The Effects of Genetically Altered Foods and Consumer Awareness

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Introduction

Genetically modified foods, also referred to as biotech foods are produced from organisms after specific alterations introduced within their DNA in a process known as genetic engineering. The genetic engineering technique allows for the introduction of new crops with desirable characteristics. Scientists have published many study results to prove that there are several genetically modified crops known to be good nutrition sources. Therefore, the products are directly consumed as food, and in most cases, the GMO foods are sold and further processed into food ingredients. The consumption of genetically altered foods poses some general health risks. The main question then is; what is the general impact that the genetically engineered foods pose to the general health of the consumer?

Effects And Consumer Awareness

The answer to the above question is debatable as there is no agreement on the general impact that GMOs pose to human health. Genetically altered food forms a larger percentage of the normal diet taken by human beings today, especially in developed countries. As Kims’ outlines, “80% of all the food products in the U.S. are composed of genetically modified food products” (192). Since 1994, genetically modified foods have been in the market in larger percentages within the research on their general impact on the human health remaining scarce. These include vegetable oil, rice, soybeans, infant formula, pork as well as chicken. In addition, some processed food products such as tomato sauce are comprised of additives that are genetically modified. As a matter of fact, most consumers may not be aware of what they are consuming because the information on the labels is minimal, or they don’t know how to read labels, yet the dangers associated with the consumption of these food products remains unclear. From studies conducted by independent research organizations on the genetically altered food commodities, it is emerging most foods consumed in the modern world are not nutritionally rich and can harm the general health of human beings.

In the day to day world, consumers do not have accurate information about what they are consuming. Human beings and how their systems react to these foods also form a part of the uncontrolled and unregulated human experiments whose results are yet to be established. According to the literature provided by Wohlers (76), it is evident that the risks associated with the consumption of genetically modified foods could be enormous. However, it might take a considerable amount of time to learn about the risks, and it might be too late to reverse the damage after learning about the risks involved in the consumption of genetically altered foods. A large number of experts agree that it is wrong to allow consumption of a product whose effects or benefits have not been fully verified.

It is also notable that consumer ignorance contributes to the general acceptance of genetically modified foods in the market. Most may not understand biological names used to explain a human being’s digestive and healthy systems. Surveys also reveal that most consumers purchase food products based on their trust for the brand name rather than quantified research performed on a product. For example, some genetically modified foods may alter the transgenic function within a new cell, and trigger more protein production than what a cell requires. The proteins may be harmful to the consumer but detailed, and extensive research and laboratory tests are required to ascertain such a hypothesis from food scientists. Taking into consideration the fact that corn varieties are genetically engineered to produce the biotech toxin, a pesticidal protein, it is evident that companies have been involved with the production toxic products but do not reveal the potential dangers to consumers (Karin Hoffmann‐Sommergruber, et al 810).

Also, employees who work in farms that grow genetically foods are directly exposed to other health dangers. These foods require chemicals in the form of herbicides and pesticides to boost production. Exposure to such chemicals can lead to allergic, respiratory, skin, or other types of complications. Tests performed on mice show that they displayed some immune responses characterized by abnormal cell growth after consuming some of the GMO foods for a prolonged period of time. Furthermore, biotech crops are linked to an increase in livestock and human illnesses (Karin Hoffmann‐Sommergruber, et al 813).

To date, the studies conducted on the effects of GMOs on animals have yielded worryingly results with most of the results of the GMO food studies being linked to altered metabolism rates, liver and kidney malfunction, inflammation and reduced fertility. For instance, when multiple generations of hamsters were fed soy that was genetically rejiggered the hamsters begun losing their reproductive abilities by the time they were reaching the third generation. Evidently, their reproduction rates were half as much as that of the third generation within the non-GM soy group.

Moreover, people who suffer from food allergies have to worry more based on the fact that genetic re-engineering involves the transfer of genes between different food types such as peanuts and other protein-rich foods. Phillips, Diane, and William reassure their readers by arguing “seed companies conduct some sophisticated tests to ensure such cases are prevented” (740). However, the process of inserting a new gene within a seed’s genome is known to be delicately constructed and a complex process that requires 100 percent accuracy, which the scientists may not be able to guarantee. One of the possible consequences arising from this case scenario is the development of a new brand allergen that may affect the general health of consumers who suffer from allergic reactions.

Despite the existence of a wide range of health implications associated with the consumption of genetically modified foods, new brands of these types of food are introduced every year in food stores. Consumers purchase them without much consideration or thought about other alternative healthy choices or what the impactions of these kinds of foods are to their general health. For instance, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved the production of genetically modified beets in 2011. The FDA is expected to approve the implementation of a fast-growing salmon in the near future. Furthermore, pigs will be genetically modified to be able to produce omega 3s (Aleksejeva, Inese, and Inesa 8).

The fact that genetically modified foods do not require a warning on the label in most countries makes it difficult for consumers to tell if the food products they are purchasing are organic or genetically modified. To eliminate this threat, it is advisable that genetically modified foods should be labeled differently from the other food products so that customers can easily identify and differentiate the two commodities as Ben Henderson argued in his interview (Blackwell 42). This way, a consumer can make an informed choice.

Conclusion

Several organizations, independent research bodies, and government institutions continue to debate on the advantage vis a vis the disadvantages of genetically modified foods. Evident is the lack of concrete results to ascertain either side of the arguments. Consumers too are left in a hard place where information is scarce. In countries where food producers don’t have to indicate whether food is organic or GMO, consumers continue to incorporate these foods into their diets unknowingly. So far, some tests done on animals show reduced fertility, liver and kidney malfunction and inflammation after prolonged consumption of genetically modified substances. There remains a difficult task to verify whether such results would be true in human beings, a task that requires intense study, time and large amounts of investments. In addition, the process of altering the DNA of a plant is complex in nature, which some experts and opponents of these types of foods, argue that it still remains a highly inaccurate affair. According to Dr. Don Huber, who was interviewed by Dr. Mercola, agriculture is a complete system and “any time you change one part of that system, you change the interaction of all the other components” (1). What is most evident is that consumers lack information, and the effects of GMO foods are yet to be ascertained.

Works Cited

Aleksejeva, Inese, and Inesa Aleksejeva. "Genetically Modified Organisms: Risk Perception and Willingness to Buy GM Products." Management Theory & Studies for Rural Business & Infrastructure Development 33.4 (2012): 5-10. Print.

Blackwell, Kelsey. "Ben Henderson." Natural Foods Merchandiser 33.10 (2012): 42. Print.

Huber, Don. “The Hidden Epidemic Destroying Your Gut Flora.” An Interview by Dr. Mercola. http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2011/12/10/dr-don-huber-interview-part-1.aspx N.p., 2011. Web. 2 Oct. 2013.

Karin Hoffmann‐Sommergruber, et al. "Attitudes towards Genetically Modified Food with a Specific Consumer Benefit In Food Allergic Consumers and Non‐Food Allergic Consumers." Journal of Risk Research 9.7 (2006): 801-813. Print.

Kim, Renee B. "Consumer Attitude of Risk and Benefits toward Genetically Modified (GM) Foods in South Korea: Implications for Food Policy." Engineering Economics 23.2 (2012): 189-199. Print.

Phillips, Diane M., and William K. Hallman. "Consumer Risk Perceptions and Marketing Strategy: The Case of Genetically Modified Food." Psychology & Marketing 30.9 (2013): 739-748. Print.

Wohlers, Anton E. "Labeling Of Genetically Modified Food." Politics & the Life Sciences 23.1 (2013): 73-84. Print.