Global events such as overpopulation, climate change, and a shortage of food resources have led to the use of biotechnology in agriculture to produce genetically modified crops. Genetic modifications allow plants to withstand any potential environmental and farms can produce higher amounts of harvested crop yields. However, the introduction of genetically modified crops has created significant controversy in public and scientific circles, presenting arguments over the safety and ethical basis of the technology. This report investigates the biological basis and socio-ethical implications of genetically modified crop technology.
Genetically modified products were massively introduced in the 1990’s and have since become a widespread practice in agriculture for field crops. Most often trait modifications in genetically engineered crops include insect resistance and herbicide tolerance. For example, a crop may contain genes from soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis which leads to protein production that is toxic to specific insects but safe for mammals. Other genes allow for the production of the enzyme that protects crops from effective herbicide glyphosate used against weeds. The most popular genetically modified crops in the United States include cotton, corn, soybeans, and sugar beets (Byrne, 2014).
The scientific principle behind genetically modified crops is the process of DNA sequencing. The characteristics and traits of any living organisms are defined by its genetic composition and environmental factors. An organism’s genome contains individual genes which provide instructions for the synthesis of enzymes and proteins that cause the plant to exhibit particularly desired characteristics. Genetic modification refers to the use of gene transfers through cloning, splicing, and insertion of DNA segments amongst organisms in laboratory settings. Any product that was created using this recombinant DNA technology is interchangeably defined as a genetically modified organism (GMO).
Social and Ethical Implications
The introduction of genetically modified crops presents a myriad of benefits to the improvement of agronomic performance of crops. It allows to increase scales of production in both quality and quantity of commercially important plant products. Food has a higher utility value as genetic modification enhances its nutritional, therapeutic, and health benefits. The protein synthesis in these products which creates a composition of essential minerals and vitamins can address health and malnutrition issues at a low price than its traditional alternatives.
In addition, genetic modifications improve technological and utility processes related to agriculture and food science. One of the most effective methods was modifying gene expression of the enzyme activity responsible for ripening. The slowing down of the metabolism in a vegetable such as tomatoes or potatoes allowed for the longevity of storage and edibility. Furthermore, the cultivation of transgenic organisms can be used to obtain recombined proteins which can be used for therapeutic substances. Synthesis of biologically active compounds is necessary for the production of enzymes, antibodies, and hormones used in medicines (Kramkowska, Grzelak, & Czyżewska, 2013).
The GMO technology is relatively recent and causes public concern for its health and environmental safety. Most critics cite that the effects of genetically modified crops on human health are not yet fully known and not enough long-term scientific studies have been conducted to assure their safety. Health issues related to the topic include the possibility of unpredicted food allergies and toxic contaminants of genetic products. There is a common belief in many groups and communities that genetically modified foods can directly or indirectly lead to diseases. Studies on mice have shown mitochondrial degeneration and epithelial cell hypertrophy amongst other conditions.
Environmental concerns include the introduction of herbicide-resistant plants which could lead to the evolution of superweeds or resistant insects. This could have long-term ecological impacts as the balance is disrupted and new threats could emerge for plants and animals that were not affected before (Bawa & Anilakumar, 2013). However, due to lack of adequate research, it is difficult to identify long-term effects on human health and the environment.
The factors described above contribute to the overall debate on the ethical standards of using genetically modified crops. One of the primary arguments for labeling genetic modification as unethical is human involvement in natural processes. However, this position can be dismissed since it follows a similar morality to that of conventional breeding. The benefits that GM crops offer, particularly in developing countries where populations suffer from poverty and malnutrition, make it ethically necessary to explore it as a potential technology for the improvement of humanity. Meanwhile, the unknown nature of long-term effects of genetic modification on human health and the environment create ethical barriers to widespread adoption of this technology (Murnaghan, 2018).
I maintain the viewpoint that genetically modified crops are a necessary biotechnology in the modern world. It is the only comprehensible method which can be used to sustain the global population. Furthermore, GM crops have countless possibilities in terms of sustainability, resistance to climate change, and use for pro-health utility purposes. However, the process of genetic modification of crops should be strictly regulated by government and scientific agencies.
Any agricultural practices and further production of food should adhere to the highest standards of quality. Finally, significant resources should be invested into studying the effects of GMOs as well as the potential uses that the technology can offer. Only under these conditions do I believe it is appropriate to support the agricultural practices of using genetically modified crops. Despite significant benefits, the risks of this technology can be detrimental if left unregulated.
Bawa, A. S., & Anilakumar, K. R. (2013). Genetically modified foods: Safety, risks and public concerns—A review. Journal of Food Science and Technology, 50(6), 1035–1046. Web.
Byrne, P. (2014). Genetically modified (GM) crops: Techniques and applications. Web.
Kramkowska, M., Grzelak, T., & Czyżewska, K. (2013). Benefits and risks associated with genetically modified food products. Annals of Agricultural and Environmental Medicine, 20(3), 413-419. Web.
Murnaghan, I. (2018). Ethical concerns and GM foods. Web.