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...
GM 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.