In an age where every field is fast developing, genetics has moved beyond just exploring the genetic structure of living organisms. Enter genetically modified (GM) foods-a cutting edge application of genetics to plant life aimed at increasing the nutritive value and possibly shelf life of fruits and vegetables.
So how are these GM foods expected to make a difference? Read on to find out...
AdvertisementGM foods for world health: The WHO estimates the world population to reach around 9 billion by the year 2050. In such a scenario where millions die of hunger each day, GM foods will supposedly make a difference. How? Well, GM foods are assumed to withstand any atmospheric or climatic changes that would normally cause a typical crop to perish, thereby causing a significant raise in the overall crop produce.
Also, GM foods are specifically engineered to combat many deficiency diseases by incorporating certain essential elements and minerals in basic foods. Furthermore, GM foods of the future are expected to be herbicide tolerant, giving the farmers liberty to use weedicides to remove harmful weeds growing around the plant, without affecting the crop itself. Some crops are now already engineered with an in-built pesticide to prevent the need for using it again and again.
Genetically modified foods also benefit human life because new strains of foods minus their allergen properties are developed, and this may prove to be a boon for patients allergic to certain types of food. GM foods have also shunned all the controversies regarding its impact on human life by successful evaluation. Lydia Buchman from the Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) claims that large quantities of GM foods have been consumed by the residents of North America for over 10 years with no harmful effects.
The scary truth: There's a bad to every good, and that applies for the GM foods too. Skeptics still remain unconvinced regarding the efficiency of GM crops for eliminating hunger and poverty from the world. GM foods take a considerable amount of time, money and manpower, making it far expensive than normal produce. Herbicide tolerant GM plants could encourage the farmers to use weedicides irrationally, thereby making the weeds resistant. Some researchers also suggest that GM produce fed livestock develop abnormal hormonal changes which could affect the quality of milk or meat they provide.
Lastly, since modifying the genes of a living being may be considered unethical as it doesn't really happen in Nature, many people are still unconvinced about the use of these foods.
The Golden rice controversy- Among all the GM foods making the rounds today, golden rice seems to be in the spotlight, for both-the good and the bad reasons.
Golden rice claims to put an end to the world's deficiency of vitamin A, but skeptics still seem to be unconvinced about genetically modifying the rice and incorporating vitamin A to it. The New York Times Magazine suggested that an individual would need to consume 15 pounds of cooked golden rice in a single day to get that sufficient amount of vitamin A required to prevent blindness and death that affects around 250,000 to 50,000 children every year.
Moreover, GM foods, especially golden rice is far more expensive than the normal rice. Vandana Shiva, an environmentalist in India has called golden rice a 'hoax' that is creating more hunger and malnutrition, not solving it.
It remains to be seen in the years to come if GM foods are as promising in content and quality as the hype that surrounds them shows them to be.