Effects of GMO Foods on Animals and Humans

Since the beginning of time, human beings have overcome many challenges that have threatened their existence. Some of these problems have encouraged great innovations in medicine and science, leading to improved quality of life. However, food shortage is a common problem, especially in developing countries, which continuously experience hunger, starvation, and malnutrition. Rapid population growth globally has further worsened the situation. As a result, people have for a long time feared that population increase can cause food shortages and hunger. Even scholars like Robert Malthus indicated that people will suffer due to food shortages (Agarwal par. 4). Robert Malthus argued that that rapid population growth would exceed food production, hence famine, diseases, and wars (Agarwal par. 6). Right now, the world population is over 7 billion people, which is higher than Malthus imagined. Even though people have managed to maintain agricultural productivity, there are worries that agriculture may not meet the demand for food if it is not altered. The introduction of genetically modified organisms was seen as a solution to address food shortages. According to Li and Bautista, genetically modified foods are food products obtained from plants and animals whose genetic make-up has been altered in ways that do not occur naturally (1). The primary reasons for modifying the genetic composition of organisms are to decrease crop damage, enhance the nutritional value of foods, and improve yields (Li and Bautista 1). Moreover, genetic engineering is also seen as “a means to reduce food prices and combat malnutrition, especially in developing countries, where the population outweighs local food production” (Li and Bautista 1). In this line, Mousavian et al. contend that genetic modification of food products has increased over recent years to decrease global poverty and hunger and promote food production (168). Genetic modification can be natural, for example, when two animals are mated to produce better offspring. It can also be harmless to others. In other cases, genetic modification involves the manufacturing of a gene in a laboratory. People have fear for genetically modified organisms (GMOs) because they are made in laboratories. Due to this fear, it is important to explore the topic to determine if individuals’ fear of the safety of GMOs is true.

Following the purpose of the exploratory essay, the paper looks at various scholarly sources, which include peer reviewed journal articles, books, and professional and scientific websites. The sources collected their evidence from individuals, other journal articles, state legislations on possible hazards from GMOs, and census statistics. This essay will explore the topic to determine debates on GMOs and the truth of the matter by looking at different pieces of literature. It will also explore whether the fear for GMOs and general effects of toxicity, cancer, and reduced nutritional value is true.

GMOs have been around for a long time. However, as MacDonald, Colombo, and Arts suggest, GMOs have attracted significant controversy and ethical debates among the public and regulatory authorities concerning their potential risks and benefits to human beings and society (1485). They started to be feared a long time ago when people knew that scientists could manufacture complete organisms through artificial means. Many people thought that GMOs were the work of God, and so they regarded gene manufacturing as an abomination. According to Haggarty-Weir, religious groups argue that life is sacred and all gene technologies and discoveries should not patentable (par. 6). According to MacDonald et al., “critics worry that GE crops pose risks to normal ecosystems functioning, reduce biodiversity, impoverish farmers in developing countries, pose risks to human health, and perhaps constitute a violation of the natural order” (1486). However, GMOs did not always mean artificial changing of genes. People realized that crossing animals or crops produced better offspring. A good example is when the product of a donkey and a horse gave a stronger offspring that lived longer and was faster than a donkey. The mule was a product of mating a donkey with a female horse (Bittman 162). This was done in nature and does not harm humans and animals. People also found other organisms that improved each other to create different types of hybrids. Scientists used gene technology to discover why mated animals and crops were stronger, which lead to the making of genetically modified organisms. However, it is not clear whether GMOs may affect humans and animals just because they are made in laboratories.

Genetic modification of organisms is an old practice in human history. It has taken place for many years and was used in old societies. This practice enabled early humans to invent the first maize crops from grass and was used to cultivate and improve wheat in the early Roman Empire. Research on the origin of maize indicates that maize evolved from a grass called teosinte approximately 9,000 years ago in Mexico (Fraser par. 1). The difference between old times and now is the accuracy of the method. In the old societies, it took learning effort to evolve an animal or a crop. It also took seasons of learning, observing, experimenting, and waiting. Today, the process is different because it is as direct as picking the required gene, isolating it, and placing it where it is needed. In their research on genome editing, Zhang et al. suggest that the previous three decades have seen significant growth in genome editing technologies including TALENS, ZFNs, ODM, and the CRISPR-Cas system, which have resulted in substantial improvement in plant and animal breeding (1651). The CRISPR-Cas system is considered as the most adaptable genome editing technology uncovered in the historical life of molecular biology since it can be engaged to change varying genomes for both animals and plants, including human genomes, with significant ease, increased efficiency, and accuracy (Zhang et al. 1651). The modern approach has advanced and adopted the use of other artificial additions to the process that worry people who do not understand them.

