Nowadays, a relatively large proportion of the food consumed is genetically modified (GM) due to multiple economic, commercial, and environmental reasons. The use of biotechnology in relation to food has generated a multitude of debates and concerns, particularly regarding the impact of such nutrition on human health. McFadden and Lusk provide evidence that people have limited knowledge of GM food and have various biases about it (3091). At the same time, the advantages and disadvantages of the use of genetic modifications in the field of nutrition are actively discussed in the research literature. This paper gives a critical analysis of the GM food phenomenon, describing its benefits and drawbacks, and also observes consumer perceptions and misconceptions in this regard.
Benefits and Drawbacks
In the actual circumstances, according to a series of studies, GM food has both positive and negative effects in many aspects, including human health. Researchers provide evidence that the use of GM seeds increases the efficiency, productivity, and profitability of agricultural activities (Van Acker et al.). The corresponding biotechnologies, in this case, increase the yield of the crops and thus increase the amount of the final product. A related major advantage is that the yield and endurance of GM crops reduce the use of tillage and pesticides (Van Acker et al.). That, in turn, leads to the lower use of fuel in farming activities and minimizes the carbon footprint. Moreover, GM crops are often resistant to chemicals used for weed control, and also contain a specific toxin that is poisonous to pests but should be harmless to humans. However, all the above merits of GM crops have their downsides.
The biotechnology used to modify seeds is expensive and time-consuming, and small farmers are not always able to adopt it. According to Van Acker et al., “repeated use of a single pesticide over time leads to the development of resistance in populations of the target” pest species that evolve over time. Besides, there are concerns in the literature that GM seeds may adversely affect the organisms and landscape where they grow (Van Acker et al.). That aside, the population is especially anxious about the impact of such genetic modifications on human health.
GM foods are often considered to have several potential risks. Researchers note that they include “antibiotic resistance, allergy, and toxicity” (Ozkok 358). Genetic modifications responsible for crop sustainability can transmit such tolerance to certain harmful germs in the human organism and make them resistant to antibiotics. However, the report of the World Health Organization states that the primary reason that bacteria develop resistance to antibiotics is their wrong use (Ozkok 358). With regard to allergies and toxicity, the literature describes cases whereby genetic modifications presumably caused severe allergic reactions and even fatal consequences due to pest control toxins (Ozkok 358). Such risks and associated precedents are the arguments of individuals who consider GM food to be dangerous to health.
Nevertheless, these cases do not occur regularly and are not comparable to the amount of GM products. Moreover, researchers note that genetic modifications can have an indirect positive impact on human health. As previously stated, they reduce the use of insecticides and herbicides (Van Acker et al.). According to McFadden and Lusk, “88% of scientist members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science believe GM food is safe to eat” (3091). It should be concluded that there is uncertainty about the actual impact of GM foods on human health in the research literature, but scientists tend to assume that the potential risks are insignificant.
Consumer perceptions of GM foods are controversial and often negative. The research literature states that only 37% of American consumers believe that such food is harmless to their health (McFadden and Lusk 3091). Since there is no unambiguous clarity about the real impact of biotechnology in nutrition on the human organism, people tend to assume the worst and overestimate possible risks. According to McFadden and Lusk, the negative assessment of genetically modified food is supported by the media and other social influences, such as people already convinced of its harm (3091). Therewith, the reality is that the level of knowledge on this issue among ordinary consumers is rather low. Researchers note that “although many consumers claimed to be opposed to GM food, there was an overall lack of knowledge about” it (McFadden and Lusk 3091). These circumstances raise the issue of establishing a dialogue between the scientific and public communities, as well as the provision of adequate research data in social media.
There are numerous studies currently being conducted on consumer misconceptions about GM food and the ways to change the negative attitude to it. The most effective measure is the structural communication of data on the benefits and drawbacks of biotechnologies applied in the field of nutrition in various aspects, including human health. According to Heddy et al., “when people engage in conceptual change related to GM foods, their emotions and attitudes become more positive” (524). Thus, a more in-depth understanding of this issue contributes to the reduction of adverse reactions to it. Changing the cognitive approaches of consumers to the problem of GM food is also essential because they reflect people’s perception of various phenomena appearing in the information field.
It should be noted that the use of genetic modifications in the agricultural sector has several economic, financial, and environmental advantages and disadvantages. At the same time, the research literature discusses the potential risks of GM food to human health, although a large part of the research community agrees that they are insignificant. Consumers are not sufficiently aware of GM food and are prone to have prejudices about them. Scientists are conducting studies on consumer misperceptions and the possibilities of modifying them.
Heddy, Benjamin C., et al. “Modifying Knowledge, Emotions, and Attitudes regarding Genetically Modified Foods.” The Journal of Experimental Education, vol. 85, no. 3, 2017, pp. 513-533.
McFadden, Brandon R., and Jayson L. Lusk. “What Consumers Don’t Know about Genetically Modified Food, and How that Affects Beliefs.” The FASEB Journal, vol. 30, no. 9, 2016, pp. 3091-3096.
Ozkok, Gulcin A., “Genetically Modified Foods and the Probable Risks on Human Health.” International Journal of Nutrition and Food Sciences, vol. 4, no. 3, 2015, pp. 356-363.
Van Acker, Rene, et al. “Pros and Cons of GMO Crop Farming.” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Environmental Science, 2017, Web.