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Insurance Article

Genetically Modified Food and their Impact on Health

June 18 2016
Genetically Modified Food

Genetically Modified Food – a new solution or a problem in disguise?

Technology has been growing at an exponential rate for the past decade; we have witnessed some unbelievable innovations, which were never thought to be possible. One such innovation is Genetically Modified (GM) food.

What is GM food?

Genetically Modified foods are obtained by altering and tweaking the genes of a plant on a deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) level to achieve desired results. It can be used to obtain higher yielding crops with fewer chemicals.

GMO (Genetically modified organisms) are a broad group of plants, animals and bacteria that are engineered for a wide variety of applications ranging from agricultural production to scientific research.

India and the GM Effect

The first GM crop variety approved for commercialisation was Biotech (BT) cotton, which increased India's cotton production by over 65% between 2002-03 and 2014-15. BT cotton accounts for over 95% of the cotton acreage, which generated an astonishing USD 12.6 billion from 2002 to 2011.

The United Nation’s Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) says that by the year 2050, the global population is expected to increase by 40% while associated global food production needs will expand by more than 70%, owing to the rapidly growing middle class in developed countries. Poor soil fertility is another factor to consider, with around 25 million hectares of land in India having low productivity of less than 1 tonne/hectare due to deficiency and toxicity of nutrients. GM crops offer hope to close this gap.

India's economic security is still heavily dependent on agriculture, sustaining 58% of the population, in spite of the dip from 75% at the time of independence.

The Possible Benefits of GM Crops

  • Increased Yield
  • 10.8 million hectares of land was planted with BT cotton in India, the income generated between 2002-2011 from this was a whopping 12.6 billion dollars. Since the introduction of GM crops, pesticide use has been reduced by 37%, farm yields have increased by 22% while profit to farmers increased by 68%.

  • Resistance to Pathogens and Diseases
  • The GM crop is resistant to pathogens such as bacteria, fungi and virus, insects and pests. It is also more tolerant to environmental factors (heat, acidic soil, drought, famines).

  • Increased Nutritional Value
  • GM foods include foods modified to enhance their nutrient profile and even customise it according to various dietary requirements.

Possible Downside of GM Foods

While there has been no concrete evidence till date, there are several concerns expressed about the health impact of GM foods. Since they have been altered on the genetic level, it may lead to other health related problems. Individuals who suffer from food allergies for instance, are worried that the allergens that are present in specific foods might crop into other foods due to genetic modifications.

GM crops can also lead to mutation in other organisms, which can result in a new wave of antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria and other pathogens. This may also be the case with bacteria that are naturally present in the human gut.

Moreover, several factors such as hormones, diet, health and age come into play, determining the response of different individuals to GM foods.

Be Proactive

The debate between the good and bad effects of GM foods is likely to continue for some years until there is some real evidence, and the long-term effects of GM foods will only be known in due time. Correspondingly, several regulations and tests will be required to ascertain the safety of such foods. Adequate labelling is an important step to be taken by food manufacturers.

As consumers, we must look out for such labels and ingredients in case of opting for GM food and be proactive to protect the health of our loved ones.

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