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GMO


GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOODS

Definition

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are organisms, i. e. plants, animals or microorganisms) in which DNA the genetic material has been altered in a way that does not naturally occur by mating or natural recombination. This is often called “ modern biotechnology “ or “gene technology “or “genetic engineering “. The process allows selected individual genes to be transferred from one organism into another, and also between non-related species for introduction of new traits as well as somewhat greater control over traits than previous methods such as selective breeding. Food items produced from or using genetically modified organisms are generally referred to as “Genetically Modified Foods”.

Why GM

Why to Remould and Transfigure Natural Cycle

One of the prime objectives for developing plants, based on GM organisms is to improve crops and crop protection. It is perceived that through the introduction of resistance against plant diseases caused by insects or viruses or through increased tolerance towards herbicides producers, farmers and consumers benefit from increased yields with GM modification. Insect resistance is achieved by incorporating into food plants the gene for toxin production from the bacterium thuringiensis (Bt). This toxin is thought to be safe for human consumption. Virus resistance is achieved through the introduction of gene from certain viruses which cause diseases in plants, that make plants less susceptible to viruses, and as a result farmers achieve higher crop yields.

And herbicide tolerance is gained through the introduction of gene from a bacterium, which facilitates reduction in herbicide usage.

To para phrase the words of  Dr Calestous Juma of Harvard-based Agricultural Innovation in Africa Project, that the world would by 2050 have a population of nearly nine billion people and we have to be fed; farmers have the tool of GM now and it should be used.

So, now other reason also is ‘hunger, and increasing population’.  An answer to global hunger and the proof that vast swathes of the world are engaged in GM crops production with no proven ill–effects, GM is the solution. We have had Professor Anne Glover of University of Aberdeen declaring in Brussels in January 2015 that “reliable evidence suggests that the GM technology is utterly safe”. Matt Ridley of the Times newspaper opined in January 2015 as we para phrase that “it is nonsense to say that GM crops give control of seeds to big American companies and also, African farmers have been mostly denied genetically modified crops by the machinations of the churches and the greens, aided by EU demands that imports not be transgenically improved. They would have otherwise been better able to combat drought, pests, vitamin deficiency and toxic contamination, and avoided buying sprays and not risk their lives applying them”.

Controversies

There are obviously some controversies and disputes over the usage of food and other products derived from genetically modified crops and other uses of genetic engineering in ‘food products’.

Main dispute seems to be of “labelling”

More than sixty countries require labelling of GMO products. Whereas in USA the policy adopted by FDA is,  labelling should only be necessary to signify differences in composition or health impacts. Some environmental groups and some in medical fraternity implore for mandatory labelling to show potential long-term effect on human health, although the general scientific agreement is that that genetically modified crops are not inherently riskier to human health than conventional foods. One particular environmental concern is that GMO’s designed to decrease the weed problem has in fact aggravated it instead.

Halal Consultations would always be proponents of “food-labelling”of genetically modified foods, and even the conventional ones, to facilitate the consumer an informative choice.

Genetically Modified Food Products

Genetically Modified Food Products

  • Corn – modified to tolerate various herbicides, 90% of US crops are from GMO yield
  • Soybeans – modified to produce healthier oils and to procure toasted protein meals for cheeses, bread, breakfast cereals and pet foods
  • Cotton
  • Canola
  • Sugar beets
  • Papaya
  • Arctic Apple
  • Innate Potatoes
  • Vegetable oil
  • Some Animal Feed
  • Strains of Wheat
  • Rice – long grain, allegedly to eradicate blindness
  • Peanuts
  • Pears
  • Purple Tomatoes

The above food products and fruits are only some to be named so far, list would keep on growing and the researches and procurement continues.

Next and Future Development

Next and Future Development

  • GM Salmon
  • GM Yoghurt – to kill superbugs
  • GM Yeast, which could change sugar into morphine
  • Fish Oils – healthy oils to reduce heart diseases, GM omega-3
  • Cancer treatment- Leukaemia (immune cell fight back)
  • GM Embryos- designer babies, gene therapy and for cure to inherited diseases, which is expected to be consented and has all the backing from the Church of England according to the latest news reports.

