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Genetic Engineering – Genetically Modified Food

Genetic engineering is vastly becoming the hot topic of debate, not only in the science world but also on a global scale. It is becoming increasingly evident that with our population trends continuing to rise, there either simply isn’t enough food production from agriculture to sustain the world’s requirements or the distribution of consumption of primary production from this agriculture is greatly unequal.

Genetically modifying food is one possible solution that is already being heavily researched and tested, and is receiving its fair amount of praise for growing crops and raising livestock more efficiently and effectively as well as environmentally friendly ideals and management of natural resources. But there are also serious concerns over the safety of genetically modified foods on humans and other organisms, and ethics behind the genetic practices.

Also issues that need regarding include the impact of genetically modifying food on the natural balance of the environment, possible harsh market domination and the dependence of poorer countries on the larger industrialized nations. So can genetically modifying food really be considered a likely contender in the race to feed the ever-increasing population when there are such heavy cons associated with the social, ethical and scientific implications. A major environmental concern is that transgenic plants could pass their new genes to close relatives in the nearby wild.

Campbell, 2003) This could become a serious problem if traits such as pesticide resistance embedded into GM crops where to pass onto wild species through cross-pollination, the resulting plants becoming very difficult to control. This is just one example of how GM organisms could alter more so the natural balance and biodiversity of the environment. It would be very difficult to segregate the GM organisms from other organisms and there is no possible way of determining the effects of introduction of new synthetic genes into the natural context.

The genetic structure of any living thing is very intricate and complex, and the GM crop tests that are carried out only look at the short-term effects, and doesn’t allow for the possible effect of the future. Who determines that humans are superior to all other species and that the earth is here for our exploitation and manipulation? Is this just the natural (but intelligent) human instinct to survive as a species? To breed and become overwhelmingly abundant and rape the land of all possible resources without any regard of how much we are hurting and inevitably changing our own backyard.

Playing around with systems as complex as genetic codes is not something that should be rushed into as it very well seems to be. The consequences of entering GM organisms into the existing environment cannot be known until it is already done and I would rather be safe than sorry and propose that they should not be allowed to grow in conjunction with the environment at all. With the possibility of genetically engineering foods comes the idea of market domination.

The obvious expenses of running and maintaining a company large enough to not only research GM foods but to also produce them, will create a market of large dominating companies, leaving small agricultural practices in no position to compete but forcing them to sell there land or be taken over by the new genetic techniques and practices. In 2001 an AgBio World Foundation petition was passed for multinational seed producers Aventis CropScience to donate 3000 tons of GM experimental rice to the needy rather than destroying it as usual.

This brings up doubt as to the agenda of these particular big companies. One of the major pushes of genetic engineering is to aid and secure a means of providing foods for generations to come, and yet they are putting their own political agendas ahead of helping those who need it most at the present. To me this is the most important of all the issues surrounding the production of GM foods. The idea that the results are not matching the proposed aims and objectives set out by the scientific community, but rather it just opens up another new field of science which can be exploited by consumerism.

It seems to be that everybody is looking to solve tomorrow’s problems. But wouldn’t we be more beneficial by helping out some of the current situations of starving countries before we even think about protecting ourselves from the future. Why there aren’t laws stopping companies from disposing of perfectly good produce is completely beyond me. It just further enhances my belief that our consumer-based world would inevitably end up with serious market domination over GM foods, even if possible restraints were put in place.

I agree that simplistically, genetically modifying foods is a “possible” solution for feeding tomorrows generations, but when you look at our current consumer based society, I don’t believe it would get very far at all. Biotechnology can help countries that are resource poor by providing larger more stable crops. (worldgrowth. org) It is believed that GM crops can now not only reduce potential constraint, seasonal planting problems and costs, but can also increase the nutritional quality of agricultural products. GM crops can be produced to be herbicide resistant.

This means that farmers could spray these crops with herbicide and kill the weeds without affecting the crop. This in turn means that the amount of herbicide used in one season would be reduced, with a reduction of costs for the farmer and consumers. Pest resistance is another means by which crops, in particular cotton, can remove the need for pesticides, which are harmful to the environment. There is also experimentation on producing crops that are drought and salt tolerant and less reliant on fertilisers, which will open up new areas to be farmed and increased productivity.

So in the initial stages of research the costs for genetically modifying foods may be expensive with many large companies investing laboratories, equipment and human resources. But in the end it is a much cheaper option for farmers because of the reduction in pesticide and herbicide and high yields of quality product. Controversy over labelling laws and their effect on GM foods have gotten many people suspicious as to how exactly GM foods can be contained and traced.

The idea that big companies could be using genetically modified organisms in their products without the need to inform there customers is not one that many would like to hear. The European Commission has started a means of control by putting forth two legislations that require the traceability of GMO’s throughout the food chain and to provide consumers with information by labelling all GM foods. These strict rules however will imply a heavy burden on the food industry as it significantly tightens the use of genetic engineering and will be introduction of new costs.

By also informing publicly on labels that this particular food contains genetically modified organisms could potentially scare the consumer into buying another product without the genetically modified food, particularly those who are against such practises. So it will have a great impact on the companies employing these methods as to whether it will be beneficial. Certainly the manufacturing costs will lesson, but is this enough to sacrifice possible consumer reduction. Allergens and toxins are feared to be transferred from one food to another during the process of genetic engineering.

For example people allergic to peanuts might unrepentantly find themselves allergic to GM foods that contains a peanut gene. () This is inadvertently a problem because of the diversity of allergies, and to eliminate this problem would mean all genes being used for genetic modification would have to be cleared of allergenic characteristics. This would prove a very tedious task and not one that companies would like to employ. On the other hand, genetic engineering can tailor-make specific foods that don’t trigger allergic reactions in people.

The advantages of genetically modifying food include pest and disease resistance, selective herbicide tolerance and higher yields and quality. However, until further studies are carried out to determine the effects on human health and the stability of the environment then there will be causes for concern. Genetic engineering is a plausible solution to our growing population and demands on food, but is necessary to take precaution before any action is taken or we could find ourselves worse off then we already are.

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