ARE GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOODS SAFE?
BY JOSEPH OKPAIRE
Food is any substance consumed to provide nutritional support for an organism. It is usually of plant or animal origin, and contains essential nutrients needed for growth and support.
Talking about food, we will not just be talking about the nutrition in our food, but how it’s grown. How it impacts our families and planet-and that itself is a serious business. Asking questions such as these and the safety of genetically modified food has been the concern of food consumers internationally. Genetically modified foods do not undergo the traditional cross-breeding method of propagation has been a source of worry for all and sundry. Some schools of thought claim that it might lead to susceptibility of the carcinogenic promoters and all.
Today, we will try to throw more light on the continuous debate of genetically modified (GM) foods.
According to the WHO, genetically modified foods are developed from genetically modified organisms (GMOs) (i.e. plants, animals or microorganisms) in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination.
Genetically modified organisms are generated and tested in the laboratory for desired qualities. The most common modification is to add one or more genes to an organism's genome. Less common genes are removed or their expression is increased or silenced or the number of copies of a gene is increased or decreased.
Many products in industries like medicine, consumer goods, and agriculture are made with genetic modification. Common examples include insulin and laundry detergent. When it comes to plants, genetic modification refers to seeds. GM seeds grow in the ground like any other seeds, but they only have certain desirable traits. These seeds grow into plants that might better handle water-limited conditions or better withstand challenges like harmful insects, weeds, or diseases.
Fruits like today's seedless watermelon and bananas, which are significantly different than earlier versions, are the result of traditional plant breeding techniques. Modern GM seeds can also be the result of traditional plant breeding that adds desired traits to plants—the combination of advanced methods and foundational plant science.
Genetically seeds, for instance, are developed by:
For example: suppose a farmer does not want his potatoes or apples to turn brown when they are cut or bruised. Researchers come to the rescue by removing the gene that is responsible for this browning and replacing it with an altered version that blocks browning.
WHY GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISMS:
EFFICIENT USE OF NATURAL RESOURCES
Some GM seeds produce crops that are drought-tolerant—water-efficient plants can help farmers grow food while using less water. Herbicide-tolerant GM seeds allow farmers to manage weed growth without repeatedly disturbing the soil through tillage. Conservation tillage helps keep more moisture and carbon in the soil and reduces farming's carbon footprint by allowing farmers to use less fuel.
FIGHTING PESTS & DISEASE
Just like people, plants are vulnerable to disease—and can even see their existence threatened. The Papaya Ringspot Virus was a significant threat in Hawaii during the 1990s. Researchers were able to save the papaya by making a virus-resistant version. The GM papaya today looks and tastes the same as non-GM papayas.
CONSERVING NATURAL HABITAT
GM seeds can help farmers make the most of their acres by allowing them to grow food without using more land. This has a positive effect on biodiversity, encouraging many species of plants and animals to continue to thrive even as our population grows.
Despite all these acclaimed benefits of GM foods, seeds, crops, etc. There is still a lot of controversies surrounding the use and safety of the GM seeds and crops especially. Examples of such include: the release of genetically modified cowpeas to farmers in the country; the release of two transgenic cotton hybrid varieties into the Nigerian Seed Market; the granting of permits by the Federal Government for confined field trials on genetically modified maize, rice, cassava, sorghum and cowpea to ascertain ability to resist insect attack; etc. and this action has led to a growing opposition by a coalition of civil society organisation (CSOs) against the introduction of GM foods into the country.
THEN THE ULTIMATE QUESTION:
ARE GMO FOODS SAFE?
Biotechnology has moved at such a rapid rate such that laws and regulating agencies can’t keep up with these innovations. Research can scarcely begin to prevent unforeseen consequences from arising.
Farmers are consumers, too, and they want to feed their families safe, nutritious food while being careful stewards of their land. Scientists, for their part, place the highest priority on the safety of each product and conduct rigorous and demanding tests on each.
There is a scientific consensus that currently available food derived from GM crops poses no greater risk to human health than conventional food, but that each GM food needs to be tested on a case-by-case basis before introduction.
In fact, GM seeds have been tested more than any other product in the history of agriculture—with no evidence of harm to humans, animals, or the environment. The data have been reviewed by hundreds of independent scientists and researchers globally.
Nonetheless, members of the public are much less likely than scientists to perceive GM foods as safe. The legal and regulatory status of GM foods varies by country, with some nations banning or restricting them, and others permitting them with widely differing degrees of regulation.
A growing chorus of critics warns of unintended results, ranging from severe economic dislocation for the world’s farmers to environmental destruction and threats to human health. Researchers warn that there are no long-term, large-scale tests to prove the safety of genetically modified food and opponents have also claimed that long-term health risks have not been adequately assessed and propose various combinations of additional testing, labelling or removal from the market.
Some potential dangers of GM foods:
In the end, the choice of the type of food consumed lies solely in the court of the final consumer. Should you consume GM foods or organic foods is a personal decision. Nigeria, is yet to attain an effective mechanism of monitoring the safety of even natural produced foods.
With our current state, will Nigeria be able to monitor and maintain the complexities as regards GM foods? This should help you as make an informed decision.