Genetic Modification of Food Production
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Customers are generally more concerned about particular nutrient characteristics and gustatory qualities of food they consume than about stages of its production process. However, infringements in production of even the simplest products can result in their unsuitability. Food production involves obligatory stages, which cannot be infringed or omitted in order to avoid harmful effects on customers’ health or their financial losses caused by the products’ unsatisfactory quality. Thus, food production is a complex process, which includes research on safety and cooking characteristics, investigation of possible additives, selection of recipes, development of product designs and scheduling operations, such as developing manufacturing procedures and cycles, ensuring control over technological improvements and modifications, determining the criteria to measure the quality of food, etc.
According to the popular statement, we are what we eat. Humans’ health is inextricably linked with food people intake. Numerous research studies are conducted to reveal how different nutrients interact with the life processes and influence health in order to estimate how they can be manipulated to prevent and cure illnesses. The consumption of genetically modified fruits and vegetables, beef of grain-fed cows, chicken of overweight, genetically engineered hens, which are unable to move and breathe, can cause diverse severe and often incurable illnesses and disorders. Therefore, today, genetically modified products are frequently considered to be an extremely harmful food.
The basic principle of the food industry is to maintain highly efficient production of inexpensive goods that are conveniently available for consumers. Being acclaimed by critics and immensely popular with the viewers worldwide, the documentary “Food, Inc.” directed by Robert Kenner is focused on the problems associated with the industrial production of meat, grains, and vegetables, global agriculture, governmental regulations of safety standards, and companies producing food. Being divided into several thematic segments, “Food, Inc.” includes information and data that can make nutritionally curious viewers regard it as a clampdown on eating at fast food outlets and consuming products with GMO in supermarkets. Depicted episodes of hens’ transportation, butchering, meatpacking, and meat processing testify to violations of the safety standards, which can result in health care issues and even deaths. Conditions of keeping cattle and poultry, their feed, utilization of genetically modified additives, hormones, and antibiotics, and recruitment of illegal impoverished immigrants promote an increase in incomes of food corporations. Moreover, in order to promote animals’ growth and prevent prevalence of diseases in the overcrowded, unsanitary conditions, cattle breeders add low doses of antibiotics, hormones, and other medicines into their forage and water. These facts are a natural results determined by the growth of capacity and profitableness of the American giants of the food industry, which have power over the ordinary consumers, farmers, agricultural wageworkers, and officials.
“Agricultural productivity refers to the amount of food produced on a given area of agricultural land. Productivity per acre may increase, when farmers apply more fertilizer, or use more labor. Productivity can also increase because of new technology, such as new seed varieties” (Leathers & Foster 4). Therefore, genetic engineering has become one of the most widespread technologies of the food production worldwide.
Genetic engineering is a set of the advanced technologies involving molecular and biological methods, which allows scientists to modify genetic structure by inserting alien genes with desirable traits and functions in a living organism (Lerner & Lerner; Valenze; Block-Dano). Only one gene is transferred to an organism, while the entire genotype remains invariable. “The foreign DNA can be from a related species, an unrelated plant species, or from completely different organisms such as bacteria, fungi, or even animals. In addition to the transfer of specific genes, other regions of DNA (e.g., promoter sequences, vector sequences, marker sequences, etc.) are also usually transferred” (Lerner & Lerner 416). Manipulating the genetic code of plants, scientists create new species and improve characteristics of the existing ones. Transgenic plants include modified DNA sequences of at least two different species (Lerner & Lerner 417).
Although genetic engineering includes obligatory high-priced procedures of food production, transgenic crops and genetically modified products are steadily winning the world market due to their beneficial properties, such as the increased content of microelements and vitamins, disease-resistance, xerophytes, moisture resistance, herbicide tolerance, high productivity, etc. Genetically modified plants can produce medicinal substances. The majority of genetic modifications is aimed at the development of plants’ resistance to agricultural wreckers, different viruses, herbicides, temperature fluctuations, and increased gustatory qualities (Lerner & Lerner; Block-Dano). In accordance with the research studies conducted by experts of the World Health Organization, different laboratory investigations, technological methods, and genes are used to create new plants.
