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Precautionary Measures for Genetically Modified Foods

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Essay title: Precautionary Measures for Genetically Modified Foods

Genetically modified (GM) foods, a fairly recent development that came about from research in genetic engineering, pose a potential threat to human and environmental health. The basis of genetically modifying foods is the transferal of desirable genetic traits of plants to an agricultural crop. Genetic modification creates crops that are resistant to herbicides or can repel insects. Genetic modification also makes growing crops easier and allows for higher production rates. Anytime genetically altered crops are consumed by humans, the GM crops should be subjected to rigorous testing to assure that it is safe for human consumption and safe for the environment. When it comes to the environment and human safety, one cannot be too cautious. Some say that further safety testing of GM foods is not necessary because there is no evidence of GM foods being unsafe (Cockburn 2002). The truth is that the public does not yet trust that genetically modified foods are completely safe (Harlander 2002). The only way to convince the public that GM foods are safe and to create a market for GM foods is to perform further safety tests, such as a human study or controlled experiments. I propose that you fund this necessary and fundamental testing to ensure that GM foods are safe for the environment and for human consumption in order to help create a market for this life-improving product.

Genetically modified crops were first commercially introduced in the United States in 1996; and by 2001 24% of the corn, 63% of the soybeans, and 64% of the cotton

being grown in the U.S. were genetically modified varieties (Harlander 2002). Through genetic engineering, scientists have created varieties of crops that are insect-resistant, virus resistant, and herbicide tolerant. These qualities allow for improved yield and reduced use of potentially dangerous pesticides, as well as improved weed control reduced crop injury, reduction in foreign matter, reduced fuel use, and significant reduction in soil erosion. All of these consequences seem to be beneficial for the human race and the environment. It is important to prove to the public that GM foods are safe so that such a beneficial technology will not be under-utilized.

In the United States, three government agencies are involved in the approval of genetically modified crops. These three agencies are the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) (Harlander 2002). These agencies are responsible for ensuring that the GM crops are safe for the environment and for human consumption. More specifically, the USDA ensures that the GM crops are safe to grow, the EPA makes sure that the GM crops are safe for the environment, and the FDA ensures that the products are safe to eat (Harlander 2002). The three agencies put the genetically modified crops through rigorous environmental and food safety assessments before they can be commercialized. However, Susan Harlander reminds the scientific community "an effective food safety evaluation system minimizes risk, but it is important to remember that food is not inherently safe" (2002). Tampering with the genetics of a crop increases the possibility of that crop being dangerous to the environment or to human health. Bettie Sue Masters, PhD, states, "All evidence to date indicates that any breeding technique that alters a plant or animal, whether by genetic engineering or other methods, has the potential to create unintended changes in the quality or amounts of food components that could harm health" (qtd. in Panasevich 2004). It is highly likely that this lack of inherent safety is a reason why the public is so cautious about the acceptance of GM foods. The key to diminishing the public's fear of GM foods is to extend the safety evaluation process.

Consumers have two main concerns about genetically modified foods: first, that GM foods are unsafe to eat; and second, that their cultivation will harm the environment (Gasson 2001). Currently the most widely used safety evaluation process is called substantial equivalence. Michael Gasson and Derek Burke discuss substantial equivalence:

Substantial equivalence recognizes the fact that conventional foods have been eaten by many people over a long period of time and have an established and accepted level of safety. Genetic modification involves the introduction of a limited amount of change and substantial equivalence uses a comparative approach to reveal both intended and unintended differences between a genetically modified (GM) food and its conventional counterpart. (Gasson 2002)

If the genetically modified food is substantially equivalent to, or similar to, it's conventional counterpart, then it is generally regarded as safe. Thus far substantial equivalence has been effective, but as genetically

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