Genetically modified crops are banned in most European and North America countries and are not grown in these areas. But in Africa the opposite is what is happening, genetically modified crops are found everywhere in Africa. What are the dangers in genetically modified crops? What can be done about it?
Biotechnology has moved at such a dizzying pace that neither the law nor regulating agencies can keep up with it. Research can scarcely begin to prevent unforeseen consequences from arising. A growing chorus of critics warn of unintended results, ranging from severe economic dislocation for the world’s farmers to environmental destruction and threats to human health. Researchers warn that there are no long-term, large-scale tests to prove the safety of genetically modified [GM] food. They point to a number of potential dangers.
If a gene producing a protein that causes allergic responses ended up in corn, for instance, people who suffer from food allergies could be exposed to grave danger. Despite the fact that food-regulating agencies require companies to report whether altered food contains any problem proteins, some researchers fear that unknown allergies could slip through the system.
Some experts believe that genetic modification may enhance natural plant toxins in unexpected ways. When a gene is switched on, besides having the desired effect, it may also set off the production of natural toxins.
As part of the genetic modification of plants, scientists use what are called marker genes to determine if the desired gene has been successfully embedded. As most marker genes provide resistance to antibiotics, critics fear that this could contribute to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance. Other scientists, however, counter that such marker genes are genetically scrambled before use, thus alleviating this danger.
One of the biggest fears is that once modified crops are planted, genes will escape via seeds and pollen to weedy relatives, creating superweeds that are able to resist herbicides.
Researchers from Cornell University reported that monarch butterfly caterpillars that ate leaves dusted with pollen from GM corn sickened and died. While some question the validity of this study, there is still some concern that other nontargeted species could be harmed.
Among the most successful GM crops are some that contain a gene that produces a protein toxic to insect pests. However, biologists warn that exposing pests to the toxin produced by this gene will help the pests develop resistance and thus render pesticides useless.