The Long-term Effects of GM Foods
While we can sometimes find out immediately what the short-term effects of GM foods are, we don't always know what kinds of long-term effects can occur from the production and consumption of GM foods. These types of long-term effects can take years or decades to occur, which is a frightening concept when it comes to human health and well-being. Generally, the main areas relating to GM foods and health or safety include:
- Toxicity of foods
- Ability of GM foods to trigger an allergic reaction
- Stability of the gene that is added
- Nutritional consequences
- Unintended effects
Long-term effects, however, tend to focus more on unintended effects such as outcrossing and effects from the gene in terms of stability. Other issues involve the environment, where bio diversity of the ecosystem can be threatened by the use of GM crops, especially in the long-term aspect of their use.
Outcrossing Of GenesOutcrossing is a concept that involves the transfer of genes from GM plants into non-GM crops or species in the wild. It also refers to the blending of crops that are sourced from conventional seeds with the seeds that are used for GM crops. While post-marketing studies can look at the short-term effects of GM foods, long-term issues relating to outcrossing can be challenging to assess and understand. The effect is less obvious and far less direct than many of the short-term consequences of GM foods. However, outcrossing can have a significant effect on the safety of food and ultimately, our food security.
In one example, traces were found of a specific kind of maize – in maize for human consumption. This might not sound worrying initially but consider that the maize was actually only approved for use as feed in the United States. While globally, some countries have begun to use techniques such as separating fields where GM crops are grown with the fields were conventional crops are grown, the issue is clearly an important one that affects farmers and consumers everywhere.
GM Foods And Long-Term Effects On The EnvironmentA real concern regarding GM food production is the impact their creation and use may have on the environment. The threat to bio diversity means that our natural ecosystem can be compromised, particularly over the long-term. The use of one kind of GM crop could affect the growth of harmless wild plants that may serve as food to wildlife and other organisms in the ecosystem. There is the potential for a GM crop to essentially dominate the ecosystem and compromise its bio diversity, thus negatively impacting our environment.
Are GM Foods Safe?Given that there are different techniques for inserting genes into new organisms, each GM food needs to be investigated on an individual basis. In this sense, it isn't possible to make a generalised statement about the safety of GM foods because each food has its own benefits and potential challenges with reference to safety or unintended effects.
Any GM foods that are currently on the market are considered to have passed safety assessments and aren't thought to pose a risk. However, with long-term health effects, it is so difficult to assess whether a food may pose a risk in the future. Unfortunately, effects may only come to light long after the product has already been available for consumer use.
Still, simply because a product has passed all of the standard safety and health assessments, does not mean it should not continue to be monitored after it is approved for use and marketed to the public or industry. This will help to pinpoint long-term effects as they might occur and can ensure a rapid reaction and investigation into the issue.
Improving Long-Term Outcomes Of GM FoodsGM foods remain a new enough concept that there is still much we do not know about their long-term effects. While there are important ways to address this challenge – such as monitoring GM foods after they reach the market – the unfortunate reality is that it is only after damage is done that we sometimes discover the issue. In these instances, a reaction ends up being too little, too late.
For now, however, the best that is achievable under realistic circumstances is to perform as much testing on GM foods as possible prior to approval and marketing. Then, GM food use and effects on human health and the environment should be monitored, which can help to ensure that a product is immediately withdrawn if it is found to cause long-term effects.