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Genetically Modified Foods: For Or Against

Abstract

Genetically modified organisms have become a highly controversial topic in science despite the fact that people have been changing the genes of crops for years. It begs the question as to why the topic has become an issue. Genetic Engineering mainly referrers to methods that make use of recombinant DNA technology (gene cloning).

Genetic Modified Crops are crops in whose original DNA makeup has been altered to produce a version of the crop that has desirable traits. The concept of changing a crop’s genes is not new technology at all. Technology that has the ability to remove undesired and add desired traits to an organism, must have some major advantages and disadvantages for humankind. Genetically Modified Crops have caused stirs in communities around the world, raising issues of ethical concerns. Seed Banks are the places where seeds are stored in order to preserve genetic diversity. Seed Banks store various seeds from different times and places, thus ensuring biodiversity of future plants.

Based on my extensive research, I am to see the negative impacts of GMCs but I do not believe that this practice should end because of the major benefits and the potential it holds.

Introduction

Genetically modified organisms have become a highly controversial topic in science despite the fact that people have been changing the genes of crops for years. It begs the question as to why the topic has become an issue for both farmers and consumers when scientists have laid down the benefits of this science. In this report, we will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of Genetically Modified Crops as well as ethical issues surrounding the topic, and if it really is the answer to world hunger. My initial opinion on GMC’s is that of a positive note. I believe that it does play a role in producing crops with better yield and quality and thus play a key role in ending world hunger

What Are Genetically modified crops?

In order to fully grasp the concept of Genetically Modified Crops, we have to understand the science of Genetic Engineering. According to Britannica Encyclopaedia and Science YouTuber, Kurzgesagt, Genetic Engineering initially was the term used to refer to different techniques where the makeup an organism has been modified or manipulated through the process of hereditary and reproduction. In the 20th century, however, the term mainly refers to methods that make use of recombinant DNA technology (gene cloning) where segments of the DNA molecule from more than one source, are combined into a cell which is then placed in the host organism where the cell containing the combined DNA, is allowed to multiply or form more of itself.

So, how exactly does GMCs relate to Genetic Engineering?

Genetic Modified Crops are crops in whose original DNA makeup has been altered to produce a version of the crop that has desirable traits such as a bigger size or better taste. The concept of changing a crop’s genes is not new technology at all. According to various documentations, humans have been altering genes of organisms to meet their dietary needs from approximately 10 000 years ago through a process called selective breeding, where humans take the crop that they would like to alter and mate them with crops that have desirable traits, until the farmer was satisfied with the produce of the crop, the classic example being corn which was made from a grass teosinte.

Selective breeding has been officially declared science practice by Robert Bakewell during the British Agricultural Revolution in the 18th century. Even though genetically modifying crops builds on selective breeding, the two methods differ greatly in precision and accuracy. Selective breeding mostly happened by chance whereas GMCs are more accurate and precise. GMCs are made by extracting the DNA of the crop and “cutting out” the undesired trait or “cutting” desired traits from another crop’s DNA, placing that trait into the DNA of the selected crop and placing that DNA into still developing crops. If traits are taken from a crop and placed into the DNA of the same type crop, scientist call this GMC a “cisgenic” crop but if the trait is taken from a completely different crop, this crop is called “transgenic” Technology that has the ability to remove undesired and add desired traits to an organism, must have some incredible advantages to humankind.

Some of the major advantages of Genetically Modified Crops are:

  • Greater yield by altering the DNA to produce more crops – allowing for more food to be available to consumers.
  • Longer life due to the fact that crops can be made resilient to diseases, pests and drought.
  • Plants are also being made to produce more nutrients. According to livestrong.com, Asian countries are planting Genetically Modified rice with an increased number of iron and vitamins needed by the human body.
  • GMC’s can also prove to be helpful in reducing the excessive use of the world’s natural resources. Due to the fact that plants can be made more efficient by, for example, needing less water, farmers can limit the need for water as well as limit land use and soil corrosion, hence save water as well as energy, making farming more eco-friendly.

Even though Genetic modification shows promise in the production of crops, altering the genes of an organism can cause huge risks and disadvantages which include:

  • “The creation of “Super weeds” according to vittana.orgvittana.org vittana.org- Because GMC’s have been made more weed resistant, natural selection may occur due to weeds becoming stronger against the chemicals designed to destroy them.
  • Increased allergic responses in humans due to protein/allergen present in the GM crops
  • Production of toxins if the “desired trait” is damaged when being placed into the DNA molecule.
  • Ingredients may be cancerous – Dr. Stanley Ewen, a consultant histopathologist at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, raised the concern that GMCs could increase the growth of malignant tumors upon contact with humans. Later, other studies suggested a link between engineered food and cancer.

