Should genetically engineered food be labeled? – Health Essay
The issue: In agriculture genetically engineering is used to produce food with desired requirements, this poses the question; should genetically engineered food
be labeled? The consumer has the right to know and choose what types of food they eat. The labels also provide information and ingredients to the consumer.
The science background: Genetically modified food is food that has had its genes modified in its production to introduce genetic material and proteins from another source. This food may come from any crop or animal, and the genes are changed by the process of modern gene technology.
Genetically modified foods are a benefit to the producer and farmer. The genetic modifications are so that crops become resistant to herbicide or a pest insect, hence keeping the food cheaper for the consumer. In future there could be a benefit to the customer as foods may be genetically modified to have higher nutritional value; also so genes that normally produce allergies can be removed so affected people can eat the food.
The foods tomato, strawberry, soybean, canola, corn, sugar beat, cotton and potato are all genetically modified to give them a new characteristic. The characteristic could be herbicide tolerant, so when herbicides are sprayed to kill weeds the crops do not die. They also allow protection against insects and viruses by producing a toxin or poison that makes them distasteful to insects.
Tomatoes are genetically modified so that they do not soften easily; this process changes their genes so that they stay firmer for a longer time. The DNA in the tomato is cut by restriction enzymes and then a probe is used to identify the gene that is needed to make the tomato stay firm. This gene is taken out and cloned so thousands of copies are made. The plasmid from a tomato cell is cut at a certain place by the same restriction enzyme that cut the fragment of DNA. The cut plasmid and DNA fragment then join by their sticky ends to produce firm tomatoes. This genetically engineered food can then be grown in crops to produce vast amounts of firm tomatoes.
Impacts of the issue: There are debates about long term safety of genetically modified foods. The Australian Radiation Protection And Nuclear Safety Agency claims there is no evidence that the food is unsafe, however some scientists have concerns about the introduction of new genes into the environment and human bodies. For this reason genetically modified food should be labeled, as the safety of these products is not fully known, hence the consumer should be able to have an individual choice on whether they eat genetically modified foods. Some people may have specific intolerances or allergies to foods, which may be harmful, therefore just like ingredients of product are evident on the packet, whether the product is genetically modified should also be visible. Vegetarian genetically engineered food may contain a gene from meat; hence vegetarians have a right to know whether their “genetically modified vegetables” contain meat. Genetically engineered foods need to be labeled due to the religious and ethical issues of tampering with the genes, as some people believe that it is like “playing God” and desire to not eat genetically modified foods.
Against labeling: The food products should not need to be labeled as all DNA is universal, that is all from the four same initial bases. The DNA is digested hence does not affect our genes in anyway. There is also a huge financial cost in changing the packaging of all genetically modified foods so that the labels are present; it is not economically practical to label genetically engineered foods. Labeling is not practical as it would mean that all restaurants that have to change their menus so that there was labeling of genetically modified foods they use. All genetically modified fresh fruits would also have to be labeled in some way, causing many problems and financial costs. The labeling of genetically modified foods would put people off purchasing the products, as not all people fully understand that these foods are not considered harmful. This would result in a decrease of profit for the producer.
Management policies: In Australia there are genetically modified processed foods that are allowed to be sold. These foods come from the 6 main crops; canola, cotton, potato, sugar-beet, corn and soybean. However the only genetically modified crop being grown in Australia at the moment is cotton, most genetically modified crops used in Australia are imported. Food Standards Australia and New Zealand control and regulate labeling of foods. All genetically modified food from 7th December 2001 must be labeled, where new DNA/protein is present or where the characteristics of food has been changed. However there are the following exceptions that highly refined foods and foods containing less than 0.1% of genetic modification do not need to be labeled; also restaurants do not need to say what foods are genetically modified.
Your opinion: I believe that the consumer should be able to have an individual choice on whether they purchase genetically modified foods therefore I agree that all foods should belabeled. It is important to label the foods as the long term affects of genetically modified foods is not known, thus people should be given the choice as to whether they trust scientific predictions that genetically modified foods are safe. I understand that the cost of changing packaging will be increased, however I feel this is not a huge issue as packaging is consistently changing in today’s society so I believe this is no problem. I think that not only should genetically modified foods be labeled, but there should be information sent to every house explaining what these foods actually are and the facts on why they are used in society. This is so that people know what they are buying and preventing genetically engineered labeling being seen by the consumer as a warning sign. This is important because if the consumer is not aware there will be a decrease in profits due to lack of knowledge of genetically engineered foods.