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GM foods are Genetically Modified foods. They are also euphemistically called, Frankenfoods or Frankenstein Foods. Genetically modified means that the DNA structure of the cell of the animal or plant used as food, is changed from its natural form. The DNA is the basic blueprint of the traits or characters of all living things. The genes that are the carriers of the traits are present on the DNA. So it is actually the genes that are modified and hence the name. Altering the genes also alters the characters or qualities of the organism.
Genetic modification occurs naturally through mutation. GM crops are produced by the man-made mutation conducted in the laboratory. This is done usually to produce disease resistance , pest resistance or drought resistance crops to avoid the usage of chemical pesticides or help the farmer grow the crop in extreme conditions.
Genetically modified crops are spread throughout the world. It is mainly private multinational companies that are engaged in the research, production and marketing of these transgenic crops through genetic mapping, molecular markers and biotechnology (Serageldin, 1999). Cultivation of transgenic crops like soybean, maize, cotton, rapeseed/canola, and potato have benefitted the poor farmers in many countries to increase their yields and market disease-free crops (James, 2011). The acreage under cultivation of GM crops have also increased dramatically in the last decade or so (Fig. 1)
But these GM food crops have gained a bad reputation among the scientists as well as the consumers. The reason for this is the lack of published literature about long-term or short-term effects of consuming GM foods ( Domingo, 2007) or sustained trials of these crops on human subjects (Yum et al., 2005). There is a fear whether the resistance to the germs introduced into the crops would be transferred into the DNA of the consumer and how it would affect them (Windley, 2008). Many farmers and environmentalists are also concerned about the loss of natural seeds and bio-diversity as the seeds of the GM crops have to be procured from the companies every year and the farmers cannot produce their own seeds. Moreover, the effect of these GM food crops on the food chain is still unknown and in doubt.
There are also other contentious issues like GM foods containing ingredients from genetically modified crops are not so marked. So consumers who want to avoid GM foods are left without any guidance. For instance, chips produced from GM potatoes, sauce or salsa produced from GM tomatoes are being marketed without any labels that points to their origin. There have been some studies on the effect of GM foods on animals that demonstrated how GM foods like potatoes cause cancerous lesions in animals like the rat along with other changes in the liver, brain and testicles (Ewen & Pusztai, 1999). But there have been no further studies on human subjects. Even these studies on animals are disputed by some researchers.
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