Lately genetically modified foods have been hitting the headlines of news across the globe. With public and private interest, as well as groups protesting against genetically modified foods production and consumption, the issue has become one of the top stories. The controversy has been worsened by the latest study about the negative effects of the GM foods on caterpillars. These types of studies have raised curiosity of the nations concerning the safety of the GM foods.
Scientifically, the phrase “genetically modified foods” or “GMOs” is used in reference of crops that are designed for human or animal consumption by applying the molecular biology methods. These crops are modified in the laboratory intending to enhance the natural properties, some of which have been traditionally improved through cross breeding. Cross breeding is a technique that is usually time-consuming and inaccurate in meeting the same goal that is attained easier through molecular biology technology. On the other hand, genetic engineering is the advanced technology, which is used for development of desired traits in crops. For example, scientists are able to develop crops that can tolerate drought by enhancing the genes of the crops that are responsible of drought tolerance.
The production of genetically modified crops and other products has a bone on bone of contentions mainly from the consumers. The key concern of the consumers is not just the prices of these products, but also the side and long-term effects of the consumption of GMOs. These sentiments are also coming from the environmentalists and religion representatives. There are questions about the morality and ethical implication on both the production and consumption of these unnatural products. The appreciation and achievement of GM foods is subjective and is based on consumers’ informed decisions. Currently, consumers are greatly considering the quality of the food they are purchasing, its safety and the environmental consequences of the means of food production. The outcomes of researches, which have been conducted regarding the acceptability of the genetically modified products, have highlighted the issues that crops derived from biotechnology. The revealed issues are grouped as credibility issues in connection to government regulations, the information gap between the consumers and the producers, and safety matters related to both the consumer and his environment (Cambridge Scientific Abstracts, 2000).
Researchers have carried out studies investigating the relationship between the perceived threat from the consumption of GMOs products, food safety issues, and socioeconomic matters (Baker et al, 1993[t1] ). The outcome revealed significant differences between consumers’ strata in their willingness to purchase food products that borne safety labels. Other social and traditional factors, including but are not limited to education, age, environment, gender, animal rights, and the size of household contribute to the uptake of certain product by consumers.
Another group of researchers, who has contributed to the topic of genetically modified food, is Caswell et al, (1995) and they took a holistic approach. The biological aspect of the process was given an economic scope. According to this study, public policies, consumers’ demand, and producers’ expectations for the GMOs products have effects on their supply. Nevertheless, the future of biotech foods sectors depends on the consumers’ demands for genetically modified products (Hawkes, 2000).
In his study, Hoban (1999)[t2] , analyzed the public perception of the safety of GMOs foods and biotechnology in developed countries, such as the U.S. and Japan. Hoban analyzed public awareness and willingness to consume genetically modified foods. Telephone interviews were carried out in the U.S. and Japan in the period between 1995 and 1998. The outcomes recorded an increased number of people willing to consume GMOs foods. In the U.S., the rate of awareness had increased significantly and the number of those who were willing to consume GMOs foods products was higher compared to Japan.
Farmers have conducted several researches on the adoption and use of biotechnology. Most significant research consisted of 211 dairy farms in New York, rbST was introduced and its impact on milk production was examined. In conclusion it was established that the product did not yield profit; the explanation behind these results was the lack of prior education about the importance of the product (Hubbard, 2010).
However, most of the studies in the U.S. indicate that Americans supports the technology, but this does not imply that this is the opinion for the rest of the world. A case study conducted by government in Australia states that out of 1,378 people participating in a study, 89% of the respondents advocate for labeling of genetically modified foods to give consumers a chance to choose what to eat. There were only 4% of the respondents voting against the idea of labeling (Kanter, 2010).
According to the U.S. Agriculture Department , there are approximately 40 crops varieties the have met the federal commercialization requirements. Some of these crops include cantaloupes and tomatoes that have enhanced ripening traits, soybeans that have modified to resist herbicides and corns that are resistant to pests. However, not all of these crops are readily available in the market. The prevalence of the genetically modified foods in the U.S. market is extensive. Though there are few genetically modified fruits and vegetables in the market, most processed food products, such as breakfast cereals and cooling oil, often contain quantities of biotech ingredients, given that the raw materials needed for processing are of vast selection and originate from different supplies.
Thirteen nations grew genetically modified food crops for commercial purposes in 2000, of which the U.S. was the greatest producer. Statistics from International Services for Acquisition of Agribiotec indicated that in 2000 about 68 percent of all genetically modified food crops were raised in the U.S. Compared to Canada, Argentina and China producing 7%, 23% and 1% respectively. Other nations that produced genetically modified crops during the same period are France, Australia, Mexico, Romania, Bulgaria, South Africa, Uruguay, and Spain. Among the crops, corn and soybeans are the widely produced vegetables contributing 84% of all the crops produced in 2000. The least modified products include cotton, potatoes, and rapeseed. It is estimated that 78% of the modified crops were enhanced to resist herbicides, 20% were made to resist pest, while about 7% were modified to withstand both insect pest and herbicides. Around the world, the acreage under genetically modified crops has increase 2500% over a period of five years (Pollack, 2011).
For the biotech to be appreciated widely, the advocates of the development must demonstrate that it is beneficial not only to large-scale farmers and multinational companies but to the target consumers as well. Currently, the benefits of GMO foods are mainly felt in developed countries where farmers are industrialized; to them there is the reduced cost of production because of the simplified pest management methods and reduced inputs. In 2005, herbicide contributed 74% of the world transgenic crop acreages, while the quality characteristics accounted for 0.1%. It is expected that the size and distribution of the benefits of the production of GMOs will be changing as the technology and information are embraced widely.