Thesis: Genetically Modified Foods

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FAILURE of TODAY'S GENERATION in CRITICAL EXAMINATION of FOOD PRODUCTS PRIOR to CONSUMPTION

The report of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations states that GM crops are "commercially available and planted on more than 40 million hectares across six continents. These plants represent the largest-scale experience in the introduction of GMOs into ecosystems, and they have become the focus of environmental concerns." (2001) However, the truth is that most consumers are very little informed about genetically modified foods.

It was reported by the Government Accounting Office on May 23, 2002, that modern agricultural biotechnology is that which refers to "various scientific techniques, most notably genetic engineering, used to modify plants, animals or microorganism by introducing their genetic make up genes for specific desired traits, including genes from unrelated species." (United States General Accounting Office, 2002) Cross-breeding has taken place for many centuries with both plants and animal species for the purpose of developing "new varieties or hybrids with desirable traits, such as better taste or increased productivity" however crossbreeding is stated to be "very time-consuming because it may required breeding several generations to obtain a desired trait and breed out numerous unwanted characteristics." (United States General Accounting Office, 2002)

Because of the ability of genetic engineering techniques of introducing a specific trait into a plant or animal species genetic engineering is now preferred because it enables more speed in developing new crop and livestock varieties. Genetic engineering also is stated to increase "the range of traits available for developing new varieties by allowing genes from totally unrelated species to be incorporated into a particular plant or animal variety." (United States General Accounting Office, 2002)

I. Genetic Engineering's Beginnings

Scientists did not learn how to extract a specific gene from a DNA strand and insert this gene into a different organism for the purpose of continuing the production of that same protein in other organisms until the 1970s. Since that time this technology has been applied to animals, plants and even bacteria. This technique has been used for the production of plants that are pest-resistant through identification of a gene responsible for pest resistance in an organism and then through isolation of the gene, copying of the gene and insertion of the gene into the DNA of the target plant. The next step was testing of the plant to determine whether the transfer of those traits was successful.

The offerings of today's biotechnology are various both in terms of the potential benefits and the potential risks. Biotechnology has served to enhance the production of food by rendering plants that are more resilient to harsh conditions such as frost, droughts, viruses and insects. In addition, biotechnology has served to enable plants in their ability to compete against weed varieties for nutrients in the soil and has even served to improve the nutritional quality of foods through alteration of the composition of foods.

The potential risks of biotechnology include those related to the environment and the risks to individuals consuming genetically modified foods. Fears include the potential for common plant pests developing resistance to the GM crop pesticides and that crops that are modified to provide herbicide toleration might result in evolving 'super weeds'. (United States General Accounting Office, 2002) Scientists have expressed a fear that a food allergen or toxin might accidentally be created.

II. Accountability and Testing Standards

It is stated by the Government Account Office that all foods "including those from GM plants, pose the same types of inherent risks to human health: they can cause allergic or toxic reactions, or they can block the absorption of nutrients." (United States General Accounting Office, 2002) Scientists have agreed that while some genetically modified foods have contained "allergens, toxins, and antinutrients...the levels of these compounds have been comparable to those found in the foods' conventional counterparts." (United States General Accounting Office, 2002)

Each GM food is put through a regimen of tests and evaluations which beings with testing the source of the gene that is transferred and then moving on to testing that examines the GM food as compared to conventional food varieties with allergens, toxins, and antinutrients that are already known. The standard for safety in testing genetically modified foods is that the genetically modified foods are considered to be safe if "the risks levels are within the same range as those for conventional food." (United States General Accounting Office, 2002)

III. Pew Research Survey Reported

A Pew Research report states the following key findings on consumer opinions of genetically modified food products:

(1) Public knowledge and understanding of biotechnology remains relatively low;

(2) Consumers know little about the extent to which their foods include genetically modified ingredients;

(3) While support for genetically modified foods has been stable, opposition has softened and opinions on safety remain split;

(4) Animal cloning evinces much stronger opposition than does modifications of plants;

(5) Consumers look closest to them -- especially friends and loved ones -- as trusted sources of information on genetically modified foods and biotechnology;

(6) While religious belief has some impact, it is not a key source of variation in public attitudes toward biotechnology; and (7) Overall, Americans' attitudes towards genetic modification remain fluid, and the opportunity to shape public opinion is ripe. (Pew Research Report, 2006)

The Pew Research report states that the familiarity of the public with genetically modified foods has declined over the past five years. For example, in January 2001 American consumers stating they had heard "a great deal" about genetically modified foods is stated at 45% while 54% claimed to have not heard very much and 29% stated they had heard nothing at all. In 2004, only 32% had heard a "great deal" about genetically modified foods however, this increased to 41% in 2005. The Pew Research Report states specifically as follows:

"Beyond professed awareness of genetically modified foods, there is clearly very little in-depth knowledge of the topic among American consumers. Just 26% believe that they have eaten genetically modified foods, while 60% believe they have not. This number has varied somewhat over the years, with no consistent pattern." (Pew Research Report, 2006) the truth is that most, if not all Americans have eaten genetically modified foods in one form or another." (Pew Research Report, 2006)

The fact is that "as one might expect, those who know the least are also least likely to believe they have eaten them." (Pew Research Report, 2006 )

Individuals who regularly purchase organic goods which is stated to be individuals who purchase organic foods more often than once per week are those who are most likely to report that they have consumed genetically modified foods. It is reported that 38% of those who purchase organic foods believe that they have consumed genetically modified foods and that 54$ of those who purchase organic foods believe they have not consumed genetically modified foods. In comparison, individuals who have not purchased organic foods stated that they have consumed genetically modified foods is stated at 17% and those who purchase organic foods stating that they have not consumed genetically modified foods is stated at 68%.

Consumers willingly admit that they are not very knowledgeable about the regulation of the government in the area of genetically modified foods as consumers state the following:

Individuals who report they know a great deal

3%

Individuals who state they know 'some'

15%

Individuals who state they know 'not too much'

32%

Individuals who state they know 'nothing at all'

42% (Pew Research Report, 2006)

IV. Consumer Attitudes Towards Nutritionally Enhanced Genetically Modified Foods

The work of Hossain and Onyango (2004) entitled: "Product Attributes and Consumer Acceptance of Nutritionally Enhanced Genetically Modified Foods" reports a study that utilized data from a national survey in analyzing the acceptance of U.S. consumers of genetically modified foods that provide additionally benefits in terms of nutrition. The findings in this report state that the economic and demographic variables of consumers are "...only weakly related to their acceptance of food biotechnology, especially when technology involves plant-to-plant DNA transfer." (Hossain and Onyango, 2004) Findings additionally report that trust and acceptance of the public of food biotechnology is "significantly related" to acceptance of consumers of food biotechnology" and that overall the acceptance of consumers of bioengineered foods "is driven primarily by public perceptions of risks, benefits and safety of these food products." (Hossain and Onyango, 2004)

V. Consumer Knowledge & Opinions in China, Japan and Europe

It is reported in the Journal of Agrobiotechnology Management and Economic in the work entitled: "Consumer Attitudes Toward Genetically Modified Foods in Beijing, China" that a survey conducted in Beijing China in 2002 among consumers finds that "the majority of surveyed consumers reported that they had little or not knowledge of the biotechnology" however, it is additionally reported that "their attitudes towards genetically modified (GM) foods was generally positive, especially for genetically modified foods with product-enhancing attributes." (Li, Curtis, McCluskey, and Wahl, 2002)

The survey reports that while Chinese consumers generally favor the use of biotechnology in… [END OF PREVIEW]

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