Genetically Modified Foods
Genetically modified organisms or GMOs are organisms which have had their DNA changed in some way to affect an aspect of their value; when this is done to products consumed by humans or animals the result is known as a genetically modified food or GM food. GM foods started to enter the market in the early-mid 1990s and have increased their presence exponentially since then. In the U.S. today, about 70-75 percent of processed foods sold in most grocery and supermarket stores contain some ingredients that are genetically modified (Whitman, 2000, p. 1). Although genetically modified foods have become well integrated into markets in many parts of the world; the safety, public opinion, integration onto the market, laws and labeling surrounding them have been very controversial.
The safety of genetically modified foods is a large part of the controversy in political and public fields. In a 2004 assessment of food safety derived from genetically modified crops conducted by A. König et al. (2004) found that the safety precautions and research concerning GM crops was mildly inadequate and needed improvement to satisfy the increasing demands of an ever-expanding consumer base. In contrast, an article written in 2007 by A. Constable et al. (2007) on the history of safety practices with GM foods claimed that GM foods' safety has been thoroughly investigated, but should continue to be investigated further as the inevitable advancement of research is continued. A 90 day study on the effects of feeding rats genetically modified plants performed by Knudsen & Poulsen (2007) found that the intestinal wall and liver of the specimen tested became irritated and began to reject the GM plants. A similar study done by Vendômois, Roullier, Cellier, & Séralin (2009); feeding rats genetically modified corn found the same results with the addition of kidney failure in the specimen. These findings have been repeatedly challenged and rejected by much of the scientific community claiming that the experiments were flawed and the findings were due to the fact that in both studies the rats were fed only a single type of food and that that is what caused the shock to the systems of the rats, not the genetically modified nature of the foods (“Assessment of Quality and Response to Technical Issues”, 2009, p. 1-14). Much of the literature surrounding genetically modified foods and their safety can be difficult to analyze. Many sources of information can be proven and then discredited by other sources. The controversial nature of the topic creates many sources that have opposing agendas although not always evident. The public opinion of GM foods is one aspect of controversy that sometimes becomes integrated with the scientific research conducted.
Public opinion and view of genetically modified food is a major part of the controversy affecting the GM food epoch. Research of societal aspects of GM foods by Frewer et al. (2004) focused on deciphering the origin and reasoning of the controversy that genetically modified foods has produced. Their findings showed that the expedited commercialism and approval by government agencies and industries has made a large portion of concerned consumers hesitant to accept GM foods a reliable food source. A supporting study by Jensen & Sandoe (2002) on the general public's opinion of GM food safety and ethics in Europe showed that the actions and (more so inactions relevant to regulation) of European governments led the loss of confidence that Europeans have in their food safety. The study goes further to suggest that the European Union will only be able to regain the trust of the public by “scientific rearmament” or rebuilding and restructuring of the governmental policies affecting genetically modified foods and their distribution and safety. A research study done by Saher, Lindeman & Hursti (2006) compared the effects of a growing vegetarian and vegan population in North America and Europe on the opinions of the public about GM and organic foods (foods generally understood as processed to less extent compared to traditionally processed foods). They found that most vegan and vegetarian consumers were more attracted to the organic foods and had a general negative view of the genetically modified foods. However, in apparent contrast to Saher et al.'s findings; Whiteman (2000) found that 82% of soybeans cultivated in the United States were genetically modified. In the Saher et al. (2006) study it was determined that the majority of vegans and vegetarians depend highly upon the use of soy products in substitution for animal products. In a survey conducted on the dispersion and development of consumer preferences about GM foods Dannenberg (2009) concluded that in surveys and polls given to consumers about GM foods and their preferences on them, showed that the results more often depended on how a particular consumer was questioned about the topic rather than their actual preference or knowledge about GM foods. It can be concluded that the general reason for this miscorrelation of data is due to two factors, either consumers are uneducated about GM foods and unsure of what one actually is or the participants in the study were deviant with their statements. The latter is more unlikely due to the fact that the results have been supported by other similar studies. Public opinion of genetically modified foods is divided between support for and against them, possibly due to an uneducated majority of consumers or the claimed unethical practices of government and industries.
The integration of genetically modified foods into the marketplace has been another area of conflicting belief with the public. A study conducted by Le Curieux-Belfond, Vandelac, Caron, & Séralini (2009) on the factors to consider before production and commercialization of genetically modified organisms found that several standards of approval normally used with products entering the market were not applied prior to the approval of certain seafood products that entered the market. Dannenberg (2009) evaluated the dispersion and integration of GM foods onto the market and how it was viewed in the public eye. Findings showed that in the short-run ethnic, cultural and geographical differences created high levels variability in acceptance to GM foods. However, it also showed that in the long-run the cultural, ethnic and geographic variations in opinions about GM foods migrated to a point of an average equilibrium. This shows that differences in ethnicity, culture and geographical location don't actually affect the population's habitual tendencies relating to acceptance of GM foods in the long-run after initial differences. Research by Oguz (2009) in a study looking at the attitudes of Turkish consumers on genetically modified foods in the marketplace showed that due to the delayed introduction of GMO products to the market; consumers were more hesitant to accept them. Consumers were hesitant because of a perceived uncertainty on the government's behalf of their release to the market. Many scholarly sources agree that that the integration GM food into the market is a scenario in which there will always be a split in public opinion. Research has shown that if GM foods are integrated in the market too expediently that some of the population will reject it due to the belief that it has not been appropriately tested or adequately approved. However, if GM foods are delayed from being released initially a portion of the public will have doubts that products were initially being held back due to some unforeseen safety issue that may still be a threat. Integration of GM foods into the market and be a socio-political paradox.
A major factor in the integration and acceptance of genetically modified foods into the market are the various and greatly diverse legal and political obstacles throughout the world's markets. Labeling laws of GM foods vary greatly between countries. In the U.S. there is no law or regulation that requires GM foods or foods with GMO ingredients in them to label the products as such. In many European countries labeling of GM food products is required on all products that have been genetically engineered. To date only; cotton, rapeseed and soya are approved and available on European markets, GM maize has been approved, but is not yet available ("GMO Labeling: Guidelines," 2001). Research by Gruère (2006) on the comparison of retail related effects of GM food labeling policies compared the labeling policies of France and Canada. France is under the European Union's mandatory labeling policy of GM foods, while Canada has a voluntary labeling policy for GM and non-GM foods, the producers of products can choose if they want to label their products as genetically modified. Gruère observed that for the most part industries avoided labeling their products in fear that it would negatively affect the products' sales. Initially a few products from certain producers labeled their products in hopes to keep a strong consumer base by giving them the right to choose their products through loyalty. The majority of the producers that attempted labeling suffered massive losses in their sales. Under the French labeling policy about 23% of consumers were willing to purchase GM foods. A research survey conducted by Pew Research Center for People and the Press (2003) showed high disapproval rates for genetically modified foods in various countries. In countries where labeling is not required the disapproval rate was much lower. In the U.S. 55% and in Canada 63% of consumers shared negative feelings toward GM foods. In countries where labeling is required had a much higher disapproval rate; for France 81% disapproved, and for Germany 89% disapproved. From this information it may be inferred that the labeling of genetically modified food products may increase negative opinions towards them, and when given a choice and information to choose between GM foods and non-GM foods, the majority of the population would avoid GM products.
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