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According to (WHO, 2014) genetically modified foods are food resulting from the use of GMOs

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Published: 10th Dec 2019

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Tagged: Food and NutritionFarming


The genetic modification of animals and plants started in the 1970s (Kramkowska, Grzelak, & Czyzewska, 2013), Genetically modified (GM) foods are food resulting from DNA recombinant technological processes that allows the genome of an organism to be altered (Schneider & Schneider, 2009). According to (World Health Organization, 2014) genetically modified foods are food resulting from the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Genetically modified organisms are organisms (i.e. microorganisms, plants and animals) whose genetic make- up has been modified in such a way it no longer occurs naturally by natural recombination and/or mating. The technology is often known as “gene technology” or “genetic engineering” then also “modern biotechnology” and “recombinant DNA technology” (World Health Organization, 2014). The technology has offered many benefits over naturally occurring foods but the argument is, does the benefits far overweigh the potential risk and harm associated with it? Thus GM foods could be a double edged sword (Bawa & Anilakumar, 2013)

Safety, Health and/or Environmental Hazards associated with GM foods.

The safety of GM foods has raised a lot of questions where limited scientific data exists and will underscore the need for further scientific research (Gasson & Burke, 2001) and the food derived from genetically engineered crops are unsafe to eat (Jamal, Haque, Qidwai, & Paliwal, 2010). The World Health Organisation (W.H.O)  states that you cannot make a clear assumption that GM foods are safe, its only assessed on a case by case basis (Lee, Ho, & Leung, 2017), the main issued raised about the safety of GM foods is whether it causes allergy and toxicity.

Moreover biological safety of GM foods has raise a serious topic worldwide, some writers argue of its benefits yet on the other hand brings up issue on environment and health risk (Khan, Muafia, Nasreen, & Salariya, 2012). However a report lunched by the National Academy of Science is of the view that GM products circulate new toxin, allergen, disruptive chemicals, mutated species, soil polluting ingredients and unfamiliar proteins into our body system and into the  environment (Khan, et al., 2012).

Identifiably are the safety issue of GM foods bothering on toxicity, potential allergenicity and potential transfer of genes to humans (Kuiper, Kleter, Noteborn, & Kok, 2001). Interestingly commercial GM foods grown in the United States for example corn and soya bean has been marked safe for human consumption considering the health risk of the food (Schmidt, 2005). Figure 1 shows safety assessment strategies of genetically modified (GM) crop- derived food.

Image result for Safety assessment strategies for genetically modified (GM)-crop-derived foods. Tiered approach for data generation and subsequent safety assessment of genetically modified (GM)-derived foods.

Fig. 1. Safety assessment strategies of genetically modified (GM) crop-derived food. Tiered approach for data generation and subsequent safety assessment of genetically modified (GM) crop-derived foods.

According to (Goodyear-smith, 2001) genetically modified process may involve gene “markers” that confers some antibiotic resistance, even though these genes markers can be removed from GM foods it has been argued that the use of antibiotic resistant marker may pose problem to humans and animals relating antibiotic effectiveness. The  transgenic foods has been implicated to be of major concern to human health as it causes allergy as argued by some authors (Jamal et al., 2010). These new gene when introduced to the plant in turn creates a new allergy to which susceptible individuals react to. The greatest fear or worry is that GM foods may cause unknown effects in human body for example the effects of genetically modified potatoes in the digestive track of rat (Pusztai, 2009) the study showed a difference in intestine of rat fed with genetically modified potatoes and the natural potatoes indicating an unknown effect in the body.

Foods derived from transgenic crops otherwise known as GM foods has  been implicated to be a major concern to human health as it causes allergy as argued by some authors (Jamal et al., 2010). Toxicity is not left out on the list of health concerns of the novel food. The new gene when introduced to plants creates a new allergy which susceptible individuals react to. The fear that GM foods may cause unknown effects in the human body is another food for thought (Ewen & Pusztai, 1999). Research has shown that when genetically engineered potatoes was fed to rat, it caused a difference in the intestine of those ruminants as opposed by natural potatoes (Margulis, 2006). In the United States GM foods has been indicated to be one the causes of food allergy in children (Lee et al., 2017)

The question into environmental issues of the GM food are bound to be asked like: what potential environmental risk are the transgenic crops implicated? And what undesirable effects it has on non-target species (Ferry & Angharad, 2009). Apart from reducing biodiversity one of the challenges GM foods has posed on the environment is chemical toxicity (De Schrijver, De Clercq, de Maagd, & van Frankenhuyzen, 2015). On the contrary GM crops are environmental friendly as the use of resistant seed eliminates the spray of pesticides which run off to the surrounding land, however it reduces biodiversity (Bawa & Anilakumar, 2013). Gene transfer to non- target species is of considerable environmental concern, since the engineered plants with notable resistance to herbicides may cross breed with other plants  to produce weeds (Jamal et al., 2010).

Overall, in considering the safety of GM foods, the Organisation for Economic Coordination and Development (OECD) made an initial proposal of the concept of “substance equivalence” discussed by working groups like World Health Organisation and Food and Agriculture Organisation (WHO/FAO) integrated into Codex procedure for GM food safety assessment (Codex, 2009; WHO, 1995; WHO, 2000). The evaluation of the concept led to the latter being changed to “comparative safety assessment” the foremost point for safety and risk assessment. In addition, the adoption of a consistent protocol review tool is necessary for the safety assessment of GM foods and how efficient is the new biotechnological product.