The most widespread genetically modified plants and seeds include cotton, transgenic soybeans, GE corn, slow-softening tomatoes, glyphosate-resistant plants, virus-resistant potato, and other plants with valuable properties. In addition, genetically engineered fruits and vegetables are always characterized by their attractive external specifications (shape, color, size, and flavor).
Although seeds of genetically modified plants possess numerous positive traits, there are ongoing debates concerning their potential applications in food production and farming. The current wide utilization of genetically modified crops evokes ongoing debates connected with ecological safety, consumers’ rights, ethics, health care, and intellectual property. Impacts of genetically modified crops on humans have not been accurately evaluated yet; therefore, adverse effects and negative consequences of consumption of genetically modified food should be thoroughly examined. Thus, each transgenic product should be thoroughly investigated before its distribution in order to avoid its potential harmful impacts on humans’ health.
Moreover, replacing traditional crops, transgenic plants inevitably pauperise ecosystems. Hybridization of genetically modified plants can result in the appearance of “super weeds” resistant to traditional herbicides and pesticides.
Distribution of genetically modified seeds involves ethical, economic, and legal aspects. Such multinational corporations as the Monsanto Company, Germany-based Bayer AG, DuPont, and others specialize in producing seeds of genetically modified crops. For instance, buying seeds of transgenic crops produced by the Monsanto Company, farmers should sign a contract with the company, which includes three major items. Firstly, farmers agree to pay a technology fee. Secondly, farmers must not save seeds for further use or cultivation, but must allow detectives employed by the company to check their fields within three years after purchasing seeds. However, GMO extends with pollen spontaneously; as a result, fields and crops appear to be contaminated with GMO. It is obligatory to use pesticides and herbicides, such as Roundup produced by the company. Having developed crops resistant to Roundup, the Monsanto Company increased the sales of its own herbicides.
Monsanto’s strategies do not differ from activities of other companies working in the field of genetic engineering. All biotechnological corporations achieve their purposes by identical means; they aspire to derive benefits in spite of ethics and moral standards. The main objective of the creation of transgenic plants is to acquire “eternal” buyers of genetically modified seeds, herbicides, and pesticides. Thus, corporations like Monsanto are entitled to better protection by law than farmers.
Demand for genetically modified products directly depends on the awareness of the population of possible consequences of genetically engineered products. Europe, where the population has enough information on properties of GMO and their presence in the foodstuff, can be an example of ways to educate people. However, managers of companies producing foodstuffs try to avoid announcing GMO existence in their production or categorically deny this fact. Coca Cola, Nestle and McDonald’s are well known to cooperate with Monsanto. Some years ago, McDonald’s officially declared to stop purchasing NewLeaf potatoes modified by Monsanto and any other raw materials for French fries, which were genetically engineered. Representatives of Greenpeace consider Nestle to be one of the most active consumers of products containing GMO. However, the company denies any form of cooperation with biotechnological corporations.
The Monsanto Company faced the greatest problems with the advancement of its genetically modified production in Europe due to the embargo imposed by the governments of France, Austria, Hungary, Germany, and other countries of the European Union in 1999. However, Monsanto defended the right to return to the markets of the European Union countries in 2003. The World Trade Organization recognized that the bans on import of GM production from the USA, Argentina and Canada (Monsanto is the main biotechnological producer in these countries) were unjustified. In spite of Montano’s victory, the European landowners successfully lobby the interdiction for this company’s production. Hungary has recently refused to cultivate transgenic corn MON 810, which has a property to be crossed to wild plants according to the research conducted by local scientists. The Hungarians are afraid of possible appearance of weeds resistant to herbicides.
