Kitchen Lab: Genetically Modified Food – GM Food?

At SteakOut, we do not support nor supply GM Food.

GM whole food are not presently available in Australia. However, some form of genetically modified food ingredients are present in some Australian food. For example, soy flour in bread may have come from imported GM soybeans.

What is GM Food?

GM foods are genetically modified using biotechnology. Some GM foods include maize, soybean, oilseed rape (canola), chicory, squash, potato, pineapple and strawberries. GM foods may provide greater resistance to pests and viruses, higher nutritional value and longer shelf life. However, their safety, potential risks and ethical concerns are still being debated. Laws to regulate labelling of GM foods vary.

A variety of foods can be genetically modified using biotechnology – these are known as GM foods. The genetic material may be altered with methods that do not occur naturally – this is known as ‘genetic engineering’. Selected individual genes with specific traits are transferred from one organism to another. Traditional breeding can achieve similar effects, but over a much longer time span. However, traditional breeding cannot achieve the same effects using a transferred gene from a non-related species – this is possible with GM foods.

Risks of genetically modified crops

Some concerns that have been raised by scientists, community groups and members of the public include:

  • New allergens could be inadvertently created – known allergens could be transferred from traditional foods into GM foods. For instance, during laboratory testing, a gene from the Brazil nut was introduced into soybeans. It was found that people with allergies to Brazil nuts could also be allergic to soybeans that had been genetically modified in this way and so the project was ceased. No allergic effects have been found with currently approved GM foods.
  • Antibiotic resistance may develop – bioengineers sometimes insert a selectable ‘marker’ gene to help them identify whether a new gene has been successfully introduced to the host DNA. One such marker gene is for resistance to particular antibiotics. If genes coded for such resistance enter the food chain and are taken up by human gut microflora, the effectiveness of antibiotics could be reduced and human infectious disease risk increased. Research has shown that the risk is very low; however, there is general agreement that use of these markers should be phased out.
  • Cross-breeding – other risks include the potential for cross-breeding between GM crops and surrounding vegetation, including weeds. This could result in weeds that are resistant to herbicides and would thus require a greater use of herbicides, which could lead to soil and water contamination. The environmental safety aspects of GM crops vary considerably according to local conditions.
  • Herbicide tolerant (HR) crops – the introduction of the glyphosate resistant soybean in 1996 was the start of crops that gave farmers an opportunity to reduce the cost of their herbicide use. However, the increasing acreage of HR crops (such as soybean and canola) has resulted in an increase in the types of weeds that are now glyphosate resistant (GR). These GR weeds may have a major environmental influence on crop production in years to come.
  • Pesticide resistant insects – the genetic modification of some crops to permanently produce the natural biopesticide Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxin could encourage the evolution of Bt-resistant insects, rendering the spray ineffective. Wherever pesticides are used, insect resistance can occur and good agricultural practice includes strategies to minimise this.
  • Biodiversity – growing GM crops on a large scale may also have implications for biodiversity, the balance of wildlife and the environment. This is why environmental agencies closely monitor their use. Since bees are used to pollinate crops, there is also some suggestion that GM crops may affect organic farming.
  • Cross-contamination – plants bioengineered to produce pharmaceuticals (such as medicines) may contaminate food crops. Provisions have been introduced in the USA requiring substantial buffer zones, use of separate equipment and a rule that land used for such crops lie fallow for the next year.
  • Pesticide use – the use of pesticide resistant (Bt) crops would suggest a reduction in the application of pesticides; however, recent surveys in the USA suggest that Bt-corn that targets corn borer has not lowered pesticide use, since most pesticides are directed against other corn pests.
  • Health effects – minimal research has been conducted into the potential acute or chronic health risks of using GM foods and of their performance in relation to a range of health effects. Research also needs to involve independent (not company-based) assessment of the long-term effects of GM crops in the field and on human health.

Social and ethical concerns

Concerns about the social and ethical issues surrounding genetic modification include:

  • The possible monopolisation of the world food market by large multinational companies that control the distribution of GM seeds.
  • Using genes from animals in plant foods may pose ethical, philosophical or religious problems. For example, eating traces of genetic material from pork could be a problem for certain religious or cultural groups.
  • Animal welfare could be adversely affected. For example, cows given more potent GM growth hormones could suffer from health problems related to growth or metabolism.
  • New GM organisms could be patented so that ‘life’ itself could become commercial property through patenting.

Where to get help

Things to remember

  • There are potential benefits, risks and ethical concerns regarding GM foods that are still being researched and debated.
  • The health risks associated with consuming GM foods or ingredients have not been unequivocally established.
  • There is no current evidence that suggests that GM foods are likely to be harmful to health.
  • GM foods sold in Australia, or foods containing GM ingredients, are required by law to be labelled.

For more information

Please check out the following link http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Genetically_modified_foods

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