The discovery and subsequent application of most, if not all, scientific knowledge is always held initially, in suspicion and with caution. The advancement and current use of genetic-modification is in it’s own way, no different to the skeptical reactions that have typically coloured the application of new ideas and techniques that go beyond our ‘usual’ and our ‘norm’.
The cause against genetically-modified food has been far more vocal and widespread than the reasons to support it. Yet the beliefs that colour these conclusions, many propagated by non-scientists, have not been able to conclusively explain the vilification of GM foods, apart from the belief that ‘It’s bad for you’ and fingers being pointed to the increase in allergies and sensitivities, none of which are conclusive or proven.
So is GM food really bad for you?
Genetically-modified food refer to food (usually commercial crops) that have had changes made to their DNA (cellular information) which allow them to be more productive, more resistant, more tolerant…and so on. On the face of it, GM food is really no different to crops that have been selectively bred using the traditional less-invasive techniques such as selective cross-pollination, with the final aim of better yields being similar.
Perhaps the Frankstein-ish perception that prevails around GM food is how genes from one species can be ‘inserted’ in to another, is what makes GM-food so scary and yet molecular biology is far greater than just a cut, pick and mix. A great deal of research, experimentation, testing and further testing, takes place before any genetic modification can take place. Genetic-modification is truly not a ‘patch-work’ process of simple cut and place or replace. Significant knowledge, understanding, calculations, modelling and trial and error takes place before even a little bit of the process can be successful.
From a human consumption perspective, GM-food is in reality, not very different from their normal, average cousin. Their genetic make-up may have been slightly altered but an ear of corn remains an ear of corn. Delving deeper in to the genetic make-up and subsequently the actual molecular and atomic content, food remains food, genetically-modified or not.
This does then beget the question:
Why and when is GM-food bad?
While the greater reality is that GM-food really does not pose a threat to human health, GM-crops do in their own way, pose a greater risk to their own species and their surrounding environments. Being more tolerant, stronger and therefore potentially more invasive, there is a great likelihood that GM-crops can and will eventually compete with and later overtake their natural cousins.
Natural dispersions and movement
As crops are subject to natural dispersions, wind currents and other environmental factors and because of that, even though the limitations may be drawn by geographical lines and national boundaries, GM-crops may end up where they are not supposed to (as defined by the policies of the individual country).
That said, would you believe that GM-crops have been around for over 30 years?
Perhaps the more worrying thing about GM-crops is the claim that is laid on them by the corporate and commercial world. As many of these ‘new’ species have been designed and produced within laboratory environments, subsequently it follows that there are claims of ownership and of creation of these new species’. The idea that a string of DNA can be patented may seem ludicrous but biological patenting has really come into it’s own with genetic modification.
Legal jurisdiction over DNA varies from country to country. Australia permitted the patenting of a naturally occurring string of DNA, while the same application was rejected in the US. Europe, broadly defines DNA patentable if it has been removed from it’s naturally occurring environment and produced by technical means.
Although it is so easy to vilify and worry about the potential dangers and downsides to GM and it’s development. The original aims and purposes of these techniques were always noble. In creating stronger, more resistant crops, the possibility of increasing farming yields and returns were greatly increased. The intention: to be able to provide better and more food to a fast growing world.
So knowing this now, while the companies behind GM crops and food may not always have the best intentions (profits always being number one on the list), overall GM-food is not that significantly different from naturally-occurring, organic food.
Ultimately, good or bad, right or wrong, the choices made lie with each individual and their own perceptions. Having to keep pondering, wondering and fearing whether GM-food really has the ability to wreck havoc on our own internal digestive systems, will undoubtedly create the reality that it is so.
If you can take a easy, laid-back approach to GM-food – do it.
If you can’t or prefer not to – that’s fine too.
Perhaps most important is to keep in mind that negativity is perhaps more so a result of our own thoughts than one of reality.
This article provides an excellent write-up on both sides of the GM debate.