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Genetically Engineered Foods (1896 words)

Genetically Engineered Foods
The use of genetically engineering in agriculture and food production has an
impact, not only on the environment and biodiversity, but also on human health.

Therefore, thorough biosafety assessment requires, not only an evaluation of
environmental impacts of genetically engineered organisms, but also an
assessment of the risks that genetically engineered food pose for the health of
consumers. Let us take deeper look at some of the aspects related to genetically
engineered foods. What is Genetic Engineering? Genetic engineering is a
laboratory technique used by scientists to change the DNA of living organisms.

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DNA is the blueprint for the individuality of an organism. The organism relies
upon the information stored in tits DNA for the management of every biochemical
process. The life, growth and unique features of the organism depend on its DNA.

The segments of DNA, which have been associated with specific features or
functions of an organism, are called genes. Molecular biologists have discovered
many enzymes, which change the structure of DNA in living organisms. Some of
these enzymes can cut and join strands of DNA. Using such enzymes, scientists
learned to cut specific genes from DNA and to build customized DNA using these
genes. They also learned about vectors, strands of DNA like viruses, which can
infect a cell and insert themselves into its DNA. Scientists started to build
vectors, which incorporated genes of their choosing and used vectors to insert
these genes into the DNA of living organisms. Genetic engineers believe that
they can improve the foods we eat by doing this. At first glance, this might
look exciting to some people. Deeper consideration reveals some advantages and
serious dangers. What are the advantages of Genetically Engineered Food? Genetic
engineering gives today’s researchers considerable advantages in plant
breeding programs. ? Predictability Scientist can identify the specific gene
for a given trait, make a copy of that gene for insertion into a plant, and be
certain that only the new gene is added to the plant. This eliminates the”backcrossing”, traditional plant breeders must do to eliminate extraneous
undesired genes that are frequently introduced when using cross-hybridization.

? Significant acceleration of the development timetable. New technique takes
about 5 years to remove the undesirable traits compared to 12 years of process
with the traditional techniques. Plant breeders do not use recombinant DNA
techniques exclusively. Instead they use a combination of new and traditional
methods to provide a plant with quality, yield, weather and pest resistance and
other desirable traits. ? Improved quality with more choices for the customers.

Genetically engineered food especially fruits and vegetables allow to have
plenty of time for shipping and sale and it helps to keep the them stay ripe
without getting rotten. Some of the fruits and vegetables need warm climates to
grow, so most off-season store them must travel a long way after they are
picked. One example is the Flavr Savr tomatoes. To survive their journey intact,
tomatoes are picked while they are green, which is a food which is a good way to
avoid bruising, but which results in a tomato that is often described as having
the consistency and mouth-feel of a tennis ball. In the case of Flavr Savr
tomatoes, the company solved the rotting problem by inserting a reversed copy-
an “antisense” gene of the gene that encodes the enzyme that results in
tomato spoilage. This suppresses the enzyme that results in rotting, allowing
the tomato to stay ripe, but not rot, up to 10 days?plenty of time for
shipping and sale. Refrigeration is not necessary. What are the dangers of
Genetically Engineered Food? ? Is it safe to eat? There has been no adequate
testing to ensure that extracting genes that perform an apparently useful
function as part of that plant or animal is going to have the same effects if
inserted into a totally unrelated species. To consumers, most genetically
engineered foods are essentially foods with added substances, usually proteins.

This is because genes are “translated” into proteins by cells. Therefore,
when a genetic engineer adds, say, a bacterial gene to a tomato, he or she is
essentially adding a bacterial protein to that tomato. In most cases these added
proteins would likely prove safe for human consumption. Nevertheless, just as
with conventional food additives, substances added to foods via genetic
engineering may in some instances prove hazardous. Unfortunately, food allergies
are poorly understood, and in many cases scientists will not be able to test
potential allergenicity of genetically engineered foods. Even if there was some
testing, the long term affects to humans, animals, and the environment from
these modified genes “escaping” and mixing with unmodified ones are unknown.

