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A debate on the benefits and problems that genetically modified foods bring to the world

This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution Licensewhich permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. Abstract Commercial potential of biotechnology is immense since the scope of its activity covers the entire spectrum of human life. The most potent biotechnological approach is the transfer of specifically constructed gene assemblies through various techniques.

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However, this deliberate modification and the resulting entities thereof have become the bone of contention all over the world. Benefits aside, genetically modified organisms GMOs have always been considered a threat to environment and human health. In view of this, it has been considered necessary by biosafety regulations of individual countries to test the feasibility of GMOs in contained and controlled environments for any potential risks they may pose. This paper describes the various aspects of risk, its assessment, and management which are imperative in decision making regarding the safe use of GMOs.

Efficient efforts are necessary for implementation of regulations. Importance of the risk assessment, management, and precautionary approach in environmental agreements and activism is also discussed. Introduction Modern biotechnology has allowed the movement of genetic material across unrelated species, something impossible with the traditional breeding methods. This intentional transfer of genetic material has in turn brought biotechnology out from the laboratory to the field.

Genetically modified organisms GMOs are organisms whose genetic material has been artificially modified to change their characteristics in some way or another [ 1 ]. This technology has many potential applications [ 2 ]. These new opportunities bring along greater public scrutiny and government regulation. Risk assessment is a common regulatory tool used in the decision-making process for a proposed commercial release of a GMO into the environment [ 34 ].

Environmental applications of microorganisms are wide and varied, ranging from bioremediation, biopesticides, nitrogen fixation, plant growth promoter, to biocontrol of plant diseases, and other such agricultural practices. The sensible application of recombinant DNA techniques has shown the potential for genetically improved microorganisms to be used as soil or seed inoculants [ 5 — 8 ].

However, when introduced into the environment, they could have unintended environmental consequences and may play more pronounced ecological roles than the wild types [ 9 — 11 ].

Genetically improved microorganisms are able to reproduce and establish themselves as persistent populations and may have subtle and long-term effects on biological communities and natural ecosystems [ 12 ]. Results of DNA modification may not be limited only to the particular characteristics of the replaced gene. It is therefore important to ensure that when these organisms are released into nature they do not harm the environment or human health [ 13 ].

Such concerns have led to broader interests in the theme of risk assessment in the release of GMOs. A cautious approach is necessary to assess environmental risks which may occur due to introduction of recombinant organisms in the natural environment [ 14 ]. Risks Related to the Use of Genetically Modified Organisms Ecological Stability of the GMO The application of genetic modification allows genetic material to be transferred from any species into plants or other organisms.

The introduction of a gene into different cells can result in different outcomes, and the overall pattern of gene expression can be altered by the introduction of a single gene. The sequence of the gene and its role in the donor organism may have a relatively well-characterized function in the organism from which it is isolated. Copies of a gene may be integrated, additional fragments inserted, and gene sequences a debate on the benefits and problems that genetically modified foods bring to the world and deleted—which may result in lack of operation of the genes instability or interference with other gene functions possibly cause some potential risks [ 16 ].

Therefore, there could be a number of predictable and unpredictable risks related to release of GMOs in the open environment. These risks are as follows. Each gene may control several different traits in a single organism. Even the insertion of a single gene can impact the entire genome of the host resulting in unintended side effects, all of which may not be recognizable at the same time.

It is difficult to predict this type of risk. The novel trait may disappear in wild types unless it confers a selective advantage to the recipient. Competition with Natural Species Faster growth of GMOs can enable them to have a competitive advantage over the native organisms.

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This may allow them to become invasive, to spread into new habitats, and cause ecological and economic damage. Increased Selection Pressure on Target and Nontarget Organisms Pressure may increase on target and nontarget species to adapt to the introduced changes as if to a geological change or a natural selection pressure causing them to evolve distinct resistant populations.

Ecosystem Impacts The effects of changes in a single species may extend well beyond to the ecosystem. Single impacts are always joined by the risk of ecosystem damage and destruction. Impossibility of Followup Once the GMOs have been introduced into the environment and some problems arise, it is impossible to eliminate them.

Many of these risks are identical to those incurred with regards to the introduction of naturally or conventionally bred species. But still this does not suggest that GMOs are safe or beneficial, nor that they should be less scrutinized. HGT is the acquisition of foreign genes via transformation, transduction, and conjugation by organisms in a variety of environmental situations.

