Advocates say genetically modified (GM) foods allow farmers to produce more with fewer chemicals: which means a cleaner environment and cheaper groceries for us all. But the question remains: What impact do GM foods have on our health?
The answer is, no one really knows. GM foods have been on the market since 1994, and because they hardly label them, we have been consuming unknowingly especially processed food in the supermarket shelves. Research on their long-term effects on humans is scarce though. To date most of the studies have been done on animals; worryingly, nevertheless, some of those studies link GM foods to altered metabolism, inflammation, kidney and liver malfunction and reduced fertility.
As the prevalence of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) continues to rise, there has been an increasing public interest for information concerning the safety of these products. Concerns generally focus on how the GMO may affect the environment or how it may affect the consumer. One specific concern is the possibility for GMOs to negatively affect human health. This could result from differences in nutritional content, allergic response, or undesired side effects such as toxicity, organ damage, or gene transfer.
But the major food safety concerns associated with transgenic products and foods derived from them relate to the possibility of increased allergens, toxins or other harmful compounds; horizontal gene transfer particularly of antibiotic–resistant genes; and other unintended effects.
Many of these concerns also apply to crop varieties developed using conventional breeding methods and grown under traditional farming practices. In addition to these concerns, there are direct and indirect health benefits associated with transgenic foods that should be more fully evaluated.
After more than 20 years of monitoring by countries and researchers around the world, many of the suspicions surrounding the effects of GMOs on organ health, our offspring, and our DNA have been addressed and tested alongside many more studies which has shown GMOs have been found to exhibit no toxicity, in one generation or across many. Though each new product will require careful analysis and assessment of safety, it appears that GMOs as a class are no more likely to be harmful than traditionally bred and grown food sources.
So far no verifiable untoward toxic or nutritionally deleterious effects resulting from the consumption of foods derived from genetically modified crops have been discovered anywhere in the world according to the GM Science Review Panel (ICSU). Many millions of people have consumed foods derived from GM plants mainly maize, soybean and oilseed rape, without any observed adverse effects.
The lack of evidence of negative effects, however, does not mean that new transgenic foods are without risk. Scientists acknowledge that not enough is known about the long-term effects of transgenic (and most traditional) foods. It will be difficult to detect long-term effects because of many confounding factors such as the underlying genetic variability in foods and problems in assessing the impacts of whole foods.
Furthermore, newer, more complex genetically transformed foods may be more difficult to assess and may increase the possibility of unintended effects. New profiling or “fingerprinting” tools may be useful in testing whole foods for unintended changes in composition.
Though knowing who to trust and what to believe regarding this topic is an ongoing battle, major health groups, including the American Medical Association and World Health Organization, have concluded from the research of independent groups worldwide that genetically modified foods are safe for consumers; regarding toxicity, this includes any dangers related to organ health, mutations, pregnancy and offspring, and potential for transfer of genes to the consumer.
Africa has been reluctant in the past to adopt genetically modified food (GMO) technology for crop production, but that is changing especially with the ravaging drought and rising needs to food security.
Recent developments suggest that many African countries are prepared to overcome domestic and international opposition to GM technology, embracing it as a way of boosting their agriculture sector.
Just four African countries; Burkina Faso, Egypt, Sudan and South Africa allow the cultivation of GMO crops bt cotton. In this countries, only South Africa grows GM food, allowing the cultivation of GM corn and soybeans.
GM opponents have urged African countries not to commercialize GM crops, saying it will put their agricultural sector in the hands of large multinational agri-businesses, hurt biodiversity, hurt small farmers and expose people to the potential health hazards of consuming GM food.
GM crops are as safe as all other crops, according to the International Society of African Scientists (ISAS). ISAS since 2001 has said that “agricultural biotechnology represents a major opportunity to enhance the production of food crops, cash crops, and other agricultural commodities in Africa and other developing nations.”