The introduction of genetically modified foods, GMFs, has been quite rapid, especially in the US. Stewart report that in the year 1996, “transgenic crops covered 1.7 million hectares worldwide”(5). Presently, there are more than fifty individual transgenic products that involve thirteen separate crops (Stewart 6).
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Statistics indicate that in 2009, more than fourteen million large, as well as small-scale farmers in twenty-five nations across the world had planted one hundred and thirty-four million hectares. This was a seven-percent increase compared to the year 2008 (Johnson 43). A prediction has been made that, within the next twenty years, the gene technology “will touch every type of agricultural crop in the world, although this will depend on a high-level of consumer acceptance” (Johnson 48).
GM technology has revolutionized how agricultural practices are being conducted around the world. Many nations believe GM technology is the way forward to self-sustaining in food security, and as a source of foreign exchange. This is unlike traditional agricultural practices which are labor intensive but low yielding.
Thus, various research affirms the technology will likely shape the future agricultural practices in terms of increasing food production and foreign exchange. However, fears such as human and plant health in regard to the technology are major concerns that are being discussed by various stakeholders across the world.
Genetically Modified Food, GMF
GMF is a popular word in the food industries. Jukes (61) defines the term as the food derived from genetically modified organism, GMO. According to Feight and Nashat (156) the genetic engineering process is used to alter the GMF DNA composition.
GMF in the US and Other Parts of the World
Various research conducted on GMFs have signaled that the US is a leading nation in both production and consumption of genetically modified foods worldwide (Lekha & Abdul 283). This scenario, combined with haphazard and negligent regulation in the biotechnology industries has accelerated the presence of genetically modified food production and consumption in the US market.
Despite being the leading producer and consumer of GMFs products across the world, the US practice of embracing GMFs has elicited a major dilemma in the country ranging from human health to environmental challenges. Besides, labeling of GMFs products has not been easy in the country. This fact has made millions of unsuspecting consumers to purchase and consume GMFs products unknowingly.
Across the world, GMFs have received mixed reactions. Countries such as Argentina, Canada, India and China have been actively involved with the technology. In Africa, Kerr (73) cites that South Africa has been using GM technology to support agricultural activities such as maize cultivation.
Dangers Poised by GMFs
Kerr (74) draws that if the world does not rise to the occasion and address the concerns connected to GMFs, the impact created as a result will be more severe to both human health and the eco-system. Feight and Nashat (154) support Kerr sentiments by showing that all stakeholders in the society should work in unison to avert the challenge created by GMF.
Also, Lekha & Abdul (289) mention that GMOs make crops resistant to weeds. Genetically modified crops affect weeds that grow in the same area with crops. As the practice continues for a longer time, the weeds readily access the genes of engineered seeds which makes them resistant. When weeds become resistant, farmers are compelled to use more resources in order to control them.
Similarly, lack of thorough research in the field of GMF has also been cited by Jukes (66) as a severe risk connected to GMFs. He shows that little research has been conducted and less information made available to consumers.
Besides, some governments have gone ahead and approved the use of GM foods in their respective food chain without being equipped with enough information. Most governments believe the risks associated with GMF are similar to those produced using conventional methods or practices of farming (Jukes 67). Thus, Jukes (66) cautions against this assumption.
Horror Stories and GMF?
Despite strong advocacy from different quarters of the society, various stories around the globe have elicited different opinions about the GMF. In India, Lekha & Abdul (292) claim that agricultural farmers believed that buying Bollgard cotton seeds, would increase yields in their farms and become instant millionaires.
However, they were surprised to learn that they had spent more than they would have using traditional methods of farming. The farmers were optimistic that the seeds, provided by Monsato, a company supplying GM seeds, would make a cotton crop resistant to bollworm which was a big headache to them. This was not to become true, later, Monsato admitted their seed had failed (Feight and Nashat 151).
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Government and GMF controversy
According to statistics available from various countries, Kerr (70) cites that some countries have “weighed into” the controversy and responded by creating strategies aimed at reducing the impact established by GMF. Similarly, Feight and Nashat (149) shows that most African countries have objected to the GMFs by applying individual measures. For instance, Zimbabwe and Zambia, though hard hit by prolonged food shortage and drought, they do not readily accept GMF donations.
Zimbabwe had to block GMFs aid from making its entry into the country. In Zambia, which had received GMF grains in 2007, the government prohibited the distribution and blocked other consignment that was on the way (Feight and Nashat 150). Though many Zambians face severe starvation, President Levy Mwanawasa has upheld that he will not tolerate GMFs. His view is that GMFs have the potential hazard of causing genetic variation that will have severe health effects on his citizens.
Also, labeling, as it pertains to the GMFs has been a controversial issue. Kerr (80) indicates that labeling is a significant aspect which help consumers know the specific features of the product before making the purchase decision. Thus, most countries have insisted that for any product to enter its market, it should be well labeled to ensure consumers know the contents present in the product. Some countries have objected to this idea, presently, discussion is ongoing between countries to solve the impulse (Kerr 82).
Government Involvement in the Controversy, Any Breakthrough?
Despite the hard work exhibited by governments across the globe, the issue connected to economic, political and social climate has slowed down their efforts to effectively address the issue posed by GMF. Thus, they have addressed the challenge differently.
In Japan, the Ministry of Health has fixed a body involved in testing standards for GMFs. This body has been in existence since 2001. The body has been instrumental in ensuring any products entering the Japanese supermarkets are tested to confirm traces connected to GMO. This body has been significant in assisting Japanese consumer’s in making wise purchasing decision.
Similarly, some states in Brazil have forbidden GM crops. Also, the Brazilian Institute for the Defense of Consumers in partnership with Greenpeace has filed several injunctions restraining the government from introducing GMF and related products in the country. This initiative is also happening in most European countries where all food products need to be labeled to gain market access.