It occurs especially in response to changing environments and provides organisms, especially prokaryotes, with access to genes other than those that can be inherited [ 1718 ]. HGT of an introduced gene from a GMO may confer a novel trait in another organism, which could be a source of potential harm to the health of people or the environment. For example, the transfer of antibiotic resistance genes to a pathogen has the potential to compromise human or animal therapy [ 19 ].

HGT has been observed for many different bacteria, for many genes, and in many different environments. It would therefore be a mistake to suppose that recombinant genes would not spread to other bacteria, unless precautions are taken.

Recent evidence from the HGT technology confirms that transgenic DNA in GM crops and products can spread by being taken up directly by viruses and bacteria as well as plant and animals cells. Very recently, Yoshida et al. Adverse Effects on the Health of People or the Environment These include enhanced pathogenicity, emergence of a new disease, pest or weed, increased disease burden if the recipient organism is a pathogenic microorganism or virus, increased weed or pest burden if the recipient organism is a plant or invertebrate, and adverse effects on species, communities, or ecosystems.

Unpredictable and Unintended Effects HGT may transfer the introduced genes from a GMO to potential pests or pathogens and many yet to be identified organisms. This may alter the ecological niche or ecological potential of the recipient organism [ 9 ] and even bring about unexpected changes in structure or function [ 22 ]. Furthermore, the gene transferred may insert at variable sites of the recipient gene, not only introducing a novel gene but also disrupting an endogenous gene, causing unpredictable and unintended effects.

Loss of Management Control Measures Regulatory approvals for field trials of GMOs often require measures to limit and control the release in space and time. This new GMO may give rise to adverse effects which are not controlled by management measures imposed by the original license or permit.

Even under relatively strong selection pressure, it may take thousands a debate on the benefits and problems that genetically modified foods bring to the world generations for a recipient organism to become the dominant form in the population [ 23 ].

In addition, other factors such as timing of appropriate biotic or abiotic environmental conditions and additional changes in the recipient organism could delay adverse effects. Ethical Concerns Various ethical issues associated with HGT from GMOs have been raised including perceived threats to the integrity and intrinsic value of the organisms involved, to the concept of natural order and integrity of species, and to the integrity of the ecosystems in which the genetically modified organism occurs [ 24 ].

Several scientific evidence that has emerged on GMOs over the last couple of years shows that there are several clear risks to human health and the environment.

GMOs: Pros and Cons

When genetic engineers create GMO or transgenic plants, they have no means of inserting the gene in a particular position. The gene ends up in a random location in the genetic material, and its position is not usually identified [ 2526 ].

There are already several examples of such undesired effects being identified in the US after approval e. Releasing genetically modified plants or crop into the environment may have direct effects, including gene transfer to wild relatives or conventional crops, weediness, trait effects on nontarget species, and other unintended effects [ 28 ].

It is widely accepted that the gene flow from GM crops is possible through pollen, from open-pollinated varieties crossing with local crops or wild relatives [ 29 ]. Because gene flow has happened for millennia between land races and conventionally bred crops, it is reasonable to expect that it could also happen with transgenic crops.

Transgenic crops vary in their tendency to outcross, and the ability to outcross depends on the presence of sexually compatible wild relatives or crops, which varies according to location. However, some lines of evidence suggested that whether or not gene flow between transgenic crops and wild relatives matters, in and of itself [ 15 ].

In addition, some indirect effects of GMO were also observed which potentially harm to the environment. For example, some transgenic traits such as the pesticidal toxins expressed by Bt genes may affect nontarget species as well as the crop pests.

Genetically Modified Foods: The Political Debate

It could happen but still uncertain how likely it is [ 3132 ]. The toxicological studies of Monarch butterfly provide excellent examples, which established the sensitivity of Monarch larvae to consuming Cry1Ab protein from Bacillus thuringiensis Bt expressed in transgenic maize [ 33 ], thereby triggering further to assess exposure and population level effects [ 31 ].

It was determined that larval exposure to pollen on a population-wide basis was low, given the proportion of larvae in maize fields during pollen shed, the proportion of fields planted in Bt maize, and the levels of pollen within and around maize fields that exceed the toxicity threshold [ 2930 ].

  1. It is often divided into three components.
  2. In such cases, we rely on other institutions, especially reputation and the rule of law [ 35 ].
  3. As a result, many European food producers and suppliers alike are working to reduce or eradicate GM organisms in the food chain. As a consequence, many concerns relating to the risk of GMOs are directed more closely to the apparent lack of societal and governmental restraints on GMO developers and users, rather than to addressing particular scientific issues.

