Genetically modified (GM) food and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are bioengineered crops developed by major agricultural farmers and have been commercially available for decades (Kramkowska, Grzelak & Czyzewska 2013). The species were created to grow crops that are resistant to herbicides and insects, resulting in a higher crop yield. GMOs are influenced by the idea of selective breeding, which has been used for centuries. They are used in the manufacture of drugs, meats, and a wide range of scientific research (Wunderlish & Gatto 2015). The initial scientific model of GMO was designed in 1974, for kanamycin resistance in a toad by using and modifying the bacterial DNA. The later experiments included producing first transgenic mouse and first transgenic plant with the target of improved nutritive value (Kramkowska, Grzelak & Czyzewska 2013).
While the transgenic animals are designed mostly for scientific research and medicinal experiments, the transgenic plants have achieved a higher score for its success and thus have gained access to reach the commercial market since two decades. Where on the other hand the knowledge of consumers related to GMO crops has not reached to a satisfactory rate. At a worldwide level consumers have provided the unfamiliarity, lesser knowledge, and misunderstanding related to food products, bringing a questionable attitude of consumers for the use of GMOs (Wunderlish & Gatto 2015). Besides consumers many of the individuals working in health care and medical related domains have also showed an unacceptable response towards GMO. They showed their concerns on the scientific methods being used, experiment designs, test subjects, samples size, duration, validation of risk and benefits along with ethical acceptance.
Scientists approached the selective breeding approach for GMOs to reach an advanced level in health sector by providing the resistance to diseases. GMO animals are targeted basically for the improvement in medicines, GMO crops are being used to target human population of all groups and ethnicity with the claims of better quality food supporting health benefits (Fraiture et al. 2015). GM food aims to provide alteration in chemical composition of the food products targeting their enrichment by increasing nutritive value and high utility in comparison to traditional food products. For example, golden rice, rich in beta carotene, vitamin A and pro-vitamins. The reason for the introduction of golden rice was to reduce malnutrition by producing a food product with high nutritive value at a lower price (Kramkowska, Grzelak & Czyzewska 2013).
GM food and organisms also aimed to alter the functional traits with improved technology and utility. For example, production of FlavrSarvr Tomatoes, a genetic transformation leading to silencing of polygalacturonase enzyme (responsible for ripening) and reduced metabolic activity which helps in long storage of tomatoes (Kramkowska, Grzelak & Czyzewska 2013).
GM food and organisms provides therapeutic substances and opens an opportunity to discover a novel prospective in medicine and therapeutics. For example, transgenic types of food products such as potatoes, salads, tomatoes etc. can potentially produce the substances or oral vaccines which can develop an immune response against a particular pathogen (Kramkowska, Grzelak & Czyzewska 2013). Therapeutic proteins are also among the beneficial effects of GMOs. These are safe for public health and environment and can potentially reduce the economic burden of food and medicine among poor class of society and can bring a new prospective to future of GM food and organisms.
While on the other hand, the use of GM food and organisms still remains a threat to health and environment. The issue with the use of GM food was related to the anxiety and concerns of public regarding the alternation in the natural process of recombination and propagation because of molecular biology techniques. The main threat was food allergy risk because of GM proteins (Kramkowska, Grzelak & Czyzewska 2013). The GMOs has been dangling around the cause and conflicts of scientist and ethical committees. There are certain reasons of ethical considerations which hurdles the approval of consistent use of GMO on regular basis. The first issue included the practical constraints of field tests because of small sample size experiments of transgenic plants which constituted an improper practice in risk assessment. Also there is not an available record of enough data supply for the characterization of risk of marketable end product for any crop regime. For example, Bt corn (Rajan &Deborah 2012).
The other threats included production of toxic compounds affecting the health of consumers. For example, toxic oil syndrome (TOS) as a result of modified rape oil (Kramkowska, Grzelak & Czyzewska 2013). GM products also seems to be alarming an increase in tumor related morbidity, affecting liver, kidneys and pancreas (Kramkowska, Grzelak & Czyzewska 2013).
Multiple ethical concerns were raised in risk assessment of GM products, their use and benefits or threat to the public health and environment. Based on the risk assessment, use of GM products can cause a potential threat on health and environment because the low available data limits the significant detection of type II errors when it is already present, and thus inappropriate estimation of probability test for risk management in the results. Risk assessment requires independent variables with different range of environment and conditions, involvement of endless testing and risk assessment done case by case with the involvement of extrapolation which apparently is not possible in a small set of study (Rajan &Deborah 2012).
The other issue which raised ethical concerns was the GMO regulated field test without biosafety practice and non-consideration of the complexity of interaction of unregulated surrogates for GMO production. Another issue concern was the low funding for the development of GMO which does not provide a comprehensive data to support a decision.
The issue of conflicts of ethical considerations are purely based on environment and public health thus can be variable. The scope of knowledge is based on the risk assessment familiarity in GMO. The familiarity is derived by experts with knowledge in their field of domain of organism, trait, population, environment with varied understanding over the time, thus, thoughts can be conflicting as well (Rajan &Deborah 2012). The scientist with a knowledge in bioengineering, biotechnology, requirements of organism behavior and environmental conditions evaluate their results on a different prospective of new traits and its further scope.
GMO are still facing the debates of ethical approval and therefore their commercialization might have been allowed however, their use cannot be forced on its consumers even if it has all the ethical clearances. While GMOs can be beneficial in many ways such as producing advanced medicine and food at a cheaper cost, they are also posing a threat both on environment and health due to issues like toxin production, alteration in natural process causing resistance. Thus, whether their use is beneficial or a threat to public health and environment still remains unclear.
Fraiture, M.-A., Herman, P., Taverniers, I., De Loose, M., Deforce, D., & Roosens, N. H. “Current and New Approaches in GMO Detection: Challenges and Solutions”. BioMed Research International, 2015, pp. 1-22. http://doi.org/10.1155/2015/392872
Kramkowsa, M., Grezelak, T., & Czyzewska, K. “Benefits and risk associated with genetically modified food products”. Annals of Agriculture and Environmental Medicine, vol. 20, no. 3, 2013, pp. 413-419.
Rajan, S. R., & Letourneau, D. K. “What Risk Assessments of Genetically Modified Organisms Can Learn from Institutional Analyses of Public Health Risks”. Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology, 2012, pp. 1-8. http://doi.org/10.1155/2012/203093
Wunderlich, S., & Gatto, K. A. “Consumer Perception of Genetically Modified Organisms and Sources of Information”. Advances in Nutrition, vol.6, no. 6, 2015, pp. 842–851. http://doi.org/10.3945/an.115.008870