VuLogoPsychology Department

Health Psychology Home Page

Papers written by students providing scientific reviews of topics related to health and well being

  HomeWeight LossAlternative Therapy | Supplements | Eating Disorders | Fitness | About this Page |


Genetically Modified Foods: Helpful new tool or Harmful catalyst for disease?

Saanyol Suswam



          Genetically modified food has been a hot topic since the FDA approved the release of it in 1994. Many people are concerned with the genetically engineered foods that have now become available to the public; not much is known about the health risks and long term effects of the genetic modification on the products and their consumers. In fact, several people in the U.S. cannot even define what a genetically modified food is, and therefore associate them with completely false information whether bad or good, and do not take the time to read package labels and to further investigate these very commonplace items.

Background: What are Genetically Modified foods?

        Genetically modified foods are plants and animals that have undergone biotechnology or genetic modification, terms that are used interchangeably, to mean altering the genetic makeup of an organism. Specifically what takes place is that different genes from different organisms are combined to produce a slightly changed product or a completely new product depending on how much DNA is shared and the type. This process of combining genes is called recombinant DNA technology and results in plant or animal that is said to be genetically modified, genetically engineered, or transgenic, meaning that the new organism has a gene or genes transferred from a different species”. 


Background: Why make Genetically Modified foods?

        Although most people do not know it, man started to modify plants long ago; farmers have been searching for new varieties of crops that are more productive and resistant to natural disasters such as drought, floods, tornadoes, and earthquakes. Nowadays, using the discovery of fundamental genetics, different plants and animals “can be selected to express a range of required traits. Hence, new animal strains, plant varieties and hybrids have been produced” (Greenwell and Rughooputh, 2004). Most recently the process of recombinant DNA technology has allowed the transfer of DNA between species to be possible. The first-generation of GM (Genetically Modified) foods, traits allowed for alternative crop management solutions, while later modifications designed GM foods with improved nutrition and other health benefiting traits.

(Greenwell and Rughooputh, 20004)

         In addition to the health upgrades of the new organisms, GM plants have been created that are less susceptible to pesticides. Furthermore, animals are also included in the organisms that undergo genetic modification. In fact, two new breeds of pig have been genetically engineered: one in 2006 that produces omega-3 fatty acids through the expression of a roundworm gene that is produced internally in the pig, and a second that is able to absorb plant phosphorus more efficiently than previously breed pigs. As a result, the manure these pigs produce contains an amount of phosphorous that has decreases by about sixty percent.


The Controversy: What’s the big deal about GM foods?

Genetically modified foods, also called transgenic crops, are a very controversial topic in today’s society-not only in the U.S. but globally as well. Since much research has still not been conducted to find out the extent of the benefits and problems of genetically engineered it is hard to know whether or not these foods should become an integral part of our international human ecosystem. Although the limited studies that have been done show that genetically engineered food is advantageous, other studies show that there are many risks involved in these genetically altered crops. Nonetheless, these foods are still very ubiquitous in the U.S. today. Actually, seventy to seventy five percent of the foods eaten today in North America have been genetically altered in some way. 

Benefits: The positives of having genetically engineered foods on your plate

          Those who are in favor of the use and consumption of genetically modified food, both common man and scientist alike, argue that the benefits greatly overrule the possible risks. For the most part, there is actually no concrete evidence that states that transgenic crops could have negative effects on the consumers or the plants’ surroundings. This lack of solid proof is the reason why a few scientists claim that the design and manufacture of these crops should not halt. However, some other scientists argue that the products should not be released until further research is conducted that grants solid results of the safety of the transgenic crops.   

        Many arguments presented disputed evidence have been given regarding the benefit of genetically modified foods. These arguments include:

-The argument that GM foods could be used to produce large scale crop harvest in third world countries that are currently struggling to provide enough food to the ever growing populations. For example, in a study involving some scientists from Washington State University and their Japanese colleagues, the scientists used genes found in corn to increase the production of rice through photosynthesis. Although the study was not official, the results could be applied officially on a global level. The increases crop production methods could be used in and spread to other third world countries in need of more food. In addition to the simple increased crop yield the scientists could have designed the new crops to be more health beneficial and with increased nutritional value, a characteristic that would greatly help countries in grave danger of severe population loss because of the complications associated with malnutrition.