One of the concerns about GMOs is their toxicity and negative effects on people and animals. GMO products can damage several organs and systems in animals and populations. Diets with GMO food may be toxic. The effects of insertion and allergic responses are sometimes found in GMOs (Huang 63). Besides, pleiotropic effects might cause genes to be expressed even if they are not turned on previously and change their level. The activity of the existing genes in humans and animals interact and develop new toxic compounds and interrupt metabolism. It is difficult to eliminate such effects, causing safety issues. The insertional effects are due to the development of new genes, which increase the anti-nutrients, some of which cannot be reduced by heat treatment. GMOs can cause infertility because they are heat-stable anti-nutrients. Keshani et al. report that GM foods are attributed to be the main cause of the increasing incidence of infertility, which has become a major problem globally (1). Approximately 8-12% of couples in their reproductive age are likely to experience infertility worldwide (Keshani et al. 1). Furthermore, Keshani et al. say that there is a high likelihood that GM foods affect sperm features, such as motility, morphology, and abnormal steroid hormones, which potentially influence the prevalence of infertility (2). However, there is a need for further investigation on this topic as other research outcomes indicate that GM foods have no association with cases of infertility.

Viral DNA that is used to modify plants has negative consequences on humans and animals. According to Ardekan and Shirzad, most GMOs have a virus that can be transferred horizontally to mate with the new gene (65). Due to this possibility, GMOs can transfer to non-GMOs when natural products are planted together. The horizontal transfer causes diseases and other bad consequences, such as reactivation of dormant viruses, mutagenesis, or carcinogenesis (Ardekan and Shirzad 65). Another effect of this transfer is that the GMOs reduce the effectiveness of antimicrobial therapy by transferring the virus to the pathogenic bacteria found in the gut (Lee et al. 292). For example, the development of soybean-allergy in the U.K is attributed to the consumption of non-GM soybean meant for the U.S. market (Lee et al. 292). This implies that more people are exposed to toxic proteins that cause ill-health and allergy as long as GMO food is available.

Other studies do not agree with the idea about toxicity diet in GMO products. The World Health Organization (WHO) is one of the agencies that refused to acknowledge that reality. It said that GMO products available for public consumption have been assessed for allergy (Lee et al. 292). The organization acknowledged that many people have consumed food made from GM technology without causing negative effects. For example, a scientific advisory board found that GMO products and natural crops have no difference. Thus, the WHO’s use of strict protocols and regulatory measures before selling GMO products denies the toxicity and other risks of GM crops. Moreover, research conducted by Naegeli et al. found that “soybean DAS–81419–2 9 DAS–44406–6, as described in this application, is as safe as the conventional counterpart and the tested non-GM reference varieties with respect to potential effects on human and animal health and the environment” (3). Further research needs to be done to establish the toxicity of other GMOs.

There is a debate over whether GMO consumption of GMOs causes cancer or reduces the risks of getting it. Genetically engineered foods on the market contribute to the food supply and provide ample nutrition for all. For a long time, people have been consuming food made of GMOs and they are healthy, meaning that it is safe (Krimsky 887). This observation means that it is a myth to say that GMOs are unsafe and cause cancer. Dana-Farber, of the Cancer Institute, who sought to determine if GMOs increase the risk of developing cancer, argues that there is inadequate evidence to show that GMOs and genetically modified foods increase cancer risk (par. 9). Also, Dana-Farber suggests that eating adequate fruits and vegetables, irrespective of how they are produced, is increasingly beneficial compared to the avoidance of any possible risks of pesticides used on fruits and other food products (par. 9). Available research also contradicts this observation and causes more controversy.

Similarly, GMOs are said to have considerable harm to the environment. In a survey on safety hazard control of GMOs, Chen reports that GMOs have bad effects on the environment (39). Chen suggests that while non-GMOs result from natural evolution, GMOs are the product of artificial genetic transformation (39). Therefore, when GMOs are introduced to the natural environment, they have a negative effect on the natural ecology. Chen says that the introduction of GMOs in the natural environment causes an imbalance in the original ecosystem and changes the environment and other organisms, which affects biodiversity and changes the drug resistance of the target pest (39). Reports from the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network indicate that the increase in GMOs has led to an increase herbicide use and diversity loss whereby some genetically modified crops have caused adverse effects on non-target environmental organisms as well as on water and soil ecosystems (par.6). The negative effect of GMOs on the natural environment is something that needs further consideration.

Those who oppose GMO products refuse to accept the available evidence that GMOs are safe and can be consumed and say that such foods cause cancer. The GMO crops resist herbicides and force farmers to use large quantities of herbicides. These pesticides and herbicides are said to increase the risk of developing cancer (Silva et al. 11). Chemical substances found in these chemicals play a significant role in the development of tumors because of their actions. For instance, some studies indicate that men doing agricultural jobs have a higher chance of developing prostate cancer than their counterparts from other professions. Kachuri et al conducted a survey on the risk of cancer among agricultural workers and established that exposure to pesticides heightens the likelihood of developing hematopoietic cancers among this population (13).  In addition, modern cancer therapies use diet and focus more on conventional diets that are rich in fruits, vegetables, and grains to reduce the negative health effects of GMOs.

