The debate over genetic modification has 2 strands - saving lives by
helping to find new cures to diseases, and saving lives by providing the
world with abundant food and fewer pesticides (and chemicals) in
These are both worthy causes so technically we should be in favour,
most people want to cure diseases so genetic modification is not such a
bad thing after all. Swapping one gene with another to produce the
miracle cure could be accepted as OK, and for many people that day can't
come too soon.
There is a great deal of distrust with food, we can't do without it
but do we really want what is on offer. Faced with food scares such as
BSE and E. Coli and the health issues where a certain food could
possibly cause cancer. It is quite easy to be scared of the thought of
some giant conglomerate playing god with our food 'in the interests of
producing more food or is it profit'.
Making a food more nutritious is a worthy cause, in the third world
rice which has a much higher vitamin A level will indeed reduce the
problems of blindness in these poor populations. Blindness means not
being able to go to school or work in these subsistence nations. For
richer nations fortified foods may be produced to help prevent cancers
or heart disease.
Producing more food is a more debatable argument, do we really need
more food, globally enough food is produced, it is just unevenly
distributed, in the third world, food supplies are often decimated by
natural disasters such as droughts and floods. Malnutrition through
lack of calories and lack of foods to provide the right nutrients is a
Malnutrition in the developed countries is also a major health
problem, but this is the case of over-nutrition, the UK populations are
now the fattest people in Europe and we are not that far behind the
populations of the USA. For many people food is so cheap that we can
afford food in abundance and the price we pay are the diseases of
affluent living such as heart disease and some cancers.
Can we avoid Genetically Modified Foods if we wish?
In theory yes we can, there are laws in force which state clearly
that GM foods must be labelled, some food manufacturers have stated that
they will avoid the use of GM foods if at all possible. The weakness
in food labelling occurs if the amount of the GM food is less than 1% of
the total product. Avoiding processed foods is one way around this
issue except that there is debate over the spread of pollen from GM
crops to non-GM crops.
What else do we need to know?
At present there are no issues that affect allergy sufferers,
although there were reports that a brazil nut gene inserted into soya
caused an allergic response, fortunately for nut allergy sufferers this
GM product never got very far. For religious groups there are other
issues in relation to the use of pig genes for use in GM foods, they are
unacceptable for consumption by Muslims and the Jewish population.
Where else can we get help?
Further information of labelling of foodstuffs is available from The Food Standards Agency.
Facts and figures about GM foods: The Soil Association.
An independent UK watchdog on food issues - produced a poster on GM
food and regularly produce a newsletter with topical issues related to
food: The Food Commission.