View Full Version : GM Foods: Bad or Good?
1st October 2003, 08:23 PM
I was debating whether to post this in the science section or this one. This one won out.
So here's my question: what are your thoughts on Genetically Modified (GM) food? Is there a concern that it will somehow get out of hand and kill off natural flora? Or maybe it will somehow kill everyone how eats it or scramble their DNA? Is GM foods a good idea considering how much it can help starving countries whose soil can't naturally support unmodified crops? Or how about the GM foods like the Golden Rice that has much more nutrients than natural rice and is used to combat malnutrition? Is GM foods a pandora's box or a gift from god? What are your opinions?
2nd October 2003, 12:20 AM
I'm in favor of GM foods. I'm in favor of nutricuticals. I'm in favor of anything that gives us healthier, more nutricious foods with a longer freshness duration. Better eating through chemicals has given us Ding Dongs and Fritos. It's about time science does something to attone for this travesty.
Hand Bent Spoon
2nd October 2003, 03:53 AM
I honestly think the jury is still out. We did have the Starlink debacle, and if GM foods go wrong somehow, it will be through allergens that were accidentally introduced.
GM foods do have the potential for great good. We just need to be very careful with what we modify in foods and how. We need to take our time and get it right. This is no mere crossbreeding! This is modifying and mixing genes at the most basic level, bringing together two or more different genomes that never would have met in nature or traditional plant crossbreeding (such as inserting certain fish genes into tomatoes, or certain peanut genes into squash).
Be careful, do the studies, be as certain as you can be that it is safe, then and only then distribute it.
And GM foods need to be labeled, since it is our right as consumers to know when we are buying traditional foods and ones that have been modified in this new way.
2nd October 2003, 07:46 AM
There is an excellent article in this Month's Atlantic Magazine by Jonathon Rauch, detailing on why environmentalist will likely come to love GM foods/plants, and why they are becoming a necessary component of global agriculture. I highly recommend it.
From the Opening paragraph...
"That genetic engineering may be the most environmentally beneficial technology to have emerged in decades, or possibly centuries, is not immediately obvious. Certainly, at least, it is not obvious to the many U.S. and foreign environmental groups that regard biotechnology as a bÍte noire. Nor is it necessarily obvious to people who grew up in cities, and who have only an inkling of what happens on a modern farm. Being agriculturally illiterate myself, I set out to look at what may be, if the planet is fortunate, the farming of the future."
2nd October 2003, 11:39 AM
Originally posted by Prospero
So here's my question: what are your thoughts on Genetically Modified (GM) food?All food is genetically modified. The only distinction is whether it was done in a lab last week or by Mother Nature over the last 2,000,000 years. Trace the ancestry of that hamburger you had for lunch and I'll guarantee you'll find dramatic genetic differences between your burger's genes and those of its Cretaceous grandma.
That's the trouble with Mother Nature - she's always messing around, mutating genes, without considering the possible catastrophic consequences. Why didn't someone tell her a couple of million years ago to stop messing with those hominid genes before she let loose something that would cause industrial pollution, mass extinctions, global warming, deforestation, and possibly even The End of Life As We Know It?
2nd October 2003, 12:28 PM
If the question is about just the food on the plate it's fairly simple.
But this isn't the first time we've been through this excercise. Remember the "Green Revolution"? That was going to save the third world by increasing production by the use of modern methods, chemical fertilizers, and the miracle of market crops. It was not an unmitigated disaster, but it came close.
Now the farmer is looking at the incontrovertible fact that western markets don't want the stuff ( in Europe they won't touch it, and NA won't label the products so that consumers can decide - wonder why?) and if you bring it in and it drifts across to your neighbours field his crop is now GM will-I-nill-I. It's his fault - see the Schmiesser case. And the stuff does drift- we get blow dirt here in the ditches that is unusable because of weed seeds in it, let alone pollen. A 500m protective crop won't cut it.
This is one of those cases where we don't have all the answers, 'cause we're not even sure of what questions we should ask.
A good starter is 'Is it a good idea to patent plants?".
2nd October 2003, 04:01 PM
Yes, give it to me, I'm hungry! Who's buying?
But really, all we need to say is "Golden Rice". GM food saves lives.
