Genetically Modified Foods and Environmental Concerns

The history of humanity shows that people were using conventional modification techniques, including selective breeding and crossbreeding of animals and plants to obtain desired traits a long time ago. For instance, farmers used natural modification methods to grow various types of corns based on size, color, and use. Nowadays, the technological progress of humanity allows us to conduct such modifications of pants and animal in a shorter time and more precisely. Genetic modification is known as the technology that changes the genetic machinery of living things, including animals, microorganisms, and plants. “Genetically modified,” “Genetically engineered,” or “transgenic” organisms are the result of recombinant DNA technology, which includes a combination of genes from various organisms. The evolution of genetic modification started in 1946 when people discovered DNA transfer between different organisms. The first production of the genetically modified plant was antibiotic-resistant tobacco, which was produced in 1983. Even though genetically modified foods have a number of advantages such as rich nutrients, less pesticide use, cheaper production, they also have various disadvantages, including environmental impact.

There is a potential environmental hazard of natural plants’ contamination by genetically modified materials. Once a new genetically modified plant was produced, there is a chance that this new type of plant will naturally start spreading. For example, in the USA, genetically modified maize called “Starlink” was not approved for use as a food. However, the maize continued appearing in the production of maize (World Health Organization 19). This case highlights the problem of potential contamination of natural plants, which can cause unintended influence on the health and safety of people. The worst-case scenario is if a new genetically modified plant that can cause serious human health impacts, or other negative impacts, is unintentionally spread into the environment, resulting in accidental consumption of that product. Also, there is the same environmental concern regarding genetically modified animals and fishes. Genetically modified fish spread in the environment has a chance to enter the human food supply, potentially causing health impact. Hence, uncontrolled production of genetically modified plants and animals can cause contamination of natural genetic materials, potentially influencing human health.

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Other than health-related risks of genetically modified foods, there are other environmental concerns such as consequences of artificial resistance, interference into the food web, antibiotics resistance. The two main goals of genetically modified plants are to make pest-resistant and herbicide-resistant plants. Even though it brings great opportunities to reduce the cost of fighting against weeds and insects, there is a potential threat in the long-term use of that strategy. In a few years, weeds and insects can evolve into stronger and more dangerous types, which will cancel all our attempts to battle them (Zhang et al. 122). Moreover, disruption of the natural food chain can lead to negative consequences unbalancing the whole biosystem. Production of pest-resistant plants might result in an extinction of major pests and survival of some minor pests. Such interference into natural balance can cause significant disruption in the food chain, leading to inevitable changes on the top of the food chain as well. Also, antibiotics are used to distinguish a successful modification from a failed one. In the process of modification, there is a chance that antibiotic-resistant genes might transfer to bacteria, which will cause great danger for humans and animals.

The invasive property of genetically modified plants carries a risk of degradation of a natural ecosystem. When unnatural plants are integrated into the ecosystem, the long-term effect is difficult to predict. Even though some genetically modified nonnative species are harmless and even beneficial, other produced species, also known as invasive species, are widely spreading in the ecosystem, causing unintentional disruption of its’ structure and functions (Wolfenbarger and Phifer 2088). In addition, transgenic plants have the ability to hybridize with their close natural relative species. Considering the large cultivation area of genetically modified crops, their ability to naturally hybridize with other species increases the potential impact on the ecosystem. Also, genetically modified crops might affect the soil properties, decreasing their ability to decompose the plants and resulting in lower fertility of the soil. Moreover, genetically modified crops might result in viruses with newly transformed characteristics. The results of such ecosystem interventions are unexpected, carrying a high risk of negative consequences.

To sum up, the technological development of humanity resulted in the ability of a human to genetically modify plants, adjusting the properties of the plants based on agricultural needs. Genetically modified materials could spread and contaminate natural plants. Contamination of genetic material can lead to uncontrolled spread and potential consumption of that plant as food, endangering human health and safety. Also, the resistance to pests and herbicides increases the chances of the evolution of insects into new species that would be able to tackle genetically modified crops. It will consequently lead to the extinction of major species, unbalancing the whole ecosystem. The invasive feature of genetically modified foods also brings significant concern regarding its uncontrolled spread, resulting in degradation of the natural ecosystem. The potential creation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria or organisms is another great threat that genetically modified plants can bring to our world. Thus, the environmental impact of genetically modified organisms is a serious and significant issue, which should be considered together with its benefits when producing new types.

Works Cited

Wolfenbarger, L. and P. R. Phifer. “The Ecological Risks and Benefits of Genetically Engineered Plants.” Science, vol. 290, no. 5499, 2000, pp. 2088–2093. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1126/science.290.5499.2088

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World Health Organization. Modern food biotechnology, human health, and development: an evidence-based study. World Health Organization, 2005.

Zhang, Chen et al. “Genetically Modified Foods: A Critical Review of Their Promise and Problems.” Food Science and Human Wellness, vol. 5, no. 3, 2016, pp. 116–123. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1016/j.fshw.2016.04.002.

Annotated Bibliography

Wolfenbarger, L. and P. R. Phifer. “The Ecological Risks and Benefits of Genetically Engineered Plants.” Science, vol. 290, no. 5499, 2000, pp. 2088–2093. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1126/science.290.5499.2088

The article focuses on the potential risks and benefits associated with the production of genetically modified materials. The main disadvantages were pointed out to be invasiveness of crops and degradation of natural ecosystem, direct and indirect unintended effect on beneficial natural organisms, new viruses. The benefits of using genetically modified foods are reduced use of pesticides, conservation of soil, natural habitat preservation, phytoremediation. Moreover, the sustainability of genetically modified organisms was considered as well. Authors conclude that the risks and benefits of genetically engineered plants are not certain and can vary from case to case. The current state of human development is not enough to precisely predict the environmental impact of genetically modified organisms.

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World Health Organization. Modern food biotechnology, human health, and development: an evidence-based study. World Health Organization, 2005.

The report by World Health Organization evaluates the application of genetic engineering technology on food production. The review of genetically modified foods contains the assessment of risks and their impact on society. The report includes both positive impacts, such as agricultural productivity, less chemical usage, and negative influence, including human health effects, genetic contamination of the environment. Also, the development of regulations regarding genetically modified foods was also discussed, along with food security. Moreover, ethical and social aspects of genetic engineering of foods, including the question of equity and ethics, were evaluated. The reports conclude that there is a need to create proper conditions where genetic engineering could deliver secure and safe production of foods.

Zhang, Chen et al. “Genetically Modified Foods: A Critical Review of Their Promise and Problems.” Food Science and Human Wellness, vol. 5, no. 3, 2016, pp. 116–123. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1016/j.fshw.2016.04.002.

The article starts with a brief description of the history of genetically modified organisms and foods. The study raises the question if people really need genetically modified foods, stating their benefits and side effects. Benefits that were discussed include agricultural and economic advantages, enrichment with nutrients, food processing improvements. In comparison, the disadvantages are health and ecological risks, such as toxicity, allergenicity, food web disruption. The authors conclude that even though the risks associated with genetically modified foods are speculative, ignoring them, focusing only on benefits is very unscientific.

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