The shelves of our supermarkets are full of Genetically Engineered foods. From popcorn and tomatoes to beans and berries, they are all around us. Multinational corporations are investing billions of dollars on research and development of GE foods, and farmers are growing larger amounts of them every year. They claim that GE foods are safe for our health.
Since GE foods can be produced in greater quantities and at lower costs than traditional foods, the trend to embrace them would seem inevitable.
Yet there are many people and organizations crying out loud that GE foods are extremely dangerous to human health and to the environment. Some go as far as demanding that GE foods be banned altogether.
Who is right?
To answer this question let us start with what GE foods are. GE foods are produced when genes are transferred from one species to another. In this way physical attributes are transferred too. As an example, a frost-resistance gene transferred to tropical plants might allow them to grow in cold weather.
For the first time in human history scientists are controlling life at the genetic level, and by any standard they are doing amazing things.
Swiss scientists recently inserted a gene into rice that has the effect of increasing its beta-carotene content, which our bodies transform into vitamin A. Over one hundred million people suffer in many ways from vitamin A deficiency. Each year, two million children die, and half a million go blind for the lack of vitamin A. The new GE rice has the potential to put an end to all this suffering and dying.
Researchers at Novartis Seeds developed vegetables resistant to plant infection. They identified a virus resistance gene and transferred it to tomatoes, melons, lettuce and peppers, giving them immunity.
Other researchers created a GE brand of potato that is resistant to leaf roll viruses and beetles. It was planted in Colorado and demonstrated no need for insecticides.
In another development, GE soya beans were produced that were weed-resistant and herbicide-tolerant. An experimental trial ran in one thousand fields. The beans were successfully protected, and herbicide use dropped as much as 40% in some of the fields.
As if all these enemies weren’t enough, farmers also have to fight innumerous parasites. One of them is the terrible corn borer, which destroys the corn from the inside out. To combat it GE corn was created. Usually six sprays of insecticide are needed to safeguard traditional corn; GE corn needs only one.
Interestingly, the ultimate threat to farmers cannot be combated with genetic engineering. I am talking about the environmentalist movement.
They denounce farmers and businessmen for having personal profit as their motive, and take it as proof of their wickedness.
“Friends of the Earth” (FYI, Enemies of Humanity–Ed), a leading environmentalist organization, proposes a moratorium on GE foods and makes its stand against business clear: “No one needs genetically modified food, except the companies investing in it. The only reason for its existence is to increase agribusiness profits.”
Greenpeace does not lag behind in their attack: “Trade in GE food and crops is dominated by a handful of multinational corporations. It is widely believed that these are the only beneficiaries of genetically engineered foods.”
But their claim evades that no business can exist without a profit, or make a profit by offering unhealthy food to its customers. Their statements really mean that they rather have businesses go bankrupt, than have them make a profit. They would rather have all of us starve than see any of us prosper.
Environmentalists claim that GE foods are dangerous or potentially dangerous to consumers and to the environment.
Friends of Earth lays down their main argument about the dangers of GE foods, “The health effects of eating GE foods are, as yet, unknown.”
But what this argument reveals is their ignorance. What they unwillingly admit is the knowledge that there were no damaging health effects observed since the introduction of GE crops, in 1996. Today GE crops cover about a hundred million acres in the US. This means that more than two hundred billion pounds of GE foods are being now produced every year!
The arbitrary assertion that GE foods are potentially dangerous, that they may possibly be harmful in some unknown way at some unknown time is no reason for banning them.
Even the recent allegations that a type of GE corn found in corn snacks could cause nausea and anaphylactic shock failed to provide the necessary evidence to support such claim. No clinical case demonstrating such allergic reactions was ever reported. Furthermore, the quantity of this type of GE corn found in Taco Bell tacos was an amount too small to be of any consequence–it did not exceed 1% of the total corn sampled. < ?XML:NAMESPACE PREFIX = O />
All available evidence indicates that GE foods are safe for our health and offer no greater health risks than traditionally produced foods.
In regard to harming our environment, the opposite is true: GE foods make our environment much better. They require fewer pesticides and insecticides. They help reduce or even eliminate populations of insects, weeds and parasites. But the best change they bring in our environment happens in our supermarket shelves, where we find them with ever better quality. A good example is the GE tomato that stays firmer for longer.
By manipulating plants still further with the new technology, scientists will be able to produce more nutritious and healthy food, with higher protein and vitamin contents.
New varieties of fruit and vegetables will be created that will enrich our choices and delight our taste. We soon might even see food especially engineered to combat disease, by methods such as incorporating disease fighting elements or vaccines into it.
It is worthy of note that increased yields will follow as a direct consequence of fewer losses in better protected crops, making food cheaper and more plentiful in the future.
We find ourselves today at the beginning of a revolution in agriculture that promises to change and improve our health and lives in unimaginable ways. All we need to achieve a better future is to let scientists and businessmen free to research, create, produce and trade.
Science and business together, relying on reason in an environment of freedom, have delivered and will keep delivering constant progress to our existence. Our lives will be healthier, longer and more pleasurable. Don’t let the environmentalists scare you. In fighting for GE foods we are fighting for our lives.