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    ( Dr Ramavtar Sharma )

    Genetic engineering can do so many things which are still not well known to general public, especially in countries like . One thing the genetic engineering has done during last couple of decades is the development of genetically modified foods , popularity known as GMO foods. Engineers have modified sugar beet, canola, corn, potato, summer squash, soyabean, papaya, apple and alfalfa. In United States of America, 90-99.9 percent of these foods are now genetically modified.  As the global demand for food increases, many more countries could follow the example of USA. As these are new types of foods, there are many apprehensions among common people across the globe.

    Researchers are conducting many studies to understand GMO foods and it is the time that public, too, should know about pros and cons of these foods as they could be a part of your kitchen in not so distant future.  Firstly, one should know what is a GMO food ? Engineers design plants using genetically modified organisms ( GMO ) to improve taste, nutritional contents and resilience. Here, a genetic material or DNA of a different organism is introduced through genetic engineering. It is usually done in fruits and vegetable plants. As these plants are not naturally occurring  but modified by bio engineers, people don't trust and hence, there are many doubts, concerns and misinformation. It is uncommon for majority of human beings to go after facts. The majority mostly places its trust on hearsay.

    One major advantage of GMO foods is that they are less likely to turn brown or bruise. The flavour is not enhanced but they look more fresh and attractive than the normal fruits and vegetables. As they are more resilient to dacay, the loss to crop is lower which, in turn, benefits farmers. As the resistance to insects is much more, the farmers would need much less pesticides – a clear benefit to human and farmland .  Being able to survive under harsh conditions, GM plants may increase self life of its products, hence, there is significantly less loss to farmers and retailers.

    In some GM foods , the nutritional value of the produce has become enhanced. One such example is the golden rice rich in vitamin A. Genetic modification makes  plant and its produce more resistant to diseases – a real bonus. As per various studies,  the GM foods are a good addition to our food portfolio but some foods may cause mild allergic reactions in some people but the number is not significant as per various studies. According to the American Cancer Society, there is no evidence that GMO foods may trigger cancer in certain people. The global risk of cancer has definitely been raised but GM food is not responsible for it as per the data available to date.

    Similarly, the chances of development of bacterial resistance are very remote.  Some people fear that GMO foods might change human DNA.  Here there is an interesting fact to know. We, the human beings, have no pure DNA sequences as there are more than one thousand non- human genes in our DNA. Secondly, a common vegetable Broccoli is not a naturally occurring plant but has been developed from a wild cabbage through selective breeding by farmers over hundreds of years. Some  other vegetables, too, are somewhat modified by selective breeding.  The genes in GMO are destroyed by cooking and those who survive are degraded in human intestine before they reach the large intestine. As such, the genetic impact of GMO foods on a person is highly unlikely. As less pesticides and herbicides are used in GM crops, it may be possible that , ultimately, they may prove to be better food choices.

    GMO foods , in long, may affect biodiversity as other plant types may reduce as they become more prone to diseases which now can't affect GM plants. Overall, genetically modified foods may dominate in some selective areas of our food spectrum. The fear that they might be  significantly harmful appears to be misplaced. But we have to accept the reality of the profiteers of the seed industry making big money.






    The Northlines is an independent source on the Web for news, facts and figures relating to Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and its neighbourhood.

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