Should Genetically Modified Foods Be Included As a Part of The Human Diet and Food Industries in Australia?

A Review of Possible Benefits and Health Risks

Term Paper 2010 14 Pages

Biology - Diseases, Health, Nutrition


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. Definition and current availability of GM foods

3. Benefits of introducing GM foods into Australia

4. Potential Problems associated with eating GM foods

5. Main profiteers of GM crops

6. Conclusion

List of References

Appendix A - Developing a genetically modified organism

1. Introduction

The development of genetically modified (GM) or transgenic foods promises another agricultural revolution, producing more and high-quality food to feed the growing world population (Uzogara 2000). Within a rather short period of time genetic modifying has evolved from basic science to commercial applications (Engel, Frenzel & Miller 2002). According to recent statistics (ISAAA 2009), transgenic crops are cultivated in 25 countries on a hectarage of approximately 134 million hectares, an 80-fold increase compared to 1999. However, their introduction into the human food supply activated an apparently never ending debate about safety, potential risk and ethical concerns (FSANZ 2005; Better Health Channel 1999). According to Trojanowicz, Latoszek and Poboźy (2010) the sources of these controversies can be related to consumer suspicions regarding the true intentions of biotechnological producers and mistrust in government bureaucracies.

The aim of this literature review is to analyse current scientific research about GM foods with regard to the question whether GM food should be introduced in Australia or not. Part 1 includes a definition of GM foods and a description of current commercialized GM crops worldwide. The second part provides an overview of possible advantages and disadvantages concerning GM foods. Therefore, it identifies the main groups which profits from GM crops. This review ends with a conclusion and a definition of the author’s position concerning the controversial issue of including GM foods as part of the Australian diet and food industries.

2. Definition and current availability of GM foods

According to the Food Standards Australia New Zealand (2005), a GM food is a food which has been derived or developed from a GM organism whose genome has been modified by genetic engineering techniques. Gene technology uses special techniques like copying and transfer of genes from one organism to another to alter the genetic material (DNA) of plants, animals or microorganisms (FSANZ 2005). Hence, genetic engineering may generate organisms with a much broader genetic diversity and additional or modified traits through combining genes of different species (Houdebine 2010; Trojanowicz, Latoszek & Poboźy 2010; Batista & Oliveira 2009). The steps involved in developing a GM organism are shown in Appendix A. Furthermore the expression ‘GM foods’ includes foods containing GM ingredients as well as food additives and processing aids which were produced by using genetic modification (FSANZ 2005).

The main traits of all GM crops available on the international market are resistance to insects and tolerance to certain herbicides (FSANZ 2005). Table 1 shows the current producers of GM crops, the types of commercialized GM crops and their global hectarage.

Source: Clive 2009 in ISAAA 2009

At present, certain varieties of cotton and two versions of canola are the only permitted GM crops grown in Australia (FSANZ 2005). The FSANZ has also approved certain varieties of other GM foods like soya bean, corn, sugar beet and potato which can be imported and sold in Australia for human consumption (FSANZ 2005). These foods are commonly present in breads, pastries, snack foods, baked products, oils and fried foods (Carman 2004; Better Health Channel 1999).

Significantly, the current labelling laws exclude foods which are produced from animals fed with GM feed such as milk or meat, which are prepared at the point of sale like in restaurants as well as highly refined foods which contain no DNA or Protein like cooking oils or sugars (IHER 2008; FSANZ 2005). Furthermore these regulations do not cover foods contaminated accidentally by up to one per cent per ingredient nor those which have been processed before 7 December 2002 or which contain GM flavours present at less than one per cent (IHER 2008; FSANZ 2005). The production of foods with processing aids or food additives using GM microbes is also ignored (IHER 2008; FSANZ 2005).

3. Benefits of introducing GM foods into Australia

It appears that GM food can be classified into two groups (Celec et al. 2005 in Trojanowicz, Latoszek & Poboźy 2010), or alternatively into three (Magaña-Gómez & Calderón de la Barca 2009).