Genetically Modified Crops have caused stirs in communities around the world, raising issues of ethical concerns such as not knowing where the food that they ingest comes from if it is not made naturally. Genetic Modification is still a new technology with many unknowns of the harmful effects it may cause. It is because of these issues, that many people around the world protest against the production of GMO crops calling it “unnatural” and “dangerous to humans and animals”.

Some ethical and legal concerns include:

  • Cross pollination: Genes from GM crops spreading to other plants may be good with other food crops attaining harm resistant qualities, however, the genes could spread to weeds and cause them to be hard to kill.
  • Pest-resistant crops may harm animals: The gene that deters pests from the crop could also be harmful to the animals that eat them; however, there is a study that shows that these genes do not have an effect on the human body nor animals according to Science YouTuber, Kurzgesagt.

Foods that are made with GMCs are not currently ladled to say that they are Genetically Modified so people who do not want to eat GMC’s have no way of telling GMCs pose a risk to the environment and the food web. Even though Genetic Modification was designed to decrease the farming’s impact on the environment, GMCs have sparked the increase in the use of the herbicide, Glyphosate. According to Food & Water Watch, GMCs were initially designed to decrease the use of herbicide/pesticide however this has not been the case. In actuality, according to the USDA and EPA data used in their report, the quick adoption of genetically engineered crops by farmers has increased herbicide use over the past 9 years in the U.S. The report as well as a report written by Washington State University research professor, Charles Benbrook, both focus on the topic of “super weeds” which become resistant to the herbicides used despite their variations, and hence, more herbicides are used.

Seed Banks

Seed Banks are the places where seeds are stored in order to preserve genetic- diversity according to Sourcetrace.com. Seed Banks are considered to be “libraries” of seeds and play a very important role in restoring plants that are on the verge of extinction. Seed Banks also provide the assurance of the availability of food if food supplies dwindle. Science.Howstuffworks.com provides us with a very good explanation on how seed banks work. They describe it as having a “bank account” where seeds are “deposited” and “withdrawn” when needed in the future. Scientists uses these seeds to plant in case the plant/crop die out, hence, it is very important to preserve seed banks. Naturally produced seed banks are seed banks made in nature. A scenario of naturally produced seed banks is when sees fall on a litter of leaves. This is not a permanent method unlike its artificial counterpart. Artificial seed banks are man-made structures used for the sole purpose of preserving seeds throughout time. Artificial seed banks are beneficial in the production of GMC’s because if something goes wrong when producing these crops, the crops can be scraped and a seed from a seed bank can be planted. Seed Banks allow for seeds to remain present and free from extinction through the course of time. On ecological timelines, seed banks represent local ‘biodiversity reservoirs’ that can contribute to plant population persistence and biodiversity maintenance through temporal storage effects, as well as remnants of population.

In conclusion, Seed Banks store various seeds from different times and places, thus ensuring biodiversity of future plants. Growth regulators are natural in seeds as they are responsible for the germination of seeds. In seed banks, these growth regulators lay dormant and therefore disable the seeds ability to sprout and therefore remain seeds.

My opinions on GMCs and seed banks I do completely agree with the ethical issues surrounding GMC seeds and seed banks. I do not think that GMC seeds should be stored for the simple reason being, what if scientists discover that GMCs could be quite dreadful to human and animal health and the government decides to scrap the method? If we stored the seeds instead of the original plant seed, we would not be able to reverse the production of the crops as we would be forced to plant them in order to have food. If something were to go wrong with GMC, having natural seeds could be a really good alternative.

Final Thoughts

I came into this investigation strongly believing that Genetically Modified Crops can bring an end to world hunger, I still believe in this thought, however, based on my extensive research, I am to see the negative impacts of GMCs but I do not believe that this practice should end because of the major benefits and potential it holds. Genetic Engineering allows for more crops to be made on a less amount of land, reducing resources. I do not think that the question people should be asking is “Is Genetically Engineered Food the answer to world hunger?” because it most definitely holds the ability to, however, I believe that the question we should be asking is “How can we make GMC’s a more credible science that can have a lesser impact on human health, the environment and animals?” and “How can we make this practice trusted among consumers?” Has my viewpoint been influenced? My viewpoint on the issue concerning world hunger still stands. GMCs can solve world hunger however, my glorious idea of Genetic Engineering has faltered a bit due to my research. I do believe that Genetic Engineering has great benefits to both humans and the planet however; the science is much too new to completely agree with it because there are far too many unknowns, yet I cannot completely disagree with it either.

A scenario, not included in my research, had me feeling completely neutral to the idea of GMOs. My father bought this watermelon and it was huge, far greater than an ordinary watermelon. I remember thinking “how amazing it is for humans to develop a tool that enables fruits of crops to grow to a large capacity. This one watermelon could feed two families.” On the other hand, I also thought about how the whole process is not natural and how altering genes of a crop may disrupt the functioning of another organism that ate it.

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