 

Apart from the above GM organisms are probably to include plants with improved resistance against plant – diseases or drought, crops with increases nutrient levels, fish species with enhanced growth, particular and peculiar qualities. And for non-food usage GMOs could produce plant or animals producing proteins such as new vaccines that in future could become pharmaceutically important.

Researches are in the offing for GM mosquitos to qual malaria and dengue fever. Cutting out strands of insects’ DNA to render them unable to breed and spread parasites could stem the spread of such diseases. Oxitec, the company based in Abingdon Oxfordshire is keen to support the British Government for such developments and trial to contribute for the benefit of crops and eradicating virulent and noxious diseases.

Human Health

No allergic effects have been found so far either by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organisation in relation to GM foods currently (labelled as such) on the market at present. Because of the outcrossing there have been some reported cases where GM crops approved for animal feed or industrial use had been detected to have low levels in the products intended for human consumption. Many a countries now have adopted strategies to reduce mixing by clear separation of the fields within which GM crops and conventional crops are grown.

Environmental Risks

Environmental risk assessment process includes evaluation of the characteristics of the GMO and its effect and stability in environment combined with ecological features of the environment in which the GM development takes place. Particular concern includes the capability of the GMO to escape and potentially introduce the engineered genes into wild populations. The safety of environmental aspects of GM crops may vary a great deal according to local conditions. One has to be mindful that when anything new is introduced, especially in human dietary sector, debates and assessments ensue on safety, nutrition, environmental health with emphasis on long-term effect on  human-health.

Opposition to Genetically Modified Foods

As recently as May 2015 scores of thousands of people across the world demonstrated against genetically modified seeds and foods. Though, every major scientific research and organisation concludes that the genetically engineered crops on the market currently, are to the best of their knowledge safe to consume.

One has to be cognisant that grafting,  the unique way of attaching the stem of one plant to the roots of another, had been done by the Greeks hundreds of years ago. In recent times genetic engineering empowered the scientists to move genes from many species into other types of organisms. Insulin, for example, was the first genetically-engineered medicine harvested from specific animals, and now human insulin is being produced by microbes for remedy of diabetics. Likewise, if biotechnology had not been in action to insert specific bacteria into eggplant genome in Bangladesh, the usage of insecticide would have continued to the detriment of the yield and the safety of the crops would have been compromised. As far as the scientific researches are concerned in relation to the food safety, environmental health impacts and socioeconomic issues for ironing out the implicit effects of GMOs either of production or consumption of the yield, it has been an ongoing task for the last 30-40 years; and the results are that slow and steady market place is being saturated with products, labelled or otherwise that contain GMOs. No ill-effects on human growth or soil deterioration have been brought to light.

Islamic Jurisprudence and GMOs

The Qur’anic injunctions for permissibility of foods simply are: as mentioned in chapter 2 verse (part) 172:

178

 

“O you who believe, eat of the pure (good) things We have provided you”.

 

And additionally in chapter 5 verse 88 it is elucidated that:

88

“And eat of what Allah has provided for you (which is) lawful and good, and fear Allah in whom you are believers”.

Also it is mentioned in the Qur’an that Muslims should refrain from declaring unsuitable for permissible consumption, should the particular items be listed or disseminated as Halal and permissible. Chapter 2 verse 87 explains this dictum:

87

 

O you who believe, do not forbid yourselves the good things (of quality for consumption) which Allah has made lawful for you and, do not exceed the limits, surelyAllah does not love those exceed the limits “

In the light of the above rulings, axiom and commands, we Muslims should be partial to food items that have not changed colour, taste, specific properties and there is no short term and a long term possibility of detriment to human health or change of DNA of future generations.

 

We should always seek to consume foods that are” pure”, “wholesome” and “fit for human consumption”. Science and technology would and should always remain subservient to the Islamic dietary rules.

 

We Muslims have to circumspectly scrutinise and analyse whence and if genes from non-halal animals are used into halal animals or plants, because there is then always a question of validity of halal and Taqwa, fear of Allah’s commands and, because of timely rulings and information have not yet been forthcoming from Muslim scholars.

 

May Allah help us all in the Muslim fraternity in our understanding and for the rightful actions.

 

Masood Khawaja

Reviewed 22nd December 2015