2nd October 2003, 04:57 PM
That was going to save the third world by increasing production by the use of modern methods, chemical fertilizers, and the miracle of market crops. It was not an unmitigated disaster, but it came close
No where near a disaster. Because of the Green Revolution, India was able to feed itself. Norman Borlaug won a Nobel Prize for it. Indeed, because of the Green Revolution, the world produces enough food to feed global populations...politics, distribution problems, market issues, economics, distances are the problem, not quantity.
THe green revolution, however, doesn't get you to feeding the 2 billion more people who will be on earth in the next 25 years. So, if you eliminate green revolution tools, and GM tools as part of the mix, you get agriculture 50 years ago...real famines, real depravation and real agricultural poverty.
A Different, more informed view of the Green Revolution and Dr. Norman Borlaug may be found here:
Some key points from the article:
...Despite the institutional resistance Borlaug stayed in Pakistan and India, tirelessly repeating himself. By 1965 famine on the subcontinent was so bad that governments made a commitment to dwarf wheat. Borlaug arranged for a convoy of thirty-five trucks to carry high-yield seeds from CIMMYT to a Los Angeles dock for shipment. The convoy was held up by the Mexican police, blocked by U.S. border agents attempting to enforce a ban on seed importation, and then stopped by the National Guard when the Watts riot prevented access to the L.A. harbor. Finally the seed ship sailed. Borlaug says, "I went to bed thinking the problem was at last solved, and woke up to the news that war had broken out between India and Pakistan."
Nevertheless, Borlaug and many local scientists who were his former trainees in Mexico planted the first crop of dwarf wheat on the subcontinent, sometimes working within sight of artillery flashes. Sowed late, that crop germinated poorly, yet yields still rose 70 percent. This prevented general wartime starvation in the region, though famine did strike parts of India. There were also riots in the state of Kerala in 1966, when a population whose ancestors had for centuries eaten rice was presented with sacks of wheat flour originating in Borlaug's fields.
Owing to wartime emergency, Borlaug was given the go-ahead to circumvent the parastatals. "Within a few hours of that decision I had all the seed contracts signed and a much larger planting effort in place," he says. "If it hadn't been for the war, I might never have been given true freedom to test these ideas." The next harvest "was beautiful, a 98 percent improvement." By 1968 Pakistan was self-sufficient in wheat production. India required only a few years longer. Paul Ehrlich had written in The Population Bomb (1968) that it was "a fantasy" that India would "ever" feed itself. By 1974 India was self-sufficient in the production of all cereals. Pakistan progressed from harvesting 3.4 million tons of wheat annually when Borlaug arrived to around 18 million today, India from 11 million tons to 60 million. In both nations food production since the 1960s has increased faster than the rate of population growth. Briefly in the mid-1980s India even entered the world export market for grains.
Borlaug's majestic accomplishment came to be labeled the Green Revolution. Whether it was really a revolution is open to debate. As Robert Kates, a former director of the World Hunger Program, at Brown University, says, "If you plot growth in farm yields over the century, the 1960s period does not particularly stand out for overall global trends. What does stand out is the movement of yield increases from the West to the developing world, and Borlaug was one of the crucial innovators there." Touring the subcontinent in the late 1960s and encountering field after field of robust wheat, Forrest Frank Hill, a former vice-president of the Ford Foundation, told Borlaug, "Enjoy this now, because nothing like it will ever happen to you again. Eventually the naysayers and the bureaucrats will choke you to death, and you won't be able to get permission for more of these efforts."
THE HIGH-YIELD BOOM
OR some time this augury seemed mistaken, as Borlaug's view of agriculture remained ascendant. In 1950 the world produced 692 million tons of grain for 2.2 billion people; by 1992 production was 1.9 billion tons for 5.6 billion people -- 2.8 times the grain for 2.2 times the population. Global grain yields rose from 0.45 tons per acre to 1.1 tons; yields of corn, rice, and other foodstuffs improved similarly. From 1965 to 1990 the globe's daily per capita intake grew from 2,063 calories to 2,495, with an increased proportion as protein. Malnutrition continued as a problem of global scale but decreased in percentage terms, even as more than two billion people were added to the population.
The world's 1950 grain output of 692 million tons came from 1.7 billion acres of cropland, the 1992 output of 1.9 billion tons from 1.73 billion acres -- a 170 percent increase from one percent more land. "Without high-yield agriculture," Borlaug says, "either millions would have starved or increases in food output would have been realized through drastic expansion of acres under cultivation -- losses of pristine land a hundred times greater than all losses to urban and suburban expansion."
