Genetically modified foods on your table. Matter of chance or informed choice?
Despite the fact that genetically modified foods are certainly not novelties on the Canadian market, the reasonableness of the use of those products remains the problem of today. Genetically modified foods are often called the foods of the new era due to the fact that their creation owed to the rapid development of science. Genetic modification is a set of technologies that alters the genetic makeup of various organisms, including plants and animals. In order to create genetically modified organism, the gene which is responsible for a specific feature of that organism. As soon as this gene is located it can be replaced with a gene from the different organism and as a consequence the organism will acquire a new feature.
There were several reasons for creating genetically modified foods including demand for crops that have higher resistance to pests and various infections as well as greater nutritional value. For example, herbicide- and insect-resistant soybeans, corn, cotton and alfalfa were created. Rice with an increased content of iron and vitamins was created to reduce malnutrition in some Asian countries. Some genetically modified foods are able to survive weather extremes. Although the reasons for genetic modification were definitely good one, the final result does not seem to be ideal and issue of GM foods is still a controversial one.

The attitudes differ greatly across the world. European countries have a very strong negative attitude towards the GM foods and those foods are not grown or sold in the countries of the European Union. Countries of North America, on the other hand, are more loyal towards GM food. Same goes for some Asian countries. In 2006, countries that grew 97% of the global transgenic crops were the United States (53%), Argentina (17%), Brazil (11%), Canada (6%), India (4%), China (3%), Paraguay (2%) and South Africa (1%). Whatever the attitude of the government towards the GM foods is, very often the choice of whether to eat of not to eat GM food is a personal one. Different people have different concerns about GM foods and those concerns can be divided into two groups namely intrinsic and extrinsic. People who have intrinsic concerns tend to believe that genetic modification of organisms is fundamentally wrong. It is generally hard to argue with those believes and it is easier to accept them. People who have extrinsic concerns worry about more concrete issues such as potential consequences of the application of GM foods. And it is not surprising that these concerns exist at all.

There are believed to be potential health effects of transgenic foods. For example, specific components of GM foods are thought to have toxic properties. The scientific data related to those toxic properties remains controversial. Several of the experiments did not go as well as it might have been wished. Several rats used as subject dies after consuming GM tomatoes and their ability to digest was reduced after consuming GM corn. Another GM food concern is allergenicity (potential to cause allergic reaction) of the newly developed crops. The problem here lies in difficulty of discovering whether the produced product is going to cause allergy. It is especially problematic when a gene is transferred from an organism that had not been consumed before.

Toxicity and allergenicity of the GM foods are not the only concerns. There are also potential unintended effects which could result from the gene insertion. Due to the fact that these potential adverse effects are hard to predict, it is virtually impossible to study them. However, there seem to be good news about the transgenic foodstuffs that are currently on the market. According to Health Canada, the foods currently available on the market have passed risk assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health. In addition, no specific effect on human health has been discovered as a result of the consumption of GM foods by general population in the countries where those foods have been approved. Although the news sounds hopeful, the Canadian regulatory system for food biotechnology is often believed not to be entirely trustworthy. It has been criticised by some experts, including the Royal Society of Canada and Quebec Institute of Public Health.

In the end, it all seems to come down to the personal choice. Each person has to decide for themselves whether they want to trust the regulatory system and whether they are ready to consume the GM foods. Although The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is responsible for protecting consumers from mislabelling and fraud and it is mandatory to notify the customers if there are health and safety issues with particular foods, the labelling of GM foods remains voluntary. Nevertheless there are ways to find out which foods have been produced through genetic engineering. For example, Greenpeace has produced a list of GM foods and everyone who wants to avoid transgenic foodstuffs is free to consult it.

To conclude, whichever decision you make about the genetically modified food, make sure that this decision is informed. It is relatively easy to acquire the necessary information nowadays, so feel free to do so.

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