making sure that a clear demarcation is made between the genetically modified foods and those grown under the natural environment.
This is very risky because the dangers of mixing these products are high and the consequences might be grave. The consumer protection agency has done little to enhance the labeling given that they believe that these products that are genetically modified are just similar to the natural ones hence no need to be labeled as such. The labeling has mainly been left in the hands of the manufacturers (Byrne 2010).
Food producing firms have an obligation to label genetically modified foods hence living the choice of consuming them to the consumer. It has been said that most of the effects of genetic modification of food that are seen are short term, physical as well specific yet those that are not seen are general, long-term as well as mental. Genetic modification is mainly concerned with altering an organism’s genetic make-up.
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Most of these foods are inserted with different genes including human genes so as to boost their resistance as well increase their rate of growth. There are cases for instance whereby human genes have been injected into fish as well as pigs so as to increase their rate of growth. This is perceived by many people as unethical. Most of the companies that deal with genetic modification are basically concerned with making profits rather than assisting mankind (Whitman, 2000).
Most of these foods contain toxins which might be harmful to human health. This makes it necessary for the consumers to be informed whether the kind of food they want to purchase or consume is genetically modified or natural. In fact, in some cases the customers might be allergic to the chemical compositions found within those foods. Most of these foods are untested and unlabelled making it risky for the potential consumers (Whitman, 2000).
Genetic modification of foods is believed to violate the intrinsic values associated with natural organisms. When genes of diverse species are mixed, this in effect acts to interfere with nature. People tend to consume animal genes whenever they take in plant products or consume plant genes whenever they consume animal products.
This is unethical given that some people do not even consume the products of those animals or genes under natural circumstances. Genetic modification usually leads to stress particularly to the animals involved.
Genetically modified foods also pose environmental risk. When some of these genes are released into the wild, they might create new viral strains which might result in the formation of resistant weeds.
Most of them might even lead to the extinction of certain species. It has for instance been presumed that the genetically modified fish is leading to the extinction of the natural species of fish. Most of them have the capability to alter or damage the ecosystem. Most of the viruses that emanate from genetic modification are able to combine with the existing viruses resistant strains.
Allowing the natural species to grow alongside the genetically modified ones could result in the unintentional transfer of genes through what is commonly referred to as cross breeding/cross pollination. This causes unknown effects to natural strains hence altering their genetic make-up. The modification might affect biodiversity hence leading the extinction of some species of flora and fauna (Mellon & Rissler, 2010).
Genetic modification is widely used in the dairy industry. The growth hormones injected in these animals have already had negative effects on the animals. Whenever the products from these animals are ingested by humans, the complications are transferred to the animals.
These products when consumed might lead to human resistance to some medicine particularly the antibiotic. That is why it is very important to label products that are out of genetic modification. Diseases such as the mad cow disease are as a result of genetic modification.
Genetic modification of foods allows them to overcome heavy doses of such herbicides as roundup. They are therefore stuffed with substances that are able to cause cancer in humans and of released into the wild they contribute to the formation of very resistant weeds. Some of the genetically modified crops usually contain an inbuilt insecticide mechanism. Continued use of this usually result in the production of breeds of insects that are resistant to the insecticides.
The organic insecticides being used could easily be rendered ineffective hence affecting the food industry that depends on genetic modification. Genetic modification leads to the exposure of microbes to the atmosphere which under natural conditions might be found in the nodules of legumes. These microbes pose a threat to the natural environment as there exposure is harmful and the effects thereof are catastrophic and in some cases irreversible (Ferber, 1999).
Genetically modified foods are usually cheaper. The cost of production is also low. The continued use of genetically modified food poses a challenge to the economy. They give competition to the natural foods which have a high cost of production and take too long to mature. Genetic modification tends to lead to the monopolization of the food industry.
It is possible that if left to expand, genetic modification has the potential to kill local food industries given that most of them depend on natural food products rather than genetic modification. The food industry will therefore be dominated by few industries that rely on genetic modification. Most of the developing countries have not yet adopted the technology of genetic modification and they depend on natural food products.
The trend has the capability to cause bio-piracy as companies or even countries try to get the ideas about genetic modification. It could lead to the exploitation of natural resources by foreigners. There are no set laws that tend to protect ideas about genetic modification. The result of genetic modification could be the skewing of new advances so as to interest the rich and developed nations (Whitman, 2000).
Lack of Labeling and its Problems
The issue of labeling genetically modified food is perceived from different perspectives, which include; religious, ethical as well as health perspective. From a health context, many consumers perceive genetically modified foods as a health hazard. This is due to the fact that they contain toxins that might be harmful to the human health.
They might lead to allergic reactions as well as causing resistance to antibiotics. In the event that these foods are not labeled, the consumers might not have a choice to make as they might not be in a position to differentiate the two, hence the inability to avoid the consequences.
Going by the religious perspective, people tend to avoid genetically modified foods on religious grounds. Some faiths are particularly opposed to the idea of genetically given that in some cases, these foods are injected with human genes. Some religions like Judaism observe strict laws concerning what should be consumed and what should not and genetic modification might make this difficult due to its violation of religious restrictions.
Most religious leaders believe in the natural way of doing things as it is perceived as a way that is ordained by God, and any attempt to alter this order is perceived as going against Gods requirements. Failing to label these foods therefore makes it difficult for people to make a choice of their own (Whitman, 2000).
Most people do not prefer genetically modified food on ethical grounds. There is a general move towards campaigning against the same. Failing to label these foods does not therefore leave the consumers with any choice or free will to eat whatever they like and avoid what they don’t.
