Mixed feelings over Genetically Modified Organisms
History Of Genetically Modified Organisms
It is said that one in the eight people among the world’s growing population of seven billion do not have enough food to eat and effective methods of food production. Genetically Modified technology can help in feeding the hungry and malnourished in developing nations around the world.
Genetically modified or genetically engineered foods (GM Foods) are foods produced from organism that have had changes introduced into their DNA using genetic engineering techniques that allow for the introduction of new traits as well as greater control over traits than previous methods such as selective breeding and mutation breeding.
GM crops have been engineered for resistance to pathogens and herbicides, and for better nutrient profiles. Most food modifications have primarily focused on cash crops in high demand by farmers such as soybean, corn, canola, and cotton.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are organisms — plants, animals or micro-organisms — which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination.
Some scientists agreed that foods derived from GM crops pose no greater risk to human health than conventional food. However, there are ongoing public concerns on the safety and healthy standard of GM foods, as there is controversy over the use of food made from genetically modified crops.
The disputes involve consumers, farmers, biotechnology companies, governmental regulators, non-governmental organizations, environmental and political activists and scientists. The major disagreements include whether GM foods could be safely consumed, harm the environment and/or are adequately tested and regulated.
While scientists are of the opinion that each GM food needs to be tested on a case-by-case basis before introduction, the farmers feel that GM foods go against nature. They are worried that GMO will destroy sustainable agriculture and create super-weeds.
According to scientists, GM foods are developed and marketed because of their perceived advantage over non-GM foods, including, better taste, nutrition and quality; increased profit for growers; virus and insect resistance; herbicide tolerance, and increased food yield to alleviate hunger.
The legal and regulatory status of GM foods varies by country, with some nations banning or restricting them, and others permitting them with widely differing degrees of regulation. Nonetheless, members of the public due to lack of understanding or adequate knowledge like the scientists are much less likely to perceive GM foods as safe.
Investigation showed that the idea of using animal genes in plant foods was considered in 1991, when a company developed a tomato that included a modified gene from a breed of Arctic flounder. This was done to make the tomato more resistant to frost and cold storage. The tomatoes weren’t successful and no one ever consumed a tomato with fish genes.
However, the first genetically modified food was the Flavr Savr tomato in 1994, by Calgene. It was engineered to have a longer shelf life following the insertion of an antisense gene that the delayed ripening process. By blocking that gene, the tomato quality could be maintained for a longer period of time. This led to ease of harvesting along with a greater area for distribution.
In 1995, Bacillus thurngiensis (Bt) Potato was the first pesticide-producing crop to be approved in the USA. Other genetically modified crops that received market approval in 1995 were: Canola with modified, Bt maize, cotton resistant to the herbicide bromoxynil, Bt cotton, glyphosate-tolerant soybeans, virus-resistant squash, and another delayed ripening tomato.
With the creation of golden rice in year 2000, scientists genetically modified food to increase its nutrient value for the first time. By 2010, 29 countries had planted commercialized biotech crops and a further 31 countries had granted regulatory approval for transgenic crops to be imported.
In 2015, 92 percent of corn, 94 percent of soybeans, and 94 percent of cotton produced in the US were genetically modified strains. In April 2016, a white button mushroom (Agaricus bisporus) was modified using the CRISPR technique, and received de facto approval in the United States, after the USDA said it would not have to go through the agency’s regulatory process. The agency considers the mushroom exempt, because the editing process did not involve the introduction of foreign DNA.
To tell if one is eating a GM food, the use of the PLU code usually printed on the little sticker that is always picked off before eating fruits and veggies have implored. It need be noted that labels beginning with ‘9’ indicate organic; labels beginning with ‘3’ or ‘4’ indicate conventional, while labels beginning with ‘8’ indicate GM. But the begging question here is, ‘are GMO foods for public good sustainable agriculture or corporate profit?
Experts Say They Are Not Harmful If Properly Research
From Tina Todo, Calabar
Experts have said that Genetically Modified foods are not harmful if properly researched by professionals.
They are however of the opinion that they could be the only solution to the immediate status of non-food accessibility in the country.
A Nutritionist and Head of Department (HOD) and Public Health College of Medical Science, University of Calabar, Dr. Regina Ejemot-Nwadiaro said: “The great knowledge I have concerning Genetically Modified Organisms is that it could make food available. It could make for better yield. It could make for better variety that will solve our immediate problem of malnutrition in Nigeria.