? Health Hazards There are several differences between the normal breeding
process and the artificial genetic manipulation process. One key difference is
the use of highly infectious viruses for artificial genetic manipulation as a
promoter to witch on the introduced gene. Some of the viruses used are highly
infectious. Genetic manipulation can increase the risk that the plant will
develop toxic or allergy-causing compounds. Another possibility is that regulate
exposure to foreign DNA and RNA material inserted into these artificial foods
could cause allergic reactions or autoimmune disease. Allergens A number of
molecular mechanisms have also been identified through which the genetic
manipulation of food producing organisms could generate new allergens or
increase the allergenicity of proteins normally present in food producing
organisms. Because allergen-carrying transgenic foods will in most cases
maintain the appearance of their natural, non-allergenic counterparts, they pose
a serious hazard to the consumer. Consumer will not be able to avoid these
allergenic foods, because they will not be able to distinguish them from the
corresponding natural foods. The labeling of all genetically engineered foods
would, of course, solve this problem and would also make it possible for health
authorities to trace allergen problem that arise. Toxins ; Poisons In
addition to allergenicity, recombinant proteins could manifest a variety of
other biological activities, and in the case of recombinant enzymes, could
catalyze the production of other compounds with biologic activities not normally
present in a particular food. For instance such substances could act as toxins
or irritants and could act at the biochemical, cellular, tissue or organ levels
to disrupt a range of physiological functions. An example of a class of
genetically engineered foods that are of particular concern are those that have
been modified to produce biological control agents such as the family of
insecticidal Bt enterotoxins. The Bt toxin, which has been used topically in
organic farming, has powerful biological activity. If consumed in larger amounts
it can become a toxin. Plants genetically-manipulated to produce Bt toxin
produce at least 1000 times more Bt toxin per acre than does a heavy application
of Bt directly on plants. There was another case where one company genetically
engineered a microorganism to produce L-tryptophan at high levels killed almost
37 people and made 1500 permanently disabled by using that product. This was due
to the presence of traces of a toxic contaminant. This contaminant was extremely
powerful. Damage to Nutrition quality A 1999 study by Dr. Marc Lappe published
in the Journal of Medicinal Food found that concentrations of beneficial
phytoestrogen compounds thought to protect against heart disease and cancer were
lower in genetically modified soybeans than in traditional strains. These and
other studies, including Dr. Pusztai’s, indicate that genetically engineered
food will likely result in foods lower in quality and nutrition. For example the
milk from cows injected with rBGH contains higher levels of pus, bacteria, and
fat. Sources of risk Unmodified Organism (UMO) The genetic engineering of foods
involves the introduction of new genetic information into a food-producing
organism. Some of the health risks associated with genetically engineered foods
can be anticipated on the basis of what we already know about the
characteristics of the organism in its unmodified state (called the unmodified
organism UMO) from which the genetically engineered organism is to be generated.

Gene Source (GS) Other aspects of the risk associated with genetically
engineered foods can be deduced from the characteristic of the organism that is
the source of the genetic information introduced into the food producing
organism (called the gene source or GS). For instance, if a gene derived from
peanuts is introduced into a tomato, food produced from the resulting
genetically engineered tomato might cause allergic reactions in people that are
allergic to tomatoes (the unmodified organism) or to peanuts (the gene source).

Procedure of Genetic Engineering In addition to UMO and GS, there is another
source of potential risks, which is the procedure of genetic engineering itself.

Current recombinant DNA methods and those likely to be developed in the future
are all capable of accidentally introducing unintended changes in the function
and structure of the food-producing organism. As a result, the genetically
engineered food may have characteristics that were not intended by the genetic
engineer, and that cannot be foreseen on the basis of the known characteristics
of the unmodified organism or gene source. Labeling Issues FDA requires labeling
of genetically engineered foods under certain exceptional circumstances. Since
most genetically engineered foods will be indistinguishable in appearance from
non-engineered foods, consumers will generally not know what they are buying.

FDA ignores consumers’ right to know by ignoring longstanding regulations that
require in most circumstances that manufactures label foods to disclose their
ingredients. For example, researchers have genetically engineered vegetables to
produce a new protein sweetener. Existing FDA regulations mandate that companies
disclose sweeteners added to canned vegetables via conventional means. Yet, FDA
will not require that proteins sweeteners added to vegetables via genetic
engineering be labeled as ingredients. Labeling is vital to food allergic
individuals, who need to know when their purchases are potentially allergenic.

FDA will require labeling of foods genetically engineered to contain potential
allergens from only the most commonly allergenic foods?a requirement that
threatens individuals with less common food allergies. FDA also will require
labeling if a company uses genetic engineering techniques to change a food’s
composition significantly. For example, when one manufacturer modified canola to
produce increased levels of lauric and myristic acids in the seed oil, FDA
agreed that the common or usual name for this oil would be “laurate canola
oil” in order to distinguish it from traditional canola oil. Some vegetarians
and individuals who follow religious dietary laws have told FDA that they want
to know when animal genes are added to plants used as foods. FDA has taken no
steps to accommodate their dietary beliefs and restrictions. What can you do as
a consumer ? Look for soy products and ingredients like tofu, tempeh, miso, soy
sauce, soymilk that are organic. All other soy ingredients are almost
genetically manipulated and herbicide- treated. The same is true for canola,
corn, dairy products and potatoes. Look for organic corn, potato and dairy
ingredients when you shop. It may be best to avoid canola altogether because it
is rarely organic and is usually chemically treated. A recent experiment
conducted by independent expert DR. Alpad Puszatai in the United Kingdom has
shown that genetically manipulated foods can, when fed to animals in reasonable
amounts, cause very gradual organ damage and immune system damage. Conclusion
Reading the label is an important part of shopping for a consumer. If consumers
do not want to consume genetically manipulated foods, they can always contact
the store managers and ask them to carry more organic foods in the store. Most
of the time the food product manufacturers also pay attention to consumers feed
back. Further, if one has questions or concerns about such issues, one can
always contact a nutritionist who is aware and well informed of the pros and
cons of Genetically Engineered Foods.

Bindslev-Jensen, C. (1998). Allergy risks of genetically engineered foods.

Allergy 53: 58-61. Cummins, R. & Lilliston, B. News and Analysis on Genetic
Engineering, Factory Farming & Organics.
Cummins, R. Hazards of Genetically Engineered Foods and Crops: Why we need a
Global Moratorium. Fagan, J.B. Assessing the
Safety and Nutritional Quality of Genetically Engineered Foods.
Malcom, A. D. (1999). Health Risks of Genetically Modified Foods. Lancet 354:


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