The first generation has been biotechnologically derived to create various improvements in the production such as resistance to pests and herbicides (Magaña-Gómez & Calderón de la Barca 2009). Therefore, GM foods are potentially better for the environment. The amount of pesticides, for example, could be reduced by developing crops which are tolerant to particular herbicides like glyphosate (Better Health Channel 1999). This results in lower soil erosion, moisture loss and fuel costs because of less tillage practices and fewer herbicide applications (Brookes & Barfoot 2006 in Batista & Oliveira 2009). However, a case study of Zhou & Kastenberg (2006) in the United States identified an increase of human health risks since the introduction of herbicide-tolerant (HT) crops associated with huge glyphosate applications. In addition, Benbrook (2004) and Ho (2010) state that the use of herbicides is encouraged by HT crops, leading to herbicide-resistant weeds which require yet more herbicides.

Not only HT, but also pest and disease-resistant crops count among the first generation and may contribute to the reduction of pesticides (Goodyear-Smith 2001; TechNyou 2010). Consequently, the chemical pollution of the environment can be reduced and less pesticide residue will be present in air, water, soil and foods (Goodyear-Smith 2001; Cerdeira & Duke 2006). This may also initiate an improvement of the health and safety for farmers and farm workers like it occurred in China according to a three-year-survey from 1999 (Pray et al. 2002). Conventional cotton, for example, is very susceptible to insect harm and 15% of the US insecticide production is used on this one crop (Halford & Shewry 2000). In contrast, Bt1 cotton requires only 15% of the insecticide used on conventional cotton (Halford & Shewry 2000). Moreover, the introduction of insect-resistant crops may lead to a greater continuity of food supply and lower prices (Goodyear-Smith 2001). In the UK, for example, slow-ripening GM tomatoes are cheaper than their non-GM competitors because of reduced processing costs like (Halford & Shewry 2000).

The second, also called new generation consists of crops with new traits orientated toward consumers. It claims to offer benefits such as increased levels of proteins and carbohydrates, modified and healthier fats, improved flavour characteristics, or increased levels of micronutrients or other phytochemicals (Magaña-Gómez & Calderón de la Barca 2009). For example, GM golden rice containing the vitamin A gene from a daffodil plant has been developed (Ye et al. 2008; Better Health Channel 1999). Therefore, further modification could be used in the future to create GM food crops with increased nutritional value and higher amounts of nutrients like iron which is the most common nutritional deficiency in Australia (FSANZ 2005; FSANZ 2006; Ye et al. 2008; Batista & Oliveira 2009).

A third generation of GM plants is in development which should have a greater tolerance to resist abiotic stress such as drought, high temperatures, or saline-polluted soils (Goodyear- Smith 2001; FSANZ 2005; Magaña-Gómez & Calderón de la Barca 2009). It also includes plants which are used as biological production systems for manufacturing pharmaceutical compounds such as anticancer agents (Magaña-Gómez & Calderón de la Barca 2009; Batista & Oliveira 2009).!!

4. Potential problems associated with eating GM foods

Even though there may be a lot of advantages of adopting GM foods, public concerns have arisen about the possible unexpected new risks. According to Améndola et al. (2006), the hype about the benefits of GM crops is mainly the result of propaganda by the biotech industry and industry-sponsored organizations, whereas negative impacts and problems are often ignored.

The introduction of GM foods was in 1994, therefore no studies of long-term effects on human health have been carried out (TechNyou 2010; Batista & Oliveira 2009). One risk associated with GM foods is the potential appearance of toxins, allergens or genetic hazards as a consequence of the biosynthesis and accumulation of new specific chemical metabolites in the human diet (Conner & Jacobs 1999; Goodyear-Smith 2001). GM is unpredictable due to possible interaction of genes (Dona & Arvanitoyannis 2009). For instance, the transfer of allergens from traditional foods into GM foods could be possible. In 1996, a GM soya bean was developed including a gene from Brazil nut which codes for a methionine-rich protein (Goodyear-Smith 2001; Batista & Oliveira 2009). However, the development of this crop was stopped after finding allergens in the GM soya bean.


1 !Bt cotton = cotton which contains the gene for insect toxin production of the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Goodyear-Smith 2001).!


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Title: Should Genetically Modified Foods Be Included As a Part of The Human Diet and Food Industries in Australia?