“Nigeria is contributing almost in the top five of countries with very poor nutritional status and that is a proxy to the nutritional state of the whole nation. So in that light, survival becomes critical so if the government wants to import Genetically Modified foods, I am for it given these reasons but along the line, we have excellent scientists, excellent researchers, let us on our own begin to research.
“We don’t have to wait until people do that for us. Anytime you leave your research to the donor drivers, they will only cater first to their own need before yours. As they alter the gens they could alter them at the level of the nutrients they contained. For me my take as a core public nutritionist, is to solve the immediate problem that we have, which is to increase food production, food availability, food accessibility.
On her part, a Nurse at the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital, (UCTH), Mrs. Thelma Jombo said GMO was naturally meant to be harmful, but because of the modification of the organisms they became useful in food production and other drugs. She said they also served as immune system to plants and animals.
Jombo, who studied Genetics and Biotech said: “Just as the name imply, they are actually organisms naturally meant to be harmful, but have been modified. They have used chemicals to produce them so that they can eventually be useful and this was brought about through researches by a lot of people.
“They found out that most of our food stuff, medications and all that were going instincts. They were looking for a way to improve on the growth of foods. In a situation where plants can grow all year round, so that brought about this Genetically Modification of crops, organism and others
“Some drugs and vaccinations are gotten from attenuated vaccines that mean they have actually been killed. These organisms were meant to be harmful for the body, but they changed in such a way that they will rather render protection to the body when they get into the body and they begin, through the chemical process and so that is the same with the Genetically modified organisms.
“For instance, fruits like orange, comes out once in a year, but we now have oranges that comes out like three times in a year. You have more number of it. That was how Genetically Modified organisms came to play. So it has been used for drugs, it has been used for foods.
“When it comes to foods, even for animals, they come to play so we can have more livestock, improve food production. We can also have feeds that can now withstand the organisms that ordinarily will kill them. Those Genetically Modified Organisms have been used as immunisations for them against outbreak of diseases.
“At a point, they even use them as experiment, but the one that has ever benefited use is the nutrition. You know sometime you can use insecticide to combat insect on plants, but they can be harmful to that particular plant, but rather are friendlier with the plant. They only take care of the foreign body that comes to kill the plant”.
When asked of the negative effect of GMO, she said: “ Yes, definitely, there could be a little negativity in most of them. Everything that has a positive effect must have a negative effect. They could rather kill the plant instead of improving the yield at some point. If for instance they are not properly used, it could turn out to be another modification which might end up being harmful, but most of these things are being tested by nutritionists and chemical analysts at the end of the day before they are sent to the market”.
However most residents of Calabar that spoke with The Guardian does not know what GMO is all about. They were all of the opinion that whatever brings food to their table would be acceptable.
A trader at the popular Marian market in Calabar, Emeka Oji, said: “ I don’t know what Genetically Modified Organisms means, but if it concerns multiple production of food for Nigerians, I think it is a good thing. What matters most is having food to eat at the end of the day.”
A University of Calabar undergraduate, Miss Edith Asuquo said: “Judging by the name, I think it changes something, but at the same time I am just hearing about it for the first time.”
‘Its Effects Could Be Positive Or Negative’
From Lawrence Njoku and Onwuegbusa Bridget (Enugu)
What matters to Mr Moses Ibe as he wakes up daily is ensuring that there was something in the stomach to enable him concentrate on his work. It does not matter whether the food possessed some substances that could cause harm to the body.
He claimed to be a graduate of Electrical Engineering, when asked whether he knew or can identify genetically modified foods, he stated: “Such was not necessary in the kind of situation we have found ourselves. I have not cared to ask. I have not cared to know. What is important to me is to look up the expiry date in anything I want to consume. If I am satisfied that it is not expired and I can consume it, then that okay by me”.
But Chika Ugwu, an Accountancy student sounded a bit different. She said she has heard about genetically modified foods as those coming from overseas, stressing however, that she had not tried to identify them in anythings she has consumed so far.
To her, however, any food substance that has met the right quality and quantity certified by the food regulatory agencies like National Agency For Food, Drugs Administration and Control.
Speaking from a professional point of view, a food technologist and Head of Department, Food Technology, Institute of Management and Technology (IMT) Enugu, Mrs Kate Okafor described genetically modified organism as “those products which have been altered in one way or the other and could be food, fruits or canned products.
“They can also be organisms that seem different or much more better than its original one, because it has be modified. Modification does not mean to kill the organisms, but adding or changing the gene of that particular product”.
