How do genetically modified foods influence health?

Genetically modified foods have often been the subject of controversy, which means that it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish facts from misconceptions. In this Honest Nutrition feature, we explore the facts and dispel the most common myths.

Genetically modified foods (genetically modified foods), often referred to as “bioengineering food “or”transgenic foods ”, continue to be a controversial topic of discussion.

Despite their long history and widespread use, consumers around the world do not always have access to sufficient and accurate information about these foods.

There is more skepticism surrounding their safety and their impact on the environment and health.

In this Honest Nutrition section, we explain what GM foods are, their importance, and what research has found about their safety and health implications.

Genetically modified foods have undergone deliberate modifications of their DNA (genetic material) to introduce traits that are not naturally present in this food. The genes of one organism are placed in another organism using Recombinant DNA Technology. The final food product is called a GM or bioengineered food.

This genetic modification can be done to improve the agricultural characteristics of the crop or improve its nutritional value.

For example, “golden rice, ”One of the first genetically modified foods, consists of modified rice with high levels of beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A. The inclusion of this substance gives the rice a yellow or golden appearance, hence the name.

Genetically modified foods are a sub-category of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which also include the genetic modification of microorganisms and animals.

The practice of manipulating the genetic material of crops to obtain desirable traits is not new, with records going back 10,000 years ago in Southwest Asia.

Traditionally, crossing, grafting and selective breeding methods have been used to breed products with specific traits and have been found to be desirable for both agricultural success and consumer expectations.

To answer this question, we need to consider several factors.

Population growth

With an estimated world population of 9 billion by 2049, there is an agricultural challenge to meet the growing demand for nutritious food.

It can be argued that conventional agriculture and food production have not been able to maintain a constant supply. At the same time, traditional selective breeding can take at least 10 years before desirable characteristics are consistently represented in domestic cultures.

However, modern biotechnology makes it possible to identify, isolate and insert specific genes in crops of interest to improve their characteristics.

Crop bioengineering and other technological applications for food production are faster and have filled a major gap in the supply and demand chain.

Agricultural quality and stability

A downfall of traditional agriculture is the vulnerability of the crop to drought, disease and pest infestations, as well as high volumes of pesticide and herbicide use.

Consequently, environmental pressures threaten regular agricultural production.

For this reason, genetically modified foods are modified to support the reliability of the food supply and the consistent quality of the final harvest.

They include, for example:

  • Genetically modified corn plants that resist drought and allow increased yields
  • Genetically modified soybeans resistant to herbicides and requiring less application to the plant
  • GM salmon (AquAdvantage) that grow twice as fast, allowing for greater uptime
  • papaya virus free
  • potatoes that do not brown when cut

Improved nutritional properties

Although agricultural improvements have been at the forefront of bioengineering and genetically modified foods, some modifications have focused on improving the nutritional profile of foods.

For example, pink-fleshed pineapples in Costa Rica have high levels of carotenoids – compounds found in plants which may reduce the risk of chronic diseases, such as heart disease, in humans.

The increased concentration of the essential amino acid, lysine, in corn and beta-carotene in golden rice, are other examples.

Ongoing research is also exploring how to improve nutritional value of transgenic products, including the modification probiotics and prebiotics to improve gut health.

These efforts are also of public health interest in making the essential nutrients that are often lacking in the diet widely accessible to the population.

the Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service maintains a list of bioengineered foods from around the world.

This list is available to the public and is used to inform food regulators about which to issue disclosure notices.

It is important to note that many of these genetically modified foods are used as Ingredients to make other food products. Therefore, people are most likely consuming food products made with ingredients derived from GM food crops.

However, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), from January 2022, new laws require food labels to display “bioengineered foods” regardless of whether the food itself or the ingredients of the food product have been genetically modified.

These labels will educate consumers so that they retain their purchasing power and make informed dietary decisions.

Below is a compilation of current GM foods around the world. All of these foods have been evaluated by the FDA and found to be safe for human consumption.

Myth: Genetically modified foods are dangerous

Made: Despite a skepticism, several studies, including this one 2017 study, with the World Health Organization (WHO) and FDA, said genetically modified foods are safe.

Three regulatory agencies – the FDA, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the USDA – work together to rigorously test and monitor the safety of GMOs in the United States.

  • The FDA maintains strict food safety standards for genetically modified foods.
  • The EPA regulates pesticides and protectors incorporated into the plant that make GM crops resistant to insects and viruses.
  • The USDA ensures that genetically modified foods are not harmful to other plants by monitoring cross-pollination and best planting practices.

Myth: Genetically modified foods cause allergies

Made: Proteins in food are often responsible for food allergies. When genetic material is introduced into the culture, new proteins can form and be interpreted as a foreign threat in the body, triggering an immune response or an allergic reaction.

It’s rare, but a documented case has revealed that contamination from a GMO culture not intended for human consumption caused the reaction and not components of the GM food itself.

In addition, a 2017 study found that genetically modified foods were neither allergenic nor more allergenic than their unmodified counterparts.

Myth: Cell culture meat (laboratory meat) is genetically modified foods

Made: This is a common misconception.

Even if cell culture meat and GM foods both use bioengineering techniques, cell culture meat specifically uses cellular tissue engineering.

Meat without animals uses unmodified cells from the animal of interest – for example, cows – and creates a lab environment that can support the growth of those cells in a lab.

This new technology attempts to meet the growing demand of the population for meat while providing an option that reduces the rate of foodborne illness and the environmental impacts of concentrated animal feed operations.

Myth: Seedless fruits and vegetables are genetically modified foods

Made: Seedless fruits and vegetables are sought after by some for their convenience, but are greeted with hesitation by others.

These foods are not genetically modified but are cross-pollinated, grafted or undergo hormonal regulation to acquire this functionality.

Some concerns remain about the potential negative impact of genetically modified foods on the environment. the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations list the following problems, among others:

  • Unwanted crossbreeding – when genes from one species pass into a different plant species, which can create problems such as herbicide resistant weeds. Research on the impact of these unwanted transfers remains inconclusive.
  • The appearance of harmful mutations, which is under investigation, but here, too, studies remain inconclusive.
  • GM crops can end up competing with native plant populations, threatening the biodiversity.
  • Potential disturbance food chains or ecosystem cycles through unintentional impact on birds, insects and soil microorganisms.

Genetically modified foods, or bioengineered or transgenic foods, have been surrounded by controversy, but they have proven their benefits for the food supply and demand chain.

These foods have been shown to be safe for human consumption, although more studies are needed to clearly define their overall nutritional value and long-term health effects.

Close monitoring of the possible impact of genetically modified foods on the environment is also an important consideration for the future.

About Alma Ackerman

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