Risk and benefits of GM foods along potential risk management

Consumers are worried over the negative effects that GM foods will impact on the environment and heath (Wilson, Evans, Leppard, & Syrette, 2004). The benefits of GM foods is controversial debated as public members question its health effect (Kramkowska et al., 2013). GM foods have found useful benefit in agriculture which includes providing continuous product on the food market which increases profit, increased shelf life of crops, reducing the use of herbicides and pesticides run off (Qaim, 2010). These crops can be grown in adversely weather condition e.g. poor soil yet they provide sufficient yield all year round (Finucane & Holup, 2005). GM food can tolerate cold although this is open for more research  work (Jamal et al., 2010).

Also, the transgenic crops offer foods with high nutritional content as compared to natural foods because the GM foods are enriched through genetic modification e.g. is golden rice with provitamin A, good for eye sight (Bawa & Anilakumar, 2013). The novel food has found useful application in production of therapeutic substances where they are used as raw materials to produce  oral vaccine (Kramkowska et al., 2013). However these perceived benefits of GM food was in doubt the moment a research  journal published it may have harmful effects.(Losey, Rayor, & Carter, 1999). GM plants are used for phytoremediation to clean up soil water and ground water while polar a type of GM plant is used to clean up soil contaminated by heavy metals (Bizily, Rugh, & Meagher, 2000).

However, the potential risk of GM foods includes development of resistance to antibiotics, because the process involves the transfer of resistant genes to the plants which is desired to fight pest but there is fear that the genes may affect the sensitivity of the normal flora of  the human and animal alimentary canal by making them to be resistant to antibiotics (Clark & Whitelaw, 2003). The concerns of the consumers has been the effects this modification process of foods will bring since it interferes with the natural occurring process (Domingo, 2007).

Also is the risk of food allergy, since the process involves the transfer  gene from one cell to another organism to demonstrate characters which was ab initio not expressed by the parent cell, sequence of proteins are formed in the new cell which causes food allergy (Bernstein et al., 2003). The synthesis of toxic compounds is another potential risk of GM foods, consumers are afraid that the synthesis of transferred gene could trigger the process of neoplastic process in their tissues ending up in toxicity of the cell e.g. is the 1983 event in Spain where a modified rape oil produced toxic effect that claimed the lives of many consumers (Suarez, Viloria, Garcia-Barreno, & Municio, 1985). The release of GM food into the environment bothers on its toxicology and ecological effect which makes it more wide a risk as to be included in biosafety assessment (Conner, Glare, & Nap, 2003). The ecological issue is the weediness spread of the transgene plants with pleiotrophic effect, there are two approaches that has been developed to tackle ecological risk namely the concept of familiarity and precautionary principle (Conner et al., 2003).

Furthermore, cultivation using GM crops has been linked to have reduced the efficiency of herbicides and pesticides, insecticides and herbicides toxicity and changes in modification of water and soil chemistry and quality (Mertens, 2008). GM plants like the soya bean and oilseed rape seed having wild relatives can easily cross hybrid and transfer the genes to the wild in Japan even though research has showed that it may occur at a low rate (Ferry & Angharad, 2009). It is quite unfortunate that developing countries without adequate regulation scheme are potential risk of this new technology as they are often use as mere testing or dumping ground as they contain risky substances (Finucane & Holup, 2005).

The risk management options as pointed out by (König et al., 2004) includes authorization and enforcement of risk management to prevent or reduce associated risk, for example, the labelling of genetically modified food is a requirement now to inform consumers of the choice they make. Even though some critiques argue that separating risk assessment and its management yet does not remove the risk perception because risk is products of circumstance in the society (König et al., 2004).  The European Union (EU) issued a directive dated back to 1990 that genetically modified organism should be subjected to risk assessment before release into the environment and ultimately marketed (Meyer et al., 2005) and counter directive by was also given by EU to deliberately release GMOs into the environment even though this is on case by case basis (European Union, 2002), in dealing with the risk assessment of a plant for instance, oilseed crop rape, it is important to take into consideration the evaluation, identification and managing potential risk to the environment. The essence is to identify the harmful effects and then scientifically estimate the likelihood of the occurrence (Meyer et al., 2005). (Garcia-Alonso et al., 2006) reiterates that regulatory decisions concerning genetically modified organisms are made based on scientific risk evaluation of the GM plant, this one of the parameters to complete risk evaluation while the other is food and feed safety evaluation. The knowledge of the nature of trait from a GM plant helps in mitigating its risk options. Compulsory labelling and traceability requirement was introduced and enshrined in the revised directive 2001/18/EC by EU was enforced on 17/10/2002 (König et al., 2004).

Post- Market Monitoring (PPM)  is another aspect of the risk management of GM foods, it is expected of it to be complementary and confirm the result of pre market risk assessment, worthy of note is that this does not short change pre- market risk assessment (Wal, 2015). The EU developed a regulatory baseline for all risk assessment which involves many key players and to include risk management and separate risk assessment process for example the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is saddle with the responsibility of risk assessment (Lü & Chen, 2016), two types of risk has been identified “dread risk” and “unknown risk” while unknown risk is hazard oriented perceived to be not known, dread risk are seen as risk that cannot be controlled linked with serious consequences.


The consumption of genetically modified food amounts to risks compared to the natural occurring food, the health issues associated with GM foods cannot be over emphasized. The risks inherent in these transgenic foods has received major criticism from the opponents of biotechnology (Kramkowska et al., 2013). The risk associated with GM food are allergy, toxicity and resistance to antibiotics. It has offered potential solution to some agricultural problems like low yield and reduction in use of pesticides and herbicides. It is true that there are many opinion to this novel technology of breeding plants for better quality but there are scare data on the potential health risk associated with GM food crops (Jamal, Haque, Qidwai, & Paliwal, 2010). The potential risk management options are regulation, labelling, pre and post-market monitoring.


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