Are Genetically Modified Foods (GMO Foods) Safe or Unsafe?

Genetically modified foods are foods whose natural state has been altered by the introduction of genes from other sources. According to the National Library of Medicine (NLM), genetically engineered foods have had foreign genes (genes from other plants or animals) inserted into their genetic codes. This can be done for various reasons ranging from commercial  to research purposes.

For instance anti freeze genes from cold-water fish, the winter flounder (Pseudopleuronectes americanus) have been inserted into tomatoes to develop tomatoes that dose not freeze. Also potatoes that don’t bruise and apples that don’t brown have been developed through genetic engineering by reducing the enzyme levels that cause browning.

GM apple

Genetically modified apple -nutrifactsblog

In Nigeria, GMO foods comprise 55%-70%  of the processed foods in the supermarkets most of which are imported.  The recent explosion of internet services and social media networks in the country has brought about an increased awareness of GM foods  and so has its resentment and resistance.

How safe are Genetically Modified Foods?

There’s been a lot of controversy surrounding the safety of genetically modified foods. According to the AAAS, “The World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the British Royal Society, and every other respected organization that has examined the evidence has come to the same conclusion: Consuming foods containing ingredients derived from GM [genetically modified] crops is no riskier than consuming the same foods containing ingredients from crop plants modified by conventional plant improvement techniques,”

Additionally, many independent scientists and organizations around the world — such as the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, World Health Organization, American Medical Association and the American Association for Advancement of Science – have looked at thousands of scientific studies and concluded that GM food crops do not pose more risks to people, animals or the environment than any other foods.”

Merits of Genetically Modified Foods

1. Increased food supply  which will help eradicate hunger, especially in Third World countries.

2. Development of improved crops such as cotton, soybean, cowpea, cassava, tomato, coffee, banana and several products derived from them.

3. Production of crops with improved protein content, higher oil yield, and plants that serve as biofactories for hormones, vitamins and growth factors that could improve health care.

4. Preservation of natural resources and fossil fuels by reducing depletion of minerals.

Despite these regulatory reassurances and supposed merits of GM foods, there is a widespread rejection of the food. According to Non-GMO project, Most developed nations do not consider GMOs to be safe and have significant restrictions or outright bans on the production and sale of GMOs. Examples include  England, Italy, Germany, Russia, Japan, New Zealand etc

Those against GMO foods argue that there’s no full knowledge of the health implications of these foods, as  science only scratch the surface in its understanding of the deep complexity and diversity of the natural world. Also long term effect of the food in human body is not known.

Various studies of the health implications of GM foods reveals that there are increased health risks of infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, problematic insulin regulation, stomach problems, reduction in digestive enzymes, liver toxicity, allergic reactions, antibiotic resistance, cancer

Demerits of Genetically Modified Foods

Infertility

Consumption of GMO foods can lead to infertility or reduced fertility as well as increase risk of birth defects. About 2 dozen US farms reported that GE-fed pigs or cows developed sterility and could not reproduce. Also genetically modified Epicyte corn intended to produce sterility in human males is an obvious indication that GMOs could be used for eugenics.

Genetically modified foods

GM corn

Cancer

Glycophosphate a toxic herbicide  used in the production of GMO foods was in March 2015, classified as carcinogenic  by the World Health Organization (WHO). Glycophosphate has been linked to a lot of illnesses like Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, Autism, breast cancer and prostate cancer.

Liver toxicity.

The liver, which is an organ responsible for detoxification in the body is badly affected due to the increased load of toxins in genetically modified foods. Rats that were given GM potatoes showed damaged livers. When these rats were switched to non-GM foods, their liver over time went back to normal. guardian.ng

Decreased nutritional value

Genetically modified plant could theoretically have lower nutritional quality than its traditional counterpart by making nutrients unavailable or indigestible to humans.enhs.umn.edu. An example comes from a study showing that a strain of genetically modified soybean produced lower levels of phytoestrogen compounds, believed to protect against heart disease and cancer, than traditional soybeans (Bakshi, 2003).

Antibiotic resistance

There is concern that bacteria living in the guts of humans and animals could pick up an antibiotic resistance gene from a GM plant before the DNA becomes completely digested (GEO-PIE website).

In conclusion, with the sudden surge or increase in hitherto strange diseases and ailments, people should be mindful of what they eat.  It is always good to err on the side of caution. What you eat can make or mar you.

 

Reference

Bakshi, A. (2003). Potential adverse health effects of genetically modified crops. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part B, 6, 211-225.

Duke, S.O., & Powles, S.B. (2009). “Glyphosate-resistant crops and weeds: Now and in the future.” AgBioForum, 12(3&4), 346-357.

Kustin, Mary Ellen. “Glyphosate Is Spreading Like a Cancer Across the U.S.” EWG. Environmental Working Group, 07 Apr. 2015. Web.

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