Today there’s a certain panic about the idea of genetically modified foods.mainly because of the distrust that these provoke in the public. Information campaigns on this type of product have been scarce, which together with some bad practices carried out by companies and farmers who worked with transgenics, has crystallized in a general rejection of these products.
As a general rule, people do not know exactly what a transgenic food is. nor what risks or benefits their consumption can bring them. In this article we will explain what transgenics are, their effect on health, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of using this type of product.
What are transgenic foods?
Food contains DNA. Both meat and plant-based ingredients are made from cells, most of them with a nucleus in which they contain DNA, which we consume naturally without any problem.
While there are organisms that can take advantage of the DNA in the food they consume, such as Elysia chloroticaa marine slug that adds some of the plant DNA it consumes, human beings do not integrate the DNA from food into our cells..
Transgenic foods are those for whom the genetic code has been modified in some way directly, such as by adding a gene they didn’t previously have. This can be used to introduce new interesting features to products, such as reduced need for water or nutrients or improved nutritional value, among many others.
This doesn’t mean that the food we usually eat is “in its original form”.or that it is better to eat unmodified food. In fact, some of the food we eat today, such as some fruits and vegetables – for example, melon or strawberries – is far removed from the wildest or most traditional varieties in agriculture.
Many of the vegetables we consume today are improved genetically, in a much slower, inefficient, and nonspecific way than we could do with genetic engineering. They are produced large numbers of random mutations in experimental plantationsto find possible new commercial plant varieties.
These mutant plants would be potentially more dangerous than transgenicsbecause during the mutagenesis process (usually carried out with radiation) they have more random mutations. But like any industrial product, several studies are carried out to ensure that its consumption does not present a danger.
To sum upgenetically modified foods are foods that have undergone some kind of specific change in the genetic code, with the express purpose of obtaining a better product, either economically, in terms of health or simply of higher quality.
Examples of transgenic foods
Transgenic foods are mostly of plant origin.. Its use is strongly regulated in the European Union, but certain varieties are still marketed, such as soybeans, cotton, maize or beets.
Transgenics are marketed both as plants and seeds for cultivation. Through the genetic modification of foods, they are obtained for example:
- Plant varieties more resistant to pests
- Herbicide Resistances
- Crops growing under more adverse conditions
- Crops with higher nutritional value
A famous example of transgenic food is the so-called “golden rice”.. It is a variety of rice whose grain contains a much higher amount of vitamin A, which prevents vitamin A deficiencies in populations that do not have easy access to it. They have even raised transgenic plants that act as an edible vaccine, protecting us from certain infectious diseases.
Are they bad for your health?
Let’s start by being clear: Transgenic products marketed for consumption do not pose a health risk.. Although they can produce substances that are not usual in their non-genetically modified forms, the introduction of a transgenic product to the market requires an assessment of its safety for the consumer, as in any other new product.
Now, we must also qualify. Most transgenic crops, especially those of modified soybeans, are prepared to resist certain herbicides and pesticides, such as glyphosate. This means that a large part of today’s transgenics (about 90% of U.S. transgenic soy) are exposed to high amounts of herbicides and pesticideswhich are also not in very high esteem by the consumer.
The effects of pesticides on consumer health are not always clearbut in the quantities used in the field they represent a damage to the health of farmers, people close to the fields, and of course also to the environment. In fact, pesticide use has been linked both to the mass death of bee colonies, and even to the emergence of autism in young children.
But it has to be clear when we say no, transgenic foods. merely because they’re transgenic. do not pose a risk to health, provided that a quality control has been carried out prior to marketing. Modifying an organism’s DNA can cause many changes, but genetic engineering considers the possible effects these may have on the consumer.
Problems and advantages of transgenic foods
The use of transgenics may reduce the need for pesticides and improve field yields in a way that would represent less environmental impact. They would be useful to fight diseases, famines or droughts, for example.
Even so, there are some real problems arising from the use of genetically modified crops. Transgenics can pose an ecological threat, replacing unmodified varieties or invading nearby crops and ecosystems.
They also pose a problem at the socio-economic level. Agricultural producers with more money can afford to use genetically modified crops, while more traditional farmers cannot, which can cause greater economic inequality in the sector due to the inability to compete with an objectively better product.
As if that weren’t enough, there have already been cases of unfair competition between farmersthrough the use of transgenics. If our neighbour grows glyphosate-resistant tomatoes but we do not, we are very vulnerable to acts of sabotage such as fumigation of our unmodified crops.
These are problems that must be addressed through agricultural, ecological, economic and scientific policies. The possible impact on the health of the population, as well as the local economy and ecology, must be studied before the implementation of a genetically modified organism.
- Bakian Amanda V, VanDerslice James A. (2019) Pesticides and autism BMJ.
- Haslberger, A. (2003). Codex guidelines for GM foods include the analysis of unintended effects. Nature Biotechnology, 21(7), 739-741. doi:10.1038/nbt0703-739.
- Clark, D., & Pazdernik, N. (2016). Transgenic Plants and Plant Biotechnology. Biotechnology, 461-492. doi:10.1016/b978-0-12-385015-7.00015-6.