Most of the companies processing genetically modified food have also been on the campaign against labeling their products as they argue that the presumed dangers of these foods cannot be substantiated. They also argue that labeling might only act against their products as most people would develop a negative attitude towards them.
The current society has a right to know that what they are consuming is safe. Most people prefer to know whatever they are buying. The ingredients involved while making the foods should be made known to the consumers for them to be in a position to make informed choices while purchasing. One is not able to know the foods simply by looking at them and refusing to label these products just denies them the fundamental right of choosing whatever they want.
Labeling them does not restrict anyone who does not want to buy. In most countries, the issue of labeling genetically modified foods is not compulsory and consumers have no choice of deciding between genetically modified foods and the natural ones. The products made through genetic modification are freely mixed with those produced naturally hence confounding the labeling attempts (Ferber, 1999).
Any product that has been proved to have health hazards need to be labeled so as to make the consumers aware of the kind of product they are consuming. Failing to label would only make them prone to potential the potential health hazards. The food producers are therefore obliged to indicate whether the food products contain genetically modified ingredients.
Laws need to be enacted so as to compel food producers to label their products as genetically modified or not. This would compel them to notify the consumers about the kind of products they are purchasing. Companies as well as individuals are obliged to follow the law and if laws are passed to ensure the labeling is done, then the producers will inevitably be forced to do the same (SIRC 2000).
These foods usually undergo major nutritional as well as compositional changes hence making it necessary for them to be labeled. At the moment, the labels are voluntary and it is upon the food manufacturers to label their products accordingly and most of them do not indicate whether the products are genetically modified. Labeling these products would be a sign of responsibility on the side of manufacturers and it would mean that food producers care about the welfare of the consumers.
The similarity between natural and genetically modified food products is only based on a few factors like the nutrient level. There are many aspects that are left out like other none-nutrient elements within the products. There are for instance those enzymes that are added to the plants to prevent them from being destroyed by insecticides. The other aspect that is left out is the fact that genetically modified foods contain different genetic make-up.
They might for instance contain more genes from other organisms. The natural plants do not contain many foreign genes that might are derived from other organisms. The natural plants have the normal mechanism for offering resistance to diseases and other infection while those that are genetically modified have in-built mechanism to ensure the same. These substances might be harmful to humans hence the need to inform the consumers about the same.
Argument against Labeling
Manufacturers of genetically modified foods have various reasons against the labeling. Some argue that the labeling would act as a warning sign hence prevent people from buying their products which they believe are safe tor human consumption just like those produced naturally.
They say that labeling would only be equal to slumming unnecessary information to consumers who might not even be interested in knowing. It is argued that the desire to know the food composition is not a right and hence manufacturers are not obliged to label these products.
Those arguing against the labeling believe that these products are not harmful to the environment like some of the naturally produced foods and that even if it were like that, labeling would not reduce the harm in anyway. It is argued that the labeling should be voluntary and not mandatory as some would like it to be.
They also insist on the fact that most of these foods are cheap and affordable to the consumers. It is believed that these kinds of foods would be the solutions to the continual hiking of food prices across the globe and that it would be better for people to be served with genetically modified foods rather than die of starvation hence making it unnecessary to label these foods.
The cost of production for genetically modified foods is relatively lower in comparison to that of natural foods. The genetically modified foods would therefore be the best option for subsidizing the costs of food production. The foods are produced within a very short time as compared to the natural ones that take a lot of time to mature (Whitman, 2000).
An argument against the labeling is also based on the fact that the hazards associated with these products have not been scientifically proved and can therefore not be substantiated. They believe that the language of rights is mainly associated with the moral language and has nothing to do with the selling or consumption of these products. They argue that labeling the foods would only be dealing with the problem at individual level and if there were any threats to the environment, then this would not solve them in any way.
It has been said that genetically modified food products have a nutritious content identical to that of natural products and there is a negligible difference in the compositions. On this ground, it is believed that genetically modified foods just like the natural ones are supposed to be protected of should be safe.
The labeling of genetically modified foods would make manufacturers be accountable for any consequences that may arise from using these products. They would for instance be obliged by the law to bring viable products to the market for consumption. This would ensure that a detailed research about the same is done and the possible side effects of these products established. This would in the long run lead to consumer protection.
If a consumer buys a genetically modified food product that is labeled as such and develops any complications or experiences allergic reactions, the person is likely to avoid the product the same time without having to go through much struggle. If the products are not labeled on the other hand the person is likely to make the same mistake and purchase the same product as the person might not be able to differentiate between the two.
There are those food additives that could raise safety concerns when included in the ingredients’ list and a message of caution needs to be indicated over the same. It would therefore be upon the consumer to decide on whether to consume the product or not. When a food product is labeled as pasteurized for instance, it cannot be labeled as fresh given that some excessive heating is usually involved in the whole process.
When radiating has been used in the processing of a food product it is always good to indicate given that it usually result into the composition of the product. Labeling therefore ensures truthfulness and openness in the whole process hence helping the consumer to make informed choices about the food being consumed. The Consumer Protection Agency is mandated to ensure the same (Holdrege, 2002).
Byrne, P. (2010). Labeling of Genetically Engineered Foods. Web.
Ferber, D. (1999). GM crops in the cross hairs. Science, 286(5445), 1662
Holdrege, C. (2002). Genetics and the Manipulation of Life. New York: The Nature Institute.
Mellon, M., & Rissler, J. (2010). Environmental Effects of Genetically modified food Crops – Recent Experiences. Web.
Social Issues Research Center (SIRC). (2000). Of public interest? SIRC. Web.
Whitman, D. (2000). Genetically modified foods: Harmful or Helpful? Web.