According to her, the effect of such organisms could be positive or negative, adding that the advantage of the GMO products is that the result was usually large when altered.
“For instance, if we altered a groundnut genetically, we discover that during harvest the quantity is usually large and this could be used to feed masses of people. We could also get types of the same product. But the disadvantage is that when a food or fruit has been altered, it tends to perish faster and due to this, preservatives are added to make it last longer and this leads to cancer of the colon,” she said
Although she disclosed that most people are not aware of the organisms, stressing that through tasting, it is easier to identify products that have been genetically modified and the ones that were not.
“The taste is usually different. Just like when one tastes an orange juice that has been made by one’s self and a canned one, the tastes are normally different, though they are the same orange juice. The size is also another factor for determining a genetically modified product a hybrid groundnut and one that is not been hybrid is often different in size when you look at the pod, the one that has been genetically modified, the seeds are much larger than the ones that have not been altered.
“Also the colour is another prime factor. Just like in tomatoes; a tomato that has ripened by natural course and one that has been ripened by chemical is usually different both in taste and colour. The duration of the one that has been genetically modified is usually shorter than the one that has not been altered. These products that have been altered normally expires before the expiration date written on them and we also notice that the can is normally bulging. It is therefore advisable to consume products two months before the expiry date or don’t purchase a product whose expiry date is only two months away,” she advised.
Mrs Okafor identified foods that could be altered as perishable foods, fruits like oranges, pineapple, pepper, Spinach, adding that altering them ‘does not means that they are not good for consumption”
She said genetically modified products are in large quantity and can help feed the population of a country, advising however that natural processes should be adopted in their preservation than the chemical preservatives which endanger human health.
‘I Know Them And Have Been Buying Them’
By Adunola Shakirah and Tope Makinde
I can identify food crops that are genetically modified due to the nature of my job. Obviously, they are quite different from natural farm harvest. I know them and have been buying them. I stopped buying them, not just because it is not good for human health. It is because of the preservation challenges. GMOs are not natural and do not withstand harvest atmosphere.
When you see them you will want to have them due to the fact that they are big in size. In the market you will find out that the natural farm produce are hardly see them, everywhere you can find GMOs.
Most times, we don’t like them, but we just have to buy them to make sales. Meanwhile, with the situation of the country now, you cannot joke with your business at any cost if you want to get bread on the table for your family.
Example is the popular Yoruba food called “Ewedu” if you see the original one it usually small thick and deep in colour, but the genetically modified one is usually very big light in color light and also cheap.
Mrs. Baliques Sumola, Food Vendor
‘I Don’t Really Know GMOs’
I don’t really know GMOs food. But when we get to the market we call the original on the local one and the other any name.
I don’t really blame anyone who buys the Gmos food. As for me, I will not say I don’t take them, I do but when I do it becomes the last option for me. At times at the where they are sold to us we don’t know because the sellers will always want to sell their goods.
Mrs. Mariam Adeyanju Trader
‘I Eat Anything Available, whether GMO Or Not’
I find it difficult differentiating between natural farm produce and GMOs. As a student I just eat anything available. You know as students, we like to get things at cheaper price. So whenever we go to market, we go for cheaper food crops, not minding whether it is GMOs or not.
Miss Iyabo Asabi (Student)
‘I Eat My Farm Produce, Whether GM Or Not’
Most of the genetic modified organisms in agriculture are being modified towards natural environment or soil pattern, rainfall, weed resistance seed, upland variety and many more. Reasons why I use it on my farm is because of the advantages. Some are weed resistant and they provide more yields within a short period. But the disadvantage is that new diseases emerge from using GMO method, which most farmers are not familiar with the cure. I eat my farm produce whether genetically modified produce or not, I don’t think they cause the outrageous diseases common nowadays. GMO products can be preserved for a long period, it depends on the method and procedure used in the storage processes. Likewise some plants are modified because of some health conditions like diabetes. Now we have QPM (Quality Protein Maize) the maize has been changed from carbohydrate to protein.
Muhammad Awwal (Farmer)
‘People Prefer Artificial Vegetables To Local Ones’
People prefer the leafy and fresh vegetables because of its look; by the time we bring the local vegetables and Genetically Modified varieties to the market. The latter sell faster than the local ones, People look for the leafy and fresh ones and only few people are aware of the local vegetables; some don’t even know the local ones exist. It is the one that moves faster that I use to buy and sell. The local ones are also costlier and people prefer to buy the cheaper variety.
Mrs. Bintu Lawal (Vegetable Vendor)