-          The argument that GM foods have many medical advantages in the real world. In today’s society, experimenters are adding nutrients to genetically engineered foods to prevent diseases reduce allergens and environmental toxins, produce cancer fighting antibodies, tooth decay, and heart disease. Furthermore, researchers are trying to design fruits and vegetables that contain vaccines for certain sicknesses such as: measles, hepatitis B, diarrhea, cholera and others.

-          Finally the arguments that GM foods are more flavorful and aesthetically pleasing than non GM foods and that the genetic alteration of crops, in the long run, produces stronger crops- more resistant to natural disasters, and genetic mutations.  

Problems: The negatives of being served genetically altered foods

        Although, the benefits of genetically altered foods are obvious, there still remain many problems associated with them as well. Those who are opposed to the approval and release of GM foods make these arguments against them:

-          The argument that it is morally wrong to tamper with the gene pool, even in plants and non human animals. These people believe that these actions of genetic alteration detract from the omnipotence of God and are highly offended that scientist would try to do such a thing. In a 1998 article published in the Daily Telegraph Price Charles of Wales openly criticized a group of biotechnologists for robbing God of one of his divine rights.

-          The argument that there are too many risks involving human health. Some researchers have arrived at the possibility of new allergens and carcinogens forming form the GM crops. These scientists also believe that there might be a high chance of toxins formed from the plants than previously anticipated. The biggest concern is that a new potentially life threatening allergen will arise from the crops and that scientists have no way to test for this these new allergens, and that worst of all if released into the general public, the population will have no idea whether or not they are allergic to the speculated allergens.

-          The arguments that a new superweed will be formed from the genetic alteration of plants. If a new crop is created and is very invasive or has compatible relatives nearby in the environment the possibility that a new irreversible weed will be created is very great. In addition, the possibility of the increase of reliance on herbicides, chemicals that inhibit plant growth and the danger that once they are being so heavily used it will be impossible to stop.

-          One of the greatest arguments against the production of genetically altered food is that there is a high risk for human error in the design and production of them. Some of the error could be in the way of contamination in the lab or anywhere else further down in the process of making these transgenic crops. The error also falls into the category of the inability of scientists to predict the consequences of the GM foods on the surrounding ecosystems that they are being transplanted to. There are a plethora of environments that these plants are being placed into, and almost an equal number of opportunities for the plants to disrupt the balance of nature within the ecosystems, or non-targeted species. One tiny change in the habits of a species or entire ecosystem could be catastrophic in the further development of that particular environment.

(Le, Fernandez, and Gabriel, 2004)

Conclusion: What to do now?

    Many beauty pageant contestants declare fighting world hunger as one of the things that they would like to see accomplished in the near future. While many onlookers may scoff at this proposal these contestants are in fact addressing an issue that has been looked into for several years. However, before one wishes that food magically appear on the plates of the starving children worldwide, he needs to know about the steps that are being taken to gradually alleviate this problem of hunger. I believe that genetically modified food can be a key resource in combating this immense problem of world hunger. I know the tremendous benefits of genetically altered food and I look forward to seeing the results in a few years time after the necessary tests and experiments have been conducted, perfecting the new resource and only making it more beneficial to the global ecosystem. Nonetheless, I am also very aware of the concerns that transgenic food poses on society and individual consciences; however, I am also aware of the other sacrifices that scientists and individuals have made in the pursuit of scientific discovery, and I am content that the problems I have expressed above as fulfill the criteria of risks and sacrifice, which I believe are two of the most important things leading to reward and cure. If the dilemma of transgenic foods can be cracked and perfected, I believe a much better world will come of it, just like any classic Miss America. 


Works Cited


Greenwell, P., & Rughooputh, S.  (2004). Genetically Modified Food:
     Good news but bad press. The Biomedical Scientist , 48(8),
     845-846. Retrieved from


Le, B., Fernandez, S., & Gabriel, L.  (2004). Genetically Modified Food 

    . The Traprock, 3, 37-40. Retrieved from







Psychology Department

The Health Psychology Home Page is produced and maintained by David Schlundt, PhD.


VuLogoVanderbilt Homepage

Return to the Health Psychology Home Page
Send E-mail comments or questions to Dr. Schlundt