The trend toward harvesting more from fewer acres, often spun in the media as a shocking crisis of "vanishing farms," is perhaps the most environmentally favorable development of the modern age. Paul Waggoner, of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, says, "From long before Malthus until about forty-five years ago each person took more land from nature than his parents did. For the past forty-five years people have been taking less land from nature than their parents."
In developing nations where population growth is surging, high-yield agriculture holds back the rampant deforestation of wild areas. Waggoner calculates that India's transition to high-yield farming spared the country from having to plough an additional 100 million acres of virgin land -- an area about equivalent to California. In the past five years India has been able to slow and perhaps even halt its national deforestation, a hopeful sign. This would have been impossible were India still feeding itself with traditionally cultivated indigenous crops.
I can assure you of only one thing in agriculture...not the safety of GM crops, not the long term sustainability of modern agricultural techniques, etc. ONLY that "organic" agriculture will NOT meet either global food needs today, or in the immediate future (the next 25 years). IT didn't meet world food needs when global population was much smaller, and it won't tomorrow. So, if you are going to eliminate GM and other modern farming techniques, you better be willing to tell billions of people why they can not and will not be fed...because even with modern agriculture and GM, it will be close call (assuming they work)...
3rd October 2003, 12:13 PM
Originally posted by BPSCG
All food is genetically modified. The only distinction is whether it was done in a lab last week or by Mother Nature over the last 2,000,000 years.
I love this arguement, personally. However, try explaining that to a layman. Nature genetically engineering foods? But how? Nature can't make a laboratory! It's amusing until it gets old.
However, that being said, I think I meant to emphasize more the point that nature tampers with genes in a very slow, very methodical, very trial and error way. Humans like changes in a matter of generations as opposed to millions of generations, so the genetic modifications might be a bit hasty. Though most agree that testing is absolutely mandatory, they still argue that you can never be 100% certain that a GM food won't suddenly start mutating into Killer Tomatos (to use a cartoon that still amuses me with its imaginative uses of science on produce). All things considered, I believe that GM foods benefits outweigh any problems associated with them. And even if one crop of modified broccoli, say, does go awry and end up poisoning people or something along those lines, it just goes to show that nobody really likes broccoli; it kills people! Seriously, though, just because one crop might be bad, doesn't mean the rest of the crops won't save millions of lives and prevent countless diseases.
Eos of the Eons
3rd October 2003, 07:31 PM
Really good information here. I just wanted to add that it is virtually impossible to introduce an allergen into a food through GM processes, unless you try to.
in spite of a recent Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report countering the claims that StarLink was responsible for the allergic reactions.(1) http://www.biotech-info.net/CDC_report.html
Public awareness as well as genuine scientific considerations in the field of GM foods has resulted in general guidelines being elaborated for allergenicity assessment of such foods. These internationally agreed guidelines are specifically important for foods which are traded globally. Standards established for the assessment of GM foods may then turn out to be a paragon for the testing of conventional foods. The detailed analysis of immune mechanisms involved in the stimulation of different type of immune responses has revealed complex ways and some of these ways are still poorly understood, such as pathways resulting in cell mediated hypersensitivity reactions to food.
. The most difficult assessment occurs when genes are obtained from sources with no history of allergenicity, such as viruses, bacteria or non food plants. The likelyhood that the proteins derived from such sources of DNA will be allergens is not very high, since most proteins in nature are not allergens. The key features of the allergenicity assessment for such foods than again involves a comparison of the amino acid sequence of the introduced protein with the amino acid sequences of known allergens and the digestive stability of the introduced protein. http://www.biotech-info.net/hypersensitivity.html
On the contrary, he says, GM crops will become important in lowering allergic reactions to foods. Eight foods account for 90% of all food allergies; these include peanuts, milk, eggs, soybeans, and wheat. Ongoing studies at Alabama A&M University are removing allergenic proteins from the peanut, so that everyone might some day be able to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches without fear.
And one more site just because.
The United States, the world's largest producer and consumer of GM foods, provides the best case study for GM food safety. There has not been a single documented case of food poisoning or allergic reaction attributed to GM food there, even though GM foods have been a regular part of the American diet since 1996.
In Malaysia, the Genetic Modification Advisory Committee approved the import of Roundup Ready Soybean, a soybean modified to tolerate the herbicide glyphosate in 1997. Malaysians have been consuming this soybean since then. There have been no complaints lodged with the Ministry of Health against any ill effects attributed to these soybeans.
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