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CHEMISTRY

PERIOD 2-3
MARIAH MELLINGER

GENETIC MODIFICATION
WHATS IN OUR FOOD?
___

By Nathan Brown

Introduction

A genetically modified organism (GMO) is an organism whose genome has been modified in a
lab to achieve specific physiological traits. Genetically modified (GM) food was first approved
for human consumption in 1994 by the FDA, and by 2014-15 about 90% of corn, cotton and
soybean crops were genetically modified (Diaz). GM foods can, in some cases, reduce the use
of insecticides and increase per area crop yields. However, GM food is controversial. Some

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claim GM food can cause health risks, but there is no inherent proof of these claims. There is
no evidence that products from GM food, such as starch and oils, are any different from those
same products deriving from naturally grown crops. Genetic modification has spread from
agriculture to DNA modification of more complex organisms, such as animals and human
embryos. Genetically engineered (GE) animals are used for multiple reasons, such as
agriculture, to produce higher quantities and healthier meats; science also uses GE animals
for research purposes in labs. One example is laboratories using GE animals to test hopeful
cures for breast cancer. Genetic engineering has also spread to the realm of humans;
researchers in China have successfully interchanged genes in human embryos, but after a low
success rate for the modification of the embryos, experimentation was halted. However, the
use of genetic modification in complex organisms is a fairly new technology when compared
to genetic modification in agriculture.

Benefits of Genetically Modified Crops

Genetic modification has been around for about 20 years, give or take a few. The first
genetically modified organism (GMO) was first approved for consumers by the FDA in 1994
(Diaz). Genetic engineering can increase the abundance of crops, and eliminate the need for
chemical insecticides in some cases, Encyclopdia Britannica supports this claim, Field
studies conducted in India in which Bt cotton was compared with non-Bt cotton
demonstrated a 3080 percent increase in yield from the GM crop (Diaz). Bt crops are crops
that have had a gene implanted in their gene sequences that produce a natural insecticide
called Bt toxin, the gene was taken from the bacterium
Bacillus thuringiensis.
In China,

farmers first gained access to Bt cotton in 1997; initially, the crop was successful, however,
by 2004, farmers who had been growing Bt cotton for several years found that the benefits of
the crop eroded as populations of secondary insect pests, such as mirids, increased (Diaz).
However, there are crops that are resistant to herbicides. Herbicide-resistant crops (HRC)
have been available since the 1980s. HRCs are a more effective GM crops because instead of
modifying the crop to repel insects with a gene, farmers can use the chemical herbicides they
wish without fear of those chemicals interfering with their crop in a negative manner.

Genetically Modified Crops and the Consumer

More people than not believe that GM foods are unsafe, 52 percent of the U.S. population
believe these foods are unsafe, and 13 percent are unsure about them, and 93 percent of the
country population votes to require food producers to label GM foods ("Poll: Skepticism of
Genetically Modified Foods"). However, the amount of food crop that is GE is far greater than
that of non-GE crops - In 2012, GE cotton accounted for 94 percent of all cotton planted,

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genetically engineered (GE)(alias GMO, GM) soybeans accounted for 93 percent of soybeans
planted, and GE corn accounted for 88 percent of corn planted ("FDA's Role in Regulating
Safety of GE Foods"). The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ensures the population that
there is no health risks and/or safety difference in GE foods compared with traditionally bred
crops, Food and food ingredients derived from GE plants must adhere to the same safety
requirements under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic (FD&C) Act that apply to food and
food ingredients derived from traditionally bred plants (FDAs Role [...]). The FDA
encourages developers of GE crops to consult with them and provide an assessment, although
the consultation is voluntary, the FDA reports GE developers are more likely to consult with
them to ensure their crops are safe, and otherwise lawful. The developer will provide the FDA
with an assessment of the new crop that outlines the identification of distinguishing
attributes of new genetic traits, whether any new material in food made from the GE plant
could be toxic or allergenic when eaten, and a comparison of the levels of nutrients in the GE
plant to traditionally bred plants (FDAs Role [...]).

Facts and Hypothetical Risks

Gregory Jaffe, Center for Science in the Public Interest director of biotechnology, when asked
by his interviewer, Elaine Watson, should the public be suspicious of GMOs, he replied that
the public should not be asking is it genetically engineered but rather is it safe for me to
eat, is it introducing new allergens, is it safe for the environment? When asked, are there
benefits to GM crops, Jaffe responded that one cannot generalize, it all depends on how and
where they are used (Watson). Genetically modified crops are no more different than those
grown with traditional methods, GM crops are modified to give a higher abundance and/or to
defend against pests. There are no proven health risks to humans in GMOs, the United States
Food and Drug Administration allows the commercial selling and consuming of GMOs, FDA
scientists have not yet found GMOs that pose a threat to humans. However, there is the
argument that GMOs can affect the environment, creating secondary superbugs and
superweeds. As this may be true, more insecticides are being developed and GMOs are being
developed to defend against these secondary pests. The world could be in need of GMOs to
produce more food supply for the growing population, as supported by EU research findings
in their experiments to develop a potato resistant to the harmful fungi known in Ireland as
blite, which damages crops significantly, making such crops yield and insignificant amount
(Rotman). MIT Technology magazine states, Climate change will make it increasingly
difficult to feed the world. GMOs could help (Rotman).

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Conclusion

While critics and protesters are accusing GMOs of being health risks for humans, there is no
solid evidence of GMOs being unsafe for human consumption at this point. The FDA has
approved of GMOs to be a viable food source, not only are they viable, but GM crops are more
abundant, which is necessary for the growing populus, as the number of humans steadily
increases to eight billion by 2050, world leaders will need to find a way to feed this
population. As of now, there is no viable evidence of GM crops being any different from
traditionally bred crops, but the possibility of defects and outlying crops is inevitable.
Genetic modification has spread to animals, but will modification of humans be coming into
play soon, the probability of seeing genetically modified humans at this point in time is close
to zero with the low success rate of DNA modification in human embryos by Chinese
researchers. But there is chance of technological advances which lead down the path of more
success in human DNA editing and customization.

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Works Cited
Diaz, Julia M. "Genetically Modified Organism (GMO)."
Encyclopdia Britannica Online
.
Encyclopdia Britannica. Web. 29 Sept. 2015.

"FDA's Role in Regulating Safety of GE Foods."


U.S. Food and Drug Administration
. 7 Oct.
2015. Web. 11 Oct. 2015.

"Poll: Skepticism of Genetically Modified Foods." A


BC News
. ABC News Network. Web. 11
Oct. 2015.

Rotman, David. "GMOs Could Be an Important Tool in Feeding the World | MIT Technology
Review."
MIT Technology Review
. 17 Dec. 2013. Web. 21 Oct. 2015.

Watson, Elaine. "CSPI: There Are Legitimate Concerns about GMOs, but Not around Food
Safety, and Labeling Would Be Misleading."
FoodNavigator-USA.com
. William Reed
Business Media SAS, 3 July 2013. Web. 12 Oct. 2015.