This week has seen two announcements that genetically modified foods will be heading for your local supermarket in the very near future.
Tomatoes that have been genetically modified to contain enhanced levels of the antioxidant anthocyanin, which scientists claim has been shown to help fight cancer in animals, are being shipped to the UK for testing.
Scientist say that they hope the genetically modified tomatoes will improve the nutritional value of tomato based products, such as ketchup and pizzas.
1,200 litres of juice from the distinctive purple tomatoes are due to be delivered to the John Innes Research Centre in Norwich from producers in Canada.
Prof Cathie Martin, of the John Innes Centre, told the BBC “With these purple tomatoes you can get the same compounds that are present in blueberries and cranberries that give them their health benefits – but you can apply them to foods that people actually eat in significant amounts and are reasonably affordable.”
Another GMO crop which is set to go into production in open fields in the UK in the very near future has been modified to contain high concentrations of fish oils.
Government-funded researchers from Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire have spent 15 years developing the new GM plant and hope to have permission for field trials by March, with planting to start shortly after if approval is given.
The main aim of developing the plant is to provide food for farmed fish, which already receive around 80% of fish oil harvested from the oceans each year as feed.
Scientists also state that the new GM crop could be used to produce health supplements and foods, such as margarine.
The particular fish oils that benefit the health of both fish and humans, called EPA and DHA, are not in fact produced by fish themselves but instead accumulated by eating marine microbes. Napier’s team therefore took up to seven genes from algae that produce the fish oils and transplanted them into oil seed plants called camelina. It naturally produces short-chain oils and has been grown as a food crop for centuries in southern and eastern Europe and is used a biofuel crop in North America. The GM camelina has passed laboratory and greenhouse trials and about 25% of the oil in the seeds is EPA and DHA, a similar proportion to that in fish oil.
Many GM crops are introduced into our current food chain through animal feed. Animals which are fed GM based products do not have to be declared as being fed GM crops. Similarly, other food products which use ingredients derived from GM crops will not have to be labelled as such.
Although we may not see GM crops directly available on our supermarket shelves for some time to come, governments and food producers are pushing ahead with introducing GMOs into the population’s diet through stealth tactics.
So far, there have been no extensive trials into the longer-term effects of GMOs on human health, or on the effects cross-pollination will have on other crops or ecosystems. But there have been problems with some small trial crops cross-pollinating with natural plants and contaminating them.
Peter Melchett, policy director of the Soil Association which promotes organic farming, said the demand for GM fish oil supplements was likely to be limited: “People buying health supplements are among the least likely consumers to be interested in a GM product. This seems to be yet another GM product searching for a market which does not exist. Eating a healthy balanced diet gives people enough omega-3 without any need for additives in processed food.”
The extensive use of chemicals in our human food chain has resulted in many foods being very different from their natural (organic) state by the time they are consumed. Crop spraying with poison, and various processing methods – including animal feed and in meat production – may have increased the consumable life of produce and created quantity, but nutritional quality has declined – therefore leading to humans having to consume more to get similar nutritional value as they used to from a little. In addition, small quantities of chemicals enter the human diet with relatively unknown effects – especially when exposed to these substances over time.
GMO products are relatively untested, and altering the natural balance of a food source could have serious impacts on human health and the environment – especially other crops – in the long term.
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