Genetically modified foods are those foods which are created via insertion of genes of some other species into their DNA, or via deletion of some of their genes. They are also known as genetically engineered foods. Such genetic engineering is done in both plants and animals. It is however more widespread in plants than animals.
There are many reasons why companies create genetically modified foods. Certain foods may be altered so that they do not result in allergic reactions post consumption, while other types of foods may be genetically changed to increase their expiration period. Scientists are currently carrying out research to produce foods which may be able to cure various diseases.
A few genetically modified foods which can presently be purchased from markets include cotton, soybean, eggplant, canola, corn, potatoes, lettuce, strawberries, carrots, tomatoes, cantaloupe, and many others. It is the mission of producers of genetically altered foods to ensure that consumers can get the maximum benefits out of them. Many people however do not want to eat them.
Genetically modified foods have several pros and cons. A few of them are listed below:
Pros of genetically modified foods
- Certain foods are genetically modified so as to manage, alleviate, and/or control the occurrence of adverse symptoms of certain diseases. This characteristic is regarded as one of the main benefits of such foods. For example, companies may alter the genes in some foods which cause allergic reactions; doing so can then diminish or fully eliminate the occurrence of associated allergic reactions.
- As opposed to traditional crops, genetically modified food crops grow a lot faster. This helps farmers to increase the productivity of their land, thereby leading to abundance of food for the general population. Modified crops also grow easily on lands where the soil is arid or unfit for cultivation; they can even grow in drought prone regions.
- Genetically modified food-crop seeds are costlier than the seeds of normal crops. The former is however highly resistant to insects and other pests, leading to minimal or no use of insecticides or pesticides, thereby eventually resulting in an overall reduced cultivation cost than traditional crops.
- Conventional crops usually grow and yield rich results in a specific season, or during favorable weather conditions. As opposed to this, genetically modified food crops can be sown and cultivated even in regions with harsh and unfavorable weather.
- Genetically modified foods usually remain fresh for long periods of time. Thus, farmers can store them without the fear of them getting rotten, and sell them under favorable market conditions.
- Genetically modified foods are altered in such a way that their taste and flavor becomes more enhanced. They also have relatively increased percentage of vitamins, minerals, and other vital nutritious components. Such foods are therefore the perfect solution for countries with prevailing malnutrition problems.
Cons of genetically modified foods
- The main disadvantage of genetically modified foods is that it supposedly can cause health abnormalities in people who eat them. It is believed that intake of genetically engineered foods can pose increased risk to development of antibiotics-resistant and antibiotics-immune diseases. Some health care providers have also stated that intake of these foods can increase the vulnerability to cancer development.
- Genetically modified food crops are grown even in regions where its cultivation is naturally not supported by the environment. This can result in permanent harm to the environment. For instance, weeds which naturally crossbreed with genetically altered crops may become resistant to herbicides and thus damage the environment in the long term. Varied organisms living in such areas may also stop thriving as a result of the harm caused by cross-pollination.
- Many cultures and religions abhor the intake of food produced via unnatural means. Vegans, vegetarians, and other types of non-meat eaters also oppose such genetic modification of plants.
- Experts are of the opinion that continuous high demand for genetically modified foods would eventually lead to excessive dependence of developing and poor nations on developed countries for food supply, primarily because, in the future, the production of genetically engineered foods will wholly be under the control of industrialized nations.
- Many companies avoid labelling their products as containing genetically modified food ingredients so as to prevent a drop in their overall sales. Such label misinformation, or the lack of it, is considered unethical business practice as consumers have the right to decide to eat, or not eat, such altered foods.
- Genetically modified foods were invented only a few decades ago. Hence, its adverse health side effects over the long-term are not known to anybody. It is for this reason that many people completely avoid eating such foods till the time all the ill-effects are known.
How to identify genetically modified foods
Varied surveys have shown that almost 60% to 70% of the processed foods available in the US markets have genetically modified foods as ingredients. Cotton, soybeans, corn, and grape-food oil are some common altered foods sold in America. This means that food products containing soybeans, field corn, and high-fructose corn syrup, including some baby foods, breakfast cereals, snack items, and sodas, as well as foods made with cottonseed or canola oils may have modified ingredients.
The US laws do not mandate companies to label their products as containing a genetically modified food. Even if the label shows that the product is devoid of modified ingredients, it may not be so.Various nations like the EU, Japan, Malaysia, and Australia however have strict laws with regards to labelling of genetically modified foods. Poultry and dairy products in the EU do not need to follow such regulations.
The Price Look-Up Code
- The PLU or produce label code is a coding system containing a wide array of numbers which are printed on the sticker or tag of a food product. It is one of the best ways to verify whether a food product contains genetically modified ingredients.
- The presence of the number ‘8’ as a prefix to the PLU means that the product contains altered items, while ‘9’ as a prefix means that it was naturally cultivated. However, as the system is voluntary, retailers are free to design their own PLU codes.