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The Gmo Debate: Controversies Surrounding Recombinant Gene Technology And Attitudes Of The British Public

3876 words - 16 pages

INTRODUCTION:Genetic modification (GM) is the manipulation of a living organisms' genetic material by the elimination, alteration or addition of specific gene-encoding DNA sequences. Genetic modification often involves the transfer of genetic material from one organism to another so that the recipient may express traits that are naturally characteristic of the donor.BACKGROUND:The use of biotechnology to aid the production of crops and livestock has a longstanding history. Genetic modification of plants and animals was practiced through domestication and controlled breeding long before the heritability of traits and the role of DNA was fully understood. Recent advances in our understanding ...view middle of the document...

The first GM food crop to be grown commercially was a tomato dubbed FlavrSavr® created by Calgene, which was put on the US market in 1994 after approval by the US Food and Drug administration (FDA). This made its way on to British shelves as tomato puree in 1996 with little public resistance. It was not until August 1998; following comments made by Dr Arpad Pusztai whom alleged his research revealed possible health risks associated with genetically modified food that the anti-GM movement took off with any real force.Opinion on the issue remains divided; clearly the techniques have far reaching scientific and technological benefits with the potential to aid health and nutrition worldwide. However, critics have cited great potential for hazard to both humans and the environment, and as such it is imperative that the risks are assessed. Today in Britain the government has responded to public concern by enforcing heavy restrictions on the production of genetically modified organisms particularly of GM foods and food ingredients. The adverse public image of this new technology, enforced by frequent negative media attention, has lead to protests and consumer boycotting of GM goods.In the US biotechnology is the fastest growing sector in both the food and health industry. There are over 1800 US biotech companies and current GM products include medicines, vaccines, food and food ingredients, commercial materials, fibres, pesticides and biochemicals. With the scope for commercial and humanitarian benefit on both a national and international scale it is important to assess whether the widespread negative attitude towards transgenic organisms is in fact justified and more particularly whether there is any real evidence to support consumer concerns.POTENTIAL RISKS:Having identified the current attitude towards genetic modification it is important to ask why the public regard this new science with such apprehension. Therefore it is useful to highlight several examples of the potential risks associated with GM and any evidence to support their justification.The safety of GM foods is a major concern to the consumer. Several reports of adverse health effects caused by GM foods have contributed to the negative public image of such products. One of the earliest controversies regarding a genetically modified ingredient was the L-tryptophan incident of 1989. A company called Showa Denko had been experimenting with a new process and had succeeded in creating genetically engineered bacteria that produced increased amounts of L-tryptophan. Showa Denko released the product on the US market causing an endemic of Eosinophilia Myalgia Syndrome (EMS). Symptoms include paralysis, chronic neurological problems, painful swellings heart and skin complaints and autoimmune disorders. A reported 37 deaths and 1500 incidents of permanent disability resulted, although actual figures are thought to be much higher. There was a nation-wide recall of the food supplement and the...

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