The population of the world is rapidly increasing every year and it is predicted that it will be doubled in the next fifty years. Ensuring an adequate food supply for this growing population is going to be a major challenge for the world in the coming years. Genetic engineers claim that genetically modified foods have numerous characteristics which can meet this global demand.
Although genetic engineering technology in agriculture can help increase crop production, genetically modified food should be strictly controlled because it would have a detrimental effect on the environment as well as human health. First of all, advocates of genetically modified food claim that genetic engineering could decrease the rate of environmental pollution by reducing the use of pesticides and herbicides. However, there is no reliable evidence proving that the rate of pollution has actually decreased since the introduction of genetically modified crops.
Instead, it is shown that they may only have the potential to reduce the environmental pollution. “In fact, a genetically engineered crop that tolerates herbicides such as Roundup-Ready soybeans produced by Monsanto would actually increase pollution,” Halford states (2003). This is due to the fact that farmers would spray a larger amount of herbicides and pesticides to kill weeds and pests since they know that their crops would not be harmed by the chemical substances. In other words, genetic engineering in agriculture does not actually help reduce environmental pollution as opponents claim.
Furthermore, genetic engineers claim that crops can be genetically modified to carry various important vitamins or nutrients which are beneficial to human health, solving the issue of nutrient deficiency in poor countries. Most people would think that genetically modified food is tested and regulated by government agencies. However, genetically modified food is not often adequately tested or regulated because these kinds of tests require strict guidelines, costly procedures and long duration for proper assessment of the genetically engineered products.
For example, it is claimed that Golden Rice, which is a type of genetically modified rice containing Vitamin A, could solve shortage of this important dietary vitamin in various poor countries. However, Halford (2003) shows that an adult would have to eat at least 700g of Golden Rice, which is two times the normal intake of 300g, to get the daily optimum, amount of Vitamin A. This means that poor people would have to consume double amount of rice and this is difficult since they would not have the financial ability to buy a large amounts of rice.
Hence, genetically modified food like Golden Rice does not really solve the issue of nutrient deficiency in poor countries. Moreover, genetically modified food could cause allergic responses in certain people due to some alien compounds it contains. These allergic reactions usually occur when the human immune system intercepts with modified genes of foods. Even though it does not happen frequently, allergy might be dangerous, or even fatal, to some people. Several studies have shown that genetically modified food does provoke immunological reactions.
Smith (2005) states, “ Rats fed with Monsanto’s genetically engineered corn have a significant increase in the amount of blood cells involved in immune system, which means that their immune system has been abnormally activated. ” In other words, this allergic problem becomes severe when people do not know their allergic responses are actually caused by genetically modified food they have eaten. Furthermore, it is not an easy task for doctors or physicians to diagnose the actual cause since the allergens are subtle to detect in genetically engineered food.
Aside from human health, genetically modified organisms have the serious negative effects on the environment. One of those is the effect on pollinators. Most of the earth’s plants depend on insects for pollination and it is crucial that agricultural activities do not disrupt this natural ecosystem. Padgette (1996) explains that genetically modified crops are often more resistant to pests and viruses, and could survive even under the harshest conditions, modified genes from genetically engineered crops can be transferred into other wild species, causing various unwanted outcomes (126).
Furthermore, the dispersal of altered genes from genetically modified organisms to natural organisms through various mechanism disrupts the original genome in the wild species. Unlike environmental pollution, genetic pollution can never be overturned. The reason is that, when a certain gene is lost in wild species due to gene transfer, the lost gene can never be recovered nor created. The net result is a serious pollution to the natural genes, which exterminates biodiversity in the world. However, genetically modified crops do not fulfill this fundamental requirement.
Halford (2003) also shows that caterpillars of monarch butterfly consuming pollen from genetically engineered insect-resistant maize have higher mortality rates. To conclude, most people would not choose to buy genetically modified food because it is not natural, has potential risks to human health, and disrupts natural ecosystem. In spite of various benefits of genetically modified crops, regulation of genetic engineering in agriculture should be strictly controlled so that it does not create unwanted results on the environment and human health.