“Genetic Modified Organisms according to the Gentechnikgesetz (GenTG)from 20.06.90 (Genetic Technique Law) in Germany are organisms whose genetic material were modified in a way which is not found in nature under natural conditions of crossbreed or natural recombination.”1 Genetic modified foods (otherwise known as genetic engineered foods) are plants or foods that have been modified for different reasons. There are tomatoes that have special genes inserted into their DNA that allows them to ripen without softening, or to sit on the shelf for longer. Certain types of animals have also been genetically modified, to make them less fatty, to produce less manure, and other such things. In this report, when I refer to 'GM foods' I am talking about genetically modified foods.
There are a lot of advantages to GM foods. Because scientists can insert virtually any gene into a plant DNA, they can help a plant survive when it ordinarily might not.
For one, they can cause plants to become resistant to bugs. This is good for both the plant and for the environment. If a plant is already resistant to insects, there is no need to use insecticides which might hurt wildlife.
Scientists have also figured out ways to add medicines into the foods. In many countries people can't afford medicine. If they can buy food that already has vaccines and medication in it they can prevent illnesses far easier then if they had to buy the medicines separately. Also, this can be far more convenient if you don't have to ingest a pill, but if you could just have it in your food.
Along with the pharmaceuticals in food, scientists can also change the genes in plants to make them more nutritious. This is a benefit in many countries where things like rice is the main food staple. Because rice by itself isn't very healthy, it would benefit them greatly if the scientists could find a way to add more of the vitamins people need daily into it.
There is also a way that scientists can add genes into the plant that allow them to grow in conditions they wouldn't otherwise. “Indian national average cotton yields of GM cotton were seven times lower in 2002, because the parental cotton plant used in the genetic engineered variant was not well suited to the climate of India and failed. The publicity given to transgenic trait Bt insect resistance has encouraged the adoption of better performing hybrid cotton varieties, and the Bt trait has substantially reduced losses to insect predation.”2 Certain plants can have their DNA changed in a way that allows them to grow in dry places if they are normally plants that need a lot of moisture, or vice versa. This could allow for more profit in countries where usually it's hard to grow things.
Along with the above advantages, GM foods can also be changed to have herbicide tolerance (leading to fewer herbicides being sprayed, and benefiting the environment) and to be resistant to cold.
Like most things, GM foods have cons as well as pros, and some of the pros can be cons.
One example of this is the effect some of the insect resistant plants have on species we want to keep, such as monarch butterflies. The pollen from some of the GM plants can drift to other plants and contaminate them with the modified genes. When a seed falls from the contaminated plant, it has some of the GM plant traits in it. If the plant was insect proof, then the plant might also be bad for bugs, and when something like a butterfly eats, the plant can have a negative impact and kill the butterfly. “Last year a laboratory study was published in Nature showing that pollen from B.t. corn caused high mortality rates in monarch butterfly caterpillars. Monarch caterpillars consume milkweed plants, not corn, but the fear is that if pollen from B.t. corn is blown by the wind onto milkweed plants in neighboring fields, the caterpillars could eat the pollen and perish. Although the Nature study was not conducted under natural field conditions, the results seemed to support this viewpoint. Unfortunately, B.t. toxins kill many species of insect larvae indiscriminately; it is not possible to design a B.t. toxin that would only kill crop-damaging pests and remain harmless to all other insects. This study is being reexamined by the USDA, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other non-government research groups, and preliminary data from new studies suggests that the original study may have been flawed.”3
Besides hurting species, contamination of seeds and plants have other effects also. Mainly, they are harder on organic farmers who are prohibited from using the GM seeds. If their plants are contaminated it can be bad for their businesses and the word “organic” can lose it's meaning.
Another thing that has been raising concerns is the fact that no one knows how people will react to the GM foods. The genes inserted into the plants aren't ones that are found in nature, so they might cause allergic reactions in people, mainly children. Besides allergies, the GM foods might have negative effects on the health of humans. Since the genes are resistant to diseases, they might also be resistant to medication. There isn't much to support these beliefs (and what there is isn't stable), but they are still valid concerns.
DDT was a pesticide that was very effective in killing things. It also had some very bad side effects, but before it was outlawed, some mosquitoes started learning to resist the pesticide. Some people have concerns that GM foods will stop the effectiveness of pesticides, and especially those in the plants. If this happened the environmental benefits of the insect resistant plants would be lost, because the farmers who used the GM plants would have to start using pesticides again.
GM foods and plants are both good and bad. On one hand, they could be a very positive thing for countries where it's hard to grow things, and for the environment. On the other hand they could pose a very serious threat to not only the environment but also to people and organic farms.
2Wikipedia; en.wikipedia.org; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetically_modified_food