Consensus in the scientific community about GMF
Lekha & Abdul (296) note that there has been a sharp division among scientists in support for GMF. For example, In the US, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine, AAEM has strongly opposed any product associated with GMO (Johnson 56). In this regard, it has urged the physician to provide information to their patients, the public and the medical communities about GMO.
In one of their research findings, AAEM reported the animals were severely affected by GMFs as they showed signs of low infertility rate, problem in insulin regulation and aging.
Also, Food and Drug Administration has warned the US government on genetically modified foods. They have adduced evidence linking these foods and the safety of the consumers. In one of their findings, they found out that GMFs fixed new diseases, allergies, poisons and other nutritional challenges to a person.
Despite the opposition, some scientists have stood strong in support of GMF. They view GMFs as a move of providing surplus food for the growing population and creating employments. Similarly, they are promoting private companies practicing GM technology to use their experience in assisting the poor (Feight and Nashat 154) . Hence, Scientists academies across India, US, Brazil, China and Royal Society among others have produced their findings suggesting that any concerns linked to GMFs should be erased (Feight and Nashat 151).
What could be done
GMFs are introduced into the market without considering the effects it will cause to the health of the consumers, yet, various studies have proved that they are detrimental to both the ecosystem and animals. These effects are irreversible as indicated by Kerr (69). Similarly, Kerr (69) claims that food produced through genetic engineering should be outlawed until scientifically proven to be safe for human consumption.
Moreover, labeling should be done transparently to discover if GMFs contain genetically engineered ingredients. This will allow consumers to make a wise buying decision besides helping scientists to track the cause of health risks connected with these foods.
GMO, a threat to International Market?
Feight and Nashat (159) confirms that GMFs is a threat to the global markets. He points out that for GMFs to make entry into global markets, they must certify two important elements. One is that they have to meet local regulations and standards and second, they must compete with other similar products for price and other features. Hence, the major threat they pose is the labeling. Ansari et al (153) alleges that GMFs labeling has a potential effect of limiting their market access because of their perceived fear of consumers.
Similarly, many huge agribusiness corporations manage and control genetics that farmers use in their farming activities (Feight and Nashat 152). Hence, most people fear that the pesticides, herbicides and seeds used among others in farming can find themselves in the entire food chain creating unforeseen risks. This ultimately is a serious threat to global markets.
Largest potential markets and consumption of GMF’s worldwide
According to statistics US leads in producing GMOs products. Jukes (68) cites that it produces about 85 percent of genetically engineered corn, besides, it produces about 91 percent of soya beans and a further 88 percent of cotton (cotton seed oil). Similarly, Norma and Gai (100) point out that 70 percent of GMF processed food is available in the US supermarket.
They include sodas, soup and crackers. These products contain some traces of genetically modified elements. Moreover, the US is among the largest market of genetically engineered products. It stands at 68 percent basing on statistics collected in 2000 (Norma and Gai 97).
Advantages of GMF over traditional agricultural methods
GMF has played a big role in reducing the size of the land under cultivation. This contribution of GMF allows farmers to promote farming practices that aid in soil conservation. Also, Norma and Gai (103) point out the GMF has assisted countries such as the US to reduce soil erosion and savings in costs related to water treatments. This is unlike using traditional farming practices.
Moreover, GMFs farming as assisted farmers to increase their income by developing higher yielding crops and lowering production costs. Costs associated with farming such as farm labor and the use of pesticide to control pests have been kept to the minimum. This is unlike traditional farming practices where labor-intensive is involved; making it more costly. Jukes (70) cites that research globally has shown that GMFs has increased income for small-scale and large-scale farmers alike, it is likely to sustain this trend in the future.
Vulnerabilities Associated with GMF
Stewart cites that industrial form of agriculture place more emphasis on large-scale production. This emphasis is harmful to the eco-system (6). Consequently, GMFs reinforce genetic homogeneity and promote large-scale monocultures. This method weakens the biodiversity and exposes crop to vulnerability to pests, diseases and climate change.
Presently, GMFs forms major ingredients in people’s diet. Kerr (74) cites that in the US, about 80 percent of processed foods contain GMO traces. Some of these products include; corn and rice among others. Thus, it is hard for consumers to identify what they are consuming because labeling is not detailed; hence, a likely danger of harm to a person’s health.
Scientific communities in support and against GMF?
Various scientific communities around the globe support GMFs. Norma and Gai (105) cite that Royal Society has recommended the practice worldwide. In one of their reports, the community pointed out that private organizations should promote GM technology to help the poor appreciate the benefits created by GMFs.
. Another scientific community, Novartis, a company actively involved in GM technology, has played an important role in providing new guidelines in partnership with third world countries on how to improve GMFs production. Other scientific organizations supporting GMFs are; The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Third World Academy of Sciences in Triste and US National Academy of Sciences.
Though there has been more support for GMFs by some scientist, a section of others has opposed the move. Feight and Nashat (160), cite the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) has opposed any move by the government to introduce GM products in the country. Instead, it has encourage health care givers to provide information to their patients, the public and the medical community on effects associated with the GMFs.
GMO is a new technology which has revolutionized agricultural farming. Research indicates that GMO has a potential of increasing food production more than the traditional farming practices. This is because the technology utilizes modern practices which increases land under cultivation, prevents pesticides and weeds.
Also, various authors on the technology indicate that the health risk connected with GMFs have not been clearly defined to establish their possible health risks. This owes to the fact that little research has been conducted to determine their spectacular rise within the food supply chain.
In the world, the US is the leading producer and consumer of GMO products. Also, other countries such as Canada, China and Argentina are increasingly adopting this technology to boost their agricultural activities. It is in the views of the scientists that GM technology is important in improving food security across the world.
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