Genetically Modified Foods are products wherein desired characteristics are improved and undesirable ones are removed. This is done through genetic engineering, the alteration of the food’s DNA structure. This technique vastly increased the production efficiency of the food industry. Also, it signaled the advancement of the food production industry which provided better control over the food’s genetic structure compared with other practices such as selective breeding.
Like any other scientific venture, the production of these Genetically Modified Foods has its own risks and benefits. According to webmd.com, the risks include food toxicity, combination of genetically modified and non-genetically modified materials, alteration of the nutrient content, the production of weeds that are detrimental to other crops as well as other risks to the environment. On the other hand, the benefits are as follows: improved resistance to pest and other crop-related diseases, tolerance to drought, and the amount of food supply is greatly raised.
The Genesis of GM Foods
The commercial production of Genetically Modified Foods began in 1994 when a Californian company Calgene released Flavr Savr. It is a genetically modified tomato wherein softening was prevented by delaying its ripening while still retaining its color and flavor. Also, another characteristic of Flavr Savr was that it was more resistant to rotting. Although its production was short-lived because of its unprofitability, it paved the way for the commercialization of other foods that are already engineered in many laboratories.
The Growth of GM Foods
From a simple genetically engineered tomato, Genetically Modified Foods have grown at a fast rate through the years. As a matter of fact, experts say that at least 60-70% of the processed foods in the U.S. market have genetically modified ingredients. The most common GM Foods are crops which include:
Potatoes are engineered not only for them to be resistant to pests in the field but also, they are altered for them to act as anti-cholera vaccines. Also, scientists are trying to find ways for it to be of use in the production of lubricants.
Perhaps the most popular GM food, corn is genetically engineered to include an insect-killing gene. This alteration is a big help to farmers which doesn’t have to spray insecticides anymore.
Aside from being able to last longer like the first genetically engineered tomato, scientists have found a way to let the tomatoes mature on the plants that result in a tastier breed.
More prone to viral disease compared to other crops, squash is genetically engineered to ensure the crop’s durability.
The creation of the golden rice marked the first time that scientists were able to increase the nutritional value of Genetically Modified Foods. This rice variety was created in the year 2000 to combat Vitamin A deficiency. And in recent years, scientists have been working on a variety that would combat iron deficiency.
Genetically Modified Animals
The genetic modification of animals is not that easy compared to plants. This is why scientist slowly introduced genetic modification in animals by incorporating it to animal feeds. Animal feeds are commonly enhanced with vitamins, proteins, and other nutrients that make it more nutritious. With regards to the genetically modified livestock, as of November 2013, they are not yet available in the market although there have been numerous laboratory experiments with regards to this matter.
One of the Genetically Modified Foods that is nearing approval for release in the market is the GM salmon. Compared to its wild counterparts that take three years to mature, the GM salmon grows faster. Not only does it mature at a faster rate, it also grows bigger up to twice the size of its wild counterpart. The company responsible for its production, AquaBounty, regards this venture as beneficial to the environment. Because the GM salmon will be grown in fish farms, it will be able to protect the ecosystem of the fishes in the wild from human intrusion. Although the product boasts many potential benefits, there are still risks that are being evaluated before being made commercially available.
As Genetically Modified Foods are gaining a wider audience, cause of concern regarding the risks involved as well as support for further research regarding to this technology will increase. As more researches are being conducted, issues regarding this new technology will be settled. Regardless of the fact that there is a huge debate concerning these genetically engineered products, it is without a doubt that GM foods are changing the landscape of the food production industry.