Health, Ethical and Environmental Concerns
1. Health concerns
There are potential consequences of changing the natural state of an organism through foreign gene expression. Such modifications can alter the organism's metabolism, growth rate, and/or response to external environmental factors. These impacts affect not only the GMO itself, but also the natural environment in which that organism proliferates. Potential health risks to humans include the potential exposure to new allergens in genetically modified foods, in addition to the transfer of antibiotic-resistant genes to gut flora (Phillips, 2008, World Health Organisation, 2018).
- Gene transfer
Gene transfer of pesticide, herbicide, or antibiotic resistance to other organisms not only increases risks to humans, but it could also cause ecological imbalances, enabling previously innocuous plants to grow uncontrolled, thereby promoting the development of disease among both plants and animals. Although the possibility of horizontal gene transfer between GMOs and other organisms cannot be denied, in reality, such risks are considered to be quite low (Phillips, 2008, World Health Organisation, 2018).
GM foods currently available on international markets have fulfilled international safety standards and are unlikely to present risks for human health. In addition, no effects on human health have occurred as a result of consumption of such foods by the general population in countries where they have been approved (World Health Organisation, 2018)
Migration of genes from GM plants into conventional crops or related species in the wild (referred to as “outcrossing”), including the mixing of crops derived from conventional seeds with GM crops, may indirectly affect food safety and food security. Incidents exist where GM crops approved for animal feed or industrial use were detected at low levels in products intended for human consumption. Numerous countries have adopted strategies to reduce mixing, including clear division of fields within which GM crops and conventional crops are grown (World Health Organisation, 2018).
2. Ethical and Religious Concerns
- Ethical issues surrounding GMOs focus on our right to "play God," in addition to the introduction of foreign substances into foods that are avoided for religious reasons. Some people maintain that altering nature in such a way is intrinsically wrong, and others maintain that embedding plant genes in animals, or vice versa, is immoral. Where GM foods are concerned, those who feel strongly that the development of GMOs is contrary to nature or religion have called for transparent labelling guidelines so they can make informed decisions when making purchases. Respect for consumer choice and assumed risk is as important as having safeguards to prevent mixing of genetically modified products with non-genetically modified foods (Phillips, 2008).
- The environmental safety aspects of GM crops vary considerably according to local conditions (World Health Organisation, 2018). However, there are a number of environmental concerns associated with GMOs. Specifically, there is potential for:
- A GMO to escape and introduce engineered genes into wild populations;
- Persistence of the gene after the GMO has been harvested
- Susceptibility of non-target organisms (e.g. insects which are not pests) to the gene product
- Stability of the gene
- Reduction in the variety of other plants including loss of biodiversity
- Increased use of chemicals in agriculture
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