A poll from the School of Sociology at Australian National University (Lockie & Pietsch 2012) found that Australia is divided on the issue of genetically modified (GM) foods.
A decade ago, most Australians were strongly against genetically modified foods (Norrie 2012). Today, almost half of the people polled feel that GM foods are safe to eat (Lockie & Pietsch 2012). With more research, people are becoming aware of the use and advantages of GM foods and opposition has begun to fade.
Researchers speculate that one of the reasons opinions towards GM foods have changed is a worldwide food crisis. Many countries facing a shortage of food at the time of the study found genetically engineered foods were one viable option to meet the growing crisis. These factors may have helped in changing opinion regarding genetically modified food. Genetically modified foods have been around for more than a decade and there has been no fallout from the consumption of these foods as was initially feared.
The poll also revealed:
- 49% of Australians felt that GM foods are safe to eat and pose no risk to human health
- A little over half of the respondents stated that they would not be likely to buy foods clearly labelled as genetically modified
- Almost 66% of poll respondents did not feel that foods imported from Asia are safe to eat
What are Genetically Modified Foods?
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are organisms that have had their DNA altered in a manner which does not occur naturally. The technology used to create GMOs is sometimes referred to as gene technology, genetic engineering, or recombinant DNA technology. Using this technology, individual genes can be transferred between organisms and also between species. GMOs may be used to create genetically modified plants, which can then be used to grow GM food crops.
Why do we Need Genetically Modified Foods?
Genetically modified foods are produced for many reasons:
- They can be grown at a lower price
- They can be grown to have enhanced nutritional value
- Crops created from genetically modified organisms may be more durable or hardy; and
- Genetically modified crops can be created to be resistant to insects, viruses, and weather extremes.
What are the Potential Safety Issues Associated with Consumption of Genetically Modified Foods?
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there are three main concerns regarding human health associated with genetically modified foods:
- Ability to cause allergic reactions
- Gene transfer
According to WHO, there have been no reports of allergic reactions to genetically modified foods currently on the market. Gene transfer refers to the potential to transfer genetic material that could adversely affect human health, i.e. antibiotic resistant genes. Outcrossing refers to the inadvertent transfer of genes from GM plants to conventional crops. This is a real concern, as there have been reports of this phenomenon occurring in the United States when corn which was meant to be used strictly as feed for livestock was found in corn that was used for human consumption.
Thus far, there have been no reports of illness or adverse effects on human health occurring as a result of consumption of genetically modified food.
What is the Future of Genetically Modified Foods?
As acceptance of genetically modified foods has increased, it can be safely assumed that they are here to stay. In the future, genetically modified organisms may be used to create crops that are resistant to extreme weather such as drought, crops that are more nutritious, and crops that can produce specific proteins that can be used in vaccines or medications. Plants and animals may be modified for enhanced growth and development.
Providing that governments can show that these foods are safe, acceptance of genetically modified foods will likely continue to grow.
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- Lockie, S & Pietsch, J 2012, Public Opinion on Food Security, ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences, viewed 3 November 2016, http://lyceum.anu.edu.au/wp-content/blogs/3/uploads//Food%20Security_Poll.pdf
- Norrie, J 2012, ‘Australians Oppose TV Junk Food Ads, Warm to GM Foods’, The Conversation, 14 June, viewed 3 November 2016, https://theconversation.com/australians-oppose-tv-junk-food-ads-warm-to-gm-foods-7657
- World Health Organization 2016, ‘Frequently Asked Questions on Genetically Modified Foods’, Food Safety, WHO, viewed 3 November 2016, http://www.who.int/foodsafety/areas_work/food-technology/faq-genetically-modified-food/en/
Jennifer is a registered nurse and a professional medical writer. Recently, Jennifer completed co-authoring a microbiology textbook for first-year university allied health students, which is published by McGraw-Hill.