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GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOODS

Yolande Devere

Frankenstein foods
or an end to
famine?

 
   

Science has improved farming methods dramatically over the last 100 years. But at what price? Following the scare in Europe over mad cow disease and contaminated beef, shoppers are far more nervous about the food they buy, especially if it has been "modified" by science.

Supermarkets in Britain have been forced to lead where government has failed, and have insisted that suppliers label their products if they have been genetically modified.

The supporters of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) say that food crops can be made resistant to pests, disease and drought, and made to produce more. With such crops, harvests need never fail again. Hunger will become a thing of the past. However many people, including scientists, are very worried. GMOs raise a lot of questions such as those below, which need a lot more research, if shoppers are to be won over.

The good news is that Genetically Modified Foods are being tested more thoroughly than any other foods. Indeed, there are many common foods that would be banned if they were new today. Look at kidney beans, which are poisonous if they are not cooked properly. Peach seeds contain cyanide - every year around the world several people die from eating them. Before improved varieties were available, manioc, the staple food of millions, had to be specially prepared to remove its cyanide.

What will happen if new genes "escape" into other living things?
The genes are inserted into GMOs to do a specific job - to resist insects for example. But people are concerned that they will spread to other plants growing around the crop - as pollen on the wind or carried by insects. The insects will then starve and die. If there are no insects, birds and small animals will have nothing to eat and will also die.

The supporters of GM foods, however, say that if insects stop eating the crop, the farmer has no need to kill them with insecticide. So more insects will be allowed to live. They say that it is actually very difficult for genes to transfer between different species. They also say that genetic modification by selective breeding has been going on for generations.

Will the companies that produce the GMOs have too much power?
US company Monsanto is about to patent a technique that will stop seeds growing from genetically improved plants. This "terminator gene" will mean that seeds harvested at the end of a growing season cannot be saved and replanted the following year. Farmers will then have to go back to the company each year to buy new seed. But Monsanto has not yet made any crops with a "terminator gene", because it has yet to win over the public's confidence that GM foods are safe to eat. Once consumers are won over, will farmers avoid buying "terminator" crops if they are the cheapest?

Will the GM foods be safe to eat?
There is some controversial evidence in the US that eating GM maize has worsened asthma attacks in sufferers. Research in Britain also seems to show that GM potatoes caused problems in rats.

But the supporters of GM foods say that it should be possible to make foods that are less likely to trigger allergies. And they say that the British potato research is wrong. The rats were fed so much potato that even a normal potato would have been bad for them.

Source: New English Digest

GLOSSARY

famine: a severe shortage of food (as through crop failure) resulting in violent hunger and starvation and death (hambruna, carestía de ailimentos)
scare: panic, sudden mass fear and anxiety over anticipated events (pánico)
mad cow disease: a fatal disease of cattle affecting the central nervous system (enfermedad de la vaca loca)
far more: much more (aún más)
suppliers label: providers put labels on (los proveedores rotulen)
the supporters: the defenders (los defensores)
crops: the yield from plants in a single growing season (cosechas)
disease: illness (enfermedades)
drought: a temporary shortage of rainfall (sequía)
hunger: famine, the consequence of food deprivation (el hambre)

research: investigation (investigación, estudio)
if shoppers are to be won over
: for shoppers to become fully satisfied (para ganarse a los compradores)
thoroughly
: deeply (en profundidad)
banned: prohibited (prohibidos)
kidney beans: common bean plant, especially a variety with large red kidney-shaped beans (judías, frijoles)
poisonous: venemous (venenosos)
manioc: bitter cassava root (mandioca)
concerned: worried (preocupada)
will spread: will extend (se extiendan)
actually: really (realmente)
harvested: gathered (cosechadas)
to go back to: to return (regresar a, volver a)
worsened: made worse (empeorado)
are less likely to trigger: have less probability of generating (tienen menos probabilidades de generar)

 

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