The insertion of gene plant species by cloning increases the nutritional value of foods and their supply. Regardless, many people do not agree with this perspective since there are those supporting it and others opposing it. Supporters argue that, with reduced pesticide, GM foods have more flavor and nutrition. Furthermore, the modern generation of GM crops is said to produce higher yields during poor weather conditions (Harrison and Bartkus 4). The improved food quality due to genetic engineering stems is because of resistance to damage by pests, increased nutritional quality, tolerance to herbicides, and a controllable period of plant development. This ability to grow under bad environmental conditions reduces the risk factors associated with GM food products, such as negative effects of microorganisms and less nutritional value. Other studies have also shed light on the reduced nutritional value of GMO foods. For example, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently said that foods, such as the GMO-based Golden Rice, do not meet the nutritional requirements in making health claims (Wilson and Latham par.5). The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) denied these claims and said that Golden Rice has three added genes that increase its nutritional content (Wilson and Latham par. 9). Despite the controversy, many studies have pointed to the high nutritional value of GMO foods. Thus, GMOs’ good health and productive life lead to diets of high nutritional value.

As GMO products continue to be sold in the markets, there has been an increasing public interest in information about their safety. In most cases, the concerns are to do with how they affect humans, animals, and the environment. Though many studies have tried to bring other hypotheses about the benefits of GMOs, most of them are not conclusive enough and they are not reliable. Regardless, several scientific studies have looked at the toxicity, genetic variability, and allergenicity of GMOs, with most of the results pointing to the negative health impact, especially when consumed more than required. More research is needed to provide more knowledge and evidence and ensure people that GMOs are safe for use.

Additionally, the results of numerous studies provide critical information and indicate that GM food’s commercialization has led to unwanted risks to humans and animals, such as new viruses, allergies, toxicity, and antibiotic resistance. Furthermore, people still fear GMOs because of the many safety hazards towards them. While GMOs help in increasing food production, it has many disadvantages. The increased use of herbicides is linked with the increase in cancer cases, especially among agricultural workers. The health risks of GMO foods could be more dangerous than we know right now. However, organizations, such as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) are also involved in this debate and they both suggest that GMOs may not be unsafe to animals and humans as most people think. Future research on this topic will need to show the negative effects of GMOs on the environment and humans. We need to know the truth if we are to survive on this earth for years to come.

Works Cited

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Ardekan, Ali M., and Masoomeh Shirzad. “Genetically Modified (GM) Foods and the Risk to

Human Health and Environment.” Health Biotechnology and Biopharma, vol. 3, no. 2, 2019, pp. 61-73. DOI: 10.22034/HBB.2019.18

Bittman, Mark. Animal, Vegetable, Junk: A History of Food, from Sustainable to Suicidal. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2021.

Canadian Biotechnology Action Network. Environmental Impacts. n.d., cban.ca/gmos/issues/environmental-impacts/>. Accessed 13 Feb. 2021.

Chen, Songfei. “Research on Safety Hazard Control of Genetically Modified Organisms Based on Compensation Laws.” Journal of Commercial Biotechnology, vol. 23, no. 4, 2017, pp. 38-43.DOI:10.5912/jcb812.

Dana-Farber. Is There Evidence that GMOs Can Cause Cancer? Cancer Health, 11 Sep. 2019, www.cancerhealth.com/article/evidence-gmos-can-cause-cancer>. Accessed 13 Feb. 2021.

Fraser, Barbara. Ancient DNA Reveals the Surprisingly Complex Origin Story of Corn. Discover Magazine, 13 Dec. 2018, www.discovermagazine.com/planet-earth/ancient-dna-reveals-the-surprisingly-complex-origin-story-of-corn>. Accessed 13 Feb. 2021.

Haggarty-Weir, Christopher. Arguments For and Against GMO Patents. Mostly Science, 10 Mar. 2019, mostlyscience.com/2019/03/arguments-for-and-against-gmo-patents/>. Accessed 13 Feb. 2021.

Harrison, Jake, and Kenneth Bartkus. “GMO Products and the Food Industry: A Literature

Review of the Opinions and Behaviors by U.S. Restaurants.” Curiosity, vol. 1, no. 1, 2020, pp. 1-7. https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1005&context=curiosity.

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Kachuri, Linda, et al. “Cancer Risks in a Population-Based Study of 70,570 Agricultural Workers: Results from the Canadian Census Health and Environment Cohort (CanCHEC).” BMC Cancer, vol. 17, no. 343, 2017, pp. 1-15. DOI: 10.1186/s12885-017-3346-x.

Keshani, Parisa, et al. “The Effect of Genetically Modified Food on Infertility Indices: ASystematic Review Study.” The Scientific World Journal, vol. 2020, 2020, pp. 1-7. https://doi.org/10.1155/2020/1424789

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