However, an acute dose, even if several times higher than would be expected in the field, is not equivalent to a low natural chronic dose experienced over a longer period; therefore, a two-year study was undertaken and subsequently demonstrated that the risk to Monarch butterfly populations is 0. These results indicated negligible effects of Bt pollen to Monarch butterfly larvae from extended exposures in field settings. Extensive long-term use of herbicides glyphosate and gluphosinate in the Bt crops can promote the development of resistant insect pests and weeds.

The Royal Society in the year 2003 has published the results of extensive farm-scale evaluations of the impacts of transgenic HT maize, spring oilseed rape canolaand sugar beet on biodiversity in the United Kingdom.

These studies found that the main effect of these crops compared with conventional cropping practices was on weed vegetation, with consequent effects on the herbivores, pollinators, and other populations that are feed on it. These groups were negatively affected in the case of transgenic HT sugar beet, were, positive in case of HT Maiza and showed no effect in spring oilseed rape.

However, there is still insufficient evidence to predict what the long-term impacts of transgenic HT crops will be on weed populations and associated in-crop biodiversity.

  1. The universe of concerns generally need to be addressed with a few very specific questions within context to release most of the GMOs in the environments with special references to genetically modified plants. Finally, with commercialization, the GM plant is widely deployed with little concern for its confinement.
  2. Postrelease impacts of GMOs can follow preventive and precautionary measures based on risk assessment and management. Biosafety regulatory frameworks of GMO should serve as mechanisms for ensuring the safe use of biotechnology products without imposing unintended constraints to technology transfer.
  3. The stakes are high, with huge sums invested by giant agribusinesses in the research and development of such foods. Increased Selection Pressure on Target and Nontarget Organisms Pressure may increase on target and nontarget species to adapt to the introduced changes as if to a geological change or a natural selection pressure causing them to evolve distinct resistant populations.
  4. In this regard, material exists to help national governments.
  5. According to the CDC , antibiotic-resistant germs infect two million people each year.

Most of the ecologists agree that gene flow is not an environmental problem unless it leads to undesirable consequences. However, these outcomes seem unlikely for most currently grown transgenic crops. Many transgenic traits are likely to be innocuous from an environmental standpoint, and some could lead to more sustainable agricultural practices. Risk Assessment Risk is ubiquitous and unavoidable. To a great extent, therefore, our modus operandi involves assessment and management of risk.

Directly observable risks are assessed and managed through heuristic processes. This direct observation may sometimes be insufficient to establish the nature and extent of risk. In such cases, we rely on other institutions, especially reputation and the rule of law [ 35 ]. Biosafety issues pertaining to the marketing of GMOs have received increasing attention by national and international agencies and regulatory bodies worldwide [ 2436 ].

These are based on a common set of principles built on the accumulation of experience and scientific knowledge over the past decades. Risk assessment intends to quantify risks and evaluate the probabilities of possible outcomes on the basis of scientific data. It is a fundamental part of improving quality, being the quality of products or the quality of life, and plays a central role in the innovation required to maximize benefits.

The Article 15 of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety CBD 2000 implies risk assessment to be in compliance with criteria of science and transparency using already existing and recognized techniques. The characterization process should adopt a multidisciplinary approach that i analyses methodologies in statistics, ii considers the individual components employed to produce the GMOs such as characteristics of the donor organism, vector, and inserted DNAiii evaluates the final result in its totality characteristics of the organism with new traits, information related to intended use, and characteristics of the potential receiving environmentiv considers relevant information produced from both public and private research institutes and from international agencies.

The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety in the year 2006 introduced an Annex III in the protocol of Article 15 for scientifically sound and transparent risk assessment taking into account risk assessment techniques.

Such risk assessments shall be based at a minimum, on information provided in Article 8, and other available scientific evidence in order to identify and evaluate the possible adverse effects on human health and environment. The principles and methodology described in Annex III of the protocol follows the proven, well-accepted risk assessment paradigm, including identification of potential harmful characteristics of modified organisms that may have an adverse effect.

Risk are then to be evaluated based on a combined analysis of the likelihood of the identified risks materializing and their consequences. The general principle of this protocol includes the following: In addition, the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety evaluated the effectiveness of the protocol COP-MOP for risk assessment in the Article 35 in the year of 2008 for the safe transfer, handling, and use of living modified organisms LMO to protect the significant loss of biological diversity.