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Genetic Modification Pro's and Con's

Whole Fruits and Vegetables are Good For You ... At Least For Now: The GM Food Controversy

Imagine bananas that produce human vaccines against hepatitis B or fish that mature twice as quickly aGenetic Modification Pro's and Con's - Fruits and Vegetabless they do now. With genetic modification or "biotechnology," these possibilities are all on the science world's horizon.

So what is Genetic Modification Anyway?

Did you ever want to have curly hair? Or, did you wish your peas from the garden were just a little bit bigger and juicer? Well, this is all a possibility thanks to a relatively new set of technologies that have made it possible to alter genetic makeup. Currently, we are raising corn which is resistant to certain pests and growing bacteria that will produce medicines. It’s all about altering the genetics in living organisms. It sounds easy but, of course, it is not. One has to select the gene that carries the desired trait and put that gene into the selected animal, plant, virus or other living organism.

The transfer of a gene from one organism to another is called genetic engineering. The trait that the gene is responsible for is engineered into the cells of another organism. The future of vaccines, antibiotics and food safety is being placed into the arms of genetic transplants scientifically called transgenics.

According to the Human Genome Project, in 2003 about 167 million acres in 18 countries grown by seven million farmers were planted with transgenic crops. Principally, these crops were herbicide and insecticide-resistant soybeans, corn, cotton and canola. Other crops that are grown are rice with an unusually high content of beta-carotene (vitamin A) to alleviate the common issue of blindness in developing countries as well as tobacco and potato plant seedlings that are able to tolerate unexpected frost due their introduction to an antifreeze gene from cold water fish.

Genetically Modified Organisms Controversy

In 2003, the U.S. grew 63% of the global transgenic crops. Though supporters of this technology offer dramatic promises of using our foods to combat the greatest health challenges of our century, their adversaries, particularly the Organic Consumers Association, believe it to be an infant science with infinite health risks—both known and unknown. They believe that unlike defective tires, once these crops are released into the environment, they can never be recalled.

Pros ...
Many advocates of genetic modification argue that GM:
• Enhances nutrition and the quality of life for people all around the world.
• Enables crops to taste better and contain more nutrients and decreases growing time.
• Enables organisms to have a greater resistance to disease, pests and chemicals.
• Improves animal health.
• Lessens the use of pesticides, increases the conservation of soil, water and energy.
• Benefits societies due to increased food security for growing populations.

Cons ...
Genetic Modification adversaries come from all sides. Many environmental activists, religious organizations, professional associations, public interest groups and other scientists and government officials are resistant to this growing field. They argue against GM because of:
• The potential risk to human health: allergens, antibiotic resistance and the possible development of chronic and terminal illness after years of exposure—in essence, too many unknowns.
• The domination of world food production by a handful of companies, which ultimately results in increased dependence on industrialized nations by developing ones.
• The issue of ethics: the tampering with nature by mixing genes among and across species.
• The FDA, USDA, EPA and other government agencies are so complex with how they do business that labeling regulations could slip through the cracks, which means that many people may not know if the food they purchase is natural or not. Genetically engineered products may never be identified as such leaving the consumer without a choice, not knowing that they are eating a food that is anything but natural.

We all know that technology comes with a price. GMO's are no exception. The intrinsic question is: what price are we willing to pay for the necessities and luxuries technology provides?

Though many people have an unflinching enthusiasm for technology and its miracles, there are others who are more cautious. Needless to say, there are many challenges ahead for governments in the areas of testing, regulation and food labeling to ensure humanity's safety as well as Mother Nature's.

Genetic Modification of Food