|Image credit: Microsoft Clipart|
This week there has been two stories in the news about genetically modified GM foods. One of which is beef grown from stem cells in a lab with the aim of easing the increasing strain on the meat industry, the other is Golden Rice, which is rice with genetically added beta carotene to solve the Vitamin A deficiency in the Philippines.
GM foods are not new, but what is new is the level of approval and support they have been given in the UK. Chances are, you've already eaten GM foods, they may have fed the cattle on your plate if the meat has been imported, as in countries outside of Europe, these foods are rife. If you're a USA reader, you're probably thinking the UK are way behind on this issue (we are, as our supermarkets barely stock GM products for it to become a topic for water cooler conversation).
I have to admit, like many people in Britain, my initial response was one of concern and distrust. I have no doubt that my concerns come from a lack of unbiased information. We can never be sure in this society whether our news has been stuffed full of propaganda to support whatever latest scheme the government has came up with under the motivation of saving money or conversely rubbish any idea that is beneficial but costly. Furthermore, we can never be sure whether the governments are making qualified, balanced decisions about our health simply because someone, somewhere is making profit from food, health care and pharmaceuticals.
Only a small percentage of the population have access to a wealth of impartial scientific research or the time to systematically review it (even if they were to have the understanding of how to go about this). As a result, many of us rely on mainstream journalism to translate the jargon and stats for us. The problem is, when money is a factor, such as the sales of newspapers with their 'shock reports', we can never be absolutely sure that our health is being prioritised or even considered.
For many people there may be a distrust in science itself, perhaps as a result of environmental, religious, dietary or cultural beliefs. I'm sure many of you will certainly remember the thalidomide catastrophe that undoubtedly fuelled the distrust of science, particularly pharmaceuticals. At the same time however, you'll remember the media panics about mobile phones and brain cancer, a few decades later these concerns are largely proven unfounded and are all but forgotten, resulting in everyone of us walking around with one! It's basically human instinct to mistrust new things (rightly so) and understandably many of us may want to patiently sit out to see how any new development plays out, it's just that none of us are willing to be the test subjects!
Food is being engineered for a variety of reasons, whether it's to have more nutrition, or to allow countries to grow crops at times of harsh weather conditions or to reduce the strains of a growing world population on the food supply. These are valid, humanitarian reasons, but there's much concern and controversy over the safety of such foods.
Many scientific studies have overwhelming concluded overall that GM foods are safe in the short term to human and animal health but at this point in time, we simply cannot be sure of the long term consequences to human health, animals and the environment as these foods have only been around for a relatively short time.
I guess the issue here is that our world's problems are fast approaching and as a consequence we don't realistic have the time to carry out longitudinal studies prior to putting these foods on the market. Does this make us all one big naturalistic experiment? Perhaps, but I'd like to believe that scientists (not the governments, marketers, or journalists perhaps) have our best interests at heart and would eat these foods themselves with the full knowledge of what they are.
Below is a documentary about GM foods that contains both sides of the argument. Of course, with being mainstream media, we need to watch it critically, but it's pretty useful if like me, you're getting overwhelmed and confused about the terms used and the media panic.