Ethical Implications of Genetically Modified Organisms

In this ethical implications of genetically modified organisms post we have briefly explained about ethical issues of GMO’s and Addressing Issues related to GMO’s. Read on to learn more about ethical implications of genetically modified organisms!

Ethical Implications of Genetically Modified Organisms

The main reason genetically modified organisms are not more widely used is due to ethical issues. Nearly 50 countries around the world, including Australia, Japan and all of the countries in the European Union, have enacted significant restrictions or full bans on the production and sale of genetically modified organism food products, and 64 countries have GMO (Genetically Modify Organism) labeling requirements.

There are a number of ethical concerns over genetically modified (GM) foods and these have all affected public support of the products. The issues have also triggered controversy and regulations around GM foods and any company that produces these crops or products. Concerns range from the environment to risks to our food web or issues concerning disease, allergies and contamination.

Ethical Implications of Genetically Modified Organisms

Safety

In ethical implications of genetically modified organisms GMO foods are very common. Are the foods safe for human consumption? Is GMO feed healthy for animals? Many opponents of GMO foods say not enough independent testing is done before the food is approved for sale to consumers. In general, research has shown that GMO foods are safe for humans. Another safety consideration is the health of farmers and their families, animals and communities who are put at risk with exposure to chemicals used in tandem with GMO seeds.

Damage to Environment

Damage to the environment is another ethical implications of genetically modified organisms with regards to GM crops. Unfortunately, the technology is still new enough that there is much we do not know about the effect of GM crop production on the environment. Long-term studies take decades to complete and most studies of GM crop production involve short-term effects of the technology.

There are fears that if these crops do negatively impact the environment, they will spread in an out-of-control fashion and we will not be able to stop their damaging effects. For instance, one type of sugar beet that had been engineered to be resistant to a specific herbicide ended up unintentionally having the genes to resist a different herbicide. When farmers went to eliminate the crop, they still found that a small percentage had survived.

Consider that genetic engineers have the ability to create trees that grow faster than their unmodified counterparts. This seems like a great deal for the lumber or timber industry, but might some unintended consequences result? Being outdoors and grown in large quantities, the modified trees may cross-pollinate with unmodified trees to form hybrids outside of designated growing areas. This in return could create trees that could disrupt the ecosystem. For example, they could overpopulate the area or grow so large that they smother other plant life. This same scenario has unintended and undesirable consequences when the pollen from GMO crops drifts into non-GMO fields.

Allergies and Disease

A key ethical implications of genetically modified organisms about GM foods is their potential to trigger allergies or disease in humans. Given that a gene could be extracted from an allergenic organism and placed into another one that typically does not cause allergies; a person may unknowingly be exposed to an allergen. In turn, this could lead to an allergic reaction. There is also the fear that new allergies could occur from the mixing of genes from two organisms.

Disease is a major health worry with regards to GM foods. Given that some of the crops modified are done so with DNA from a bacterium or virus, there is concern that a new disease may occur in humans who consume the GM food. With some GM crops having antibiotic resistant marker genes, there is also the worry that these genes could be passed on to microbes that cause disease and health problems in humans. With widespread antibiotic resistance currently already occurring, any new resistance could prove disastrous.

Humans

Should humans be genetically engineered? Doing so could have medical applications that reduce or prevent genetic disorders such as Down’s syndrome. However, the bigger question is where should engineering humans stop? Should parents be allowed to decide their children’s eye colours, heights or even genders before birth?

Cross-Pollination

Cross-pollination is a challenge for any crop growth but it can typically be managed if care is taken to use good growing practices. There is the possibility of genes from GM foods spreading to other plants and crops, which could create overzealous weeds that can’t be contained at all.

Food Web and Risks

Risks to the food web are a very real ethical concern around GM technology. Any pesticide or herbicide from the crop could harm animals and other organisms in the environment.

For example, GM sugar beets that were produced to be resistant to herbicides did successfully reduce weeds. However, Skylark birds that consume the seeds from this particular weed would now be required to find a new food source, thereby endangering their existence.

An animal could also consume the GM crop itself, which means that if the crop has been engineered to produce a pesticide, the animal may become ill and die. In one North American study, caterpillars of the monarch butterfly were killed when they fed on pollen from GM corn crops.

Addressing Issues

Unfortunately, the controversy and fears around GM foods and any company that produces these products still continue to persevere, although this could be viewed as a positive movement because it will challenge GM technology and help to make it safer and more regulated. In one public opinion poll, it was found that the more people read about GM foods, the more concerned they became about the technology.

Studies are on-going into the many ethical concerns around GM foods but these are not conclusive and have thus far shown very mixed results. It is also very difficult to assess the long-term impact, thereby leaving many of the public fearing for the long-term safety of humans and the environment. For now, it is hoped that people will become more educated on the ethical concerns about GM foods, which will ideally fuel further research and accountability in the field.

Further Readings

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