In order to provide legal regulations of the development and distribution of genetically modified crops, both direct and indirect methods of the state regulations should be used. In addition, public and international organizations considerably influence the market of genetically modified products and, hence, the development of the state policy in this sphere. Consumers’ interests should play the central role in the development of the state policy in the field of agricultural biotechnology. Huge work is being done on compiling of general international requirements, rules, and standards concerning genetically modified organisms. Each country has the purpose to protect consumers and manufacturers. The process of coordination is complicated because this production has not been sufficiently explored yet. Moreover, even standards and rules of separate countries are still in the process of working out. This branch of science is constantly developing, and consumers and public opinion demand control toughening over the genetically modified products.
In case the state is aimed at developing the branch of agricultural biotechnology, which is necessary in the conditions of world globalization, it should elaborate a policy directed to scientific research studies, increase in financing, assistance in stock exchange development and functioning, protection of businessmen within the limits of the antimonopoly law, legal protection of intellectual property rights. The majority of consumers, as well as farmers are not satisfied with the participation of the states in the market regulations of genetically modified products worldwide. Governments should affect control over manufacturers, consumers’ notifications, estimation of bio-safety of GMO, and research studies carried out.
The process of biotechnological branch formation passed several phases. The basic biotechnological companies developed from median and small enterprises, which had evolved receiving patents. Then the majority of them agreed, merged, or was absorbed by large biochemical corporations. About 10 transnational companies supervise 30% of the seeds market and 100% of the market of seeds of genetically modified cultures.
Obesity is one of the most crucial healthcare issues associated with genetically modified food. Obesity has become a serious and frequently encountered issue of health care over the last decades worldwide. Obesity can be defined as excessive fat accumulation in the body, which leads to an increase in weight. It interferes with most aspects of humans’ well-being, affects the way people think, function, and behave. It can disable an individual and impair health. According to the data of the World Health Organization, “overweight and obesity are the fifth leading risk for global deaths” (WHO). Obesity can result in such severe and often incurable illnesses as type II diabetes mellitus, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, infertility, osteoarthritis, and some cancers. A variety of different mechanisms is involved in the progression of obesity and there is considerable evidence documenting the role of genetically modified food as a sustaining factor contributing to obesity (Dubé et al.).
Ongoing researches on interrelations between obesity and consumption of genetically modified food have promoted creation of nutritional genomics, a new scientific discipline. Nutrigenomics “describe a global functional response to a nutrient or diet at the level of gene expression, protein expression or, more recently, metabolite abundance” (Dubé et al. 379). According to the concept of nutrigenomics, food content is directly connected to humans’ health status. An individual reaction of a person to foodstuff is caused by his/her genotype. An increased intake of products with GMO induces negative metabolic and physiological changes leading to obesity.
Demand for genetically modified plants depends on their economic efficiency. Expenditures on transgenic crops cultivation considerably increase the crop yield. As a whole, expectations of considerable profits from genetically modified plants cultivation have not been realized. Ideal strategies of agricultural biotechnologies regulations should consider interests of various groups of the public, representatives of the biotechnological industry, scientists, as well as international organizations. Only a complex approach to branch regulations provides the world community with the opportunity to solve current and potential problems, which exist and can arise in the conditions of rapid development of agricultural biotechnologies, as one of mainstreams of modern scientific and technical progress. Branch regulations should involve measures to provide developing countries with safe and available genetically modified seeds and plants.
In conclusion, although the primary objective of food intake is to provide its consumer with energy necessary for his/her health and life, harmful impacts of genetically modified products on humans are constantly increasing. The consumption of genetically modified food can cause diverse severe and often incurable illnesses and disorders. Thus, consumers should be completely aware of risks connected with the intake of products with GMO in order to prevent obesity occurrence and other severe illnesses. Health care organisations, researchers, responsible officials, and the food industry should design and implement relevant protective and educational programs for the target audience of consumers.
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