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Genetic Engineering

Essay by   •  October 30, 2010  •  Research Paper  •  3,118 Words (13 Pages)  •  1,683 Views

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Genetic engineering (GE) or genetic modification (GM) are both terms used to describe methods " to cut up and join together genetic material and especially DNA from one or more species of organism and to introduce the result into an organism in order to change one or more of its characteristics". Genetic technologies in crops involve the use of GE to change the make-up of certain plants in order to improve their quality or quantity. This essay will critique the following inference that:

For centuries human beings have used conventional techniques of selective breeding and cross-breeding of animals and plants to add desired characteristics and reduce or eliminate unwanted ones. New genetic technologies should be welcomed as providing more efficient, effective and controlled mechanisms for improving the quality and quantity of food which can be produced from limited resources of land.


The genetic integrity of crops has been altered by farmers in an effort to improve efficiency for over 10 000 years. They can be seen as pioneer genetic engineers, altering plants by crossbreeding them with others using the knowledge of inheritance of traits. Long before GE was thrust into the limelight, selective breeding assumed scientific status, allowing very direct control over crop evolution for the benefit of society. Plant breeding was confined to making crosses within and between crop species which occur naturally, and nature itself evolved. For example, the apple tree has evolved so that its seeds are enclosed within a core, and various animals in turn have evolved so that they can digest the fruit, and distribute the seeds as they do so. The dynamics of nature are changing in a way that can be seen as more natural than unnatural and GM food is simply an outcome of natural progression.

World population is projected to reach 7.7 billion by the year 2020. As a result there is constant pressure to produce enough food for all. The advancement of agriculture is a moral imperative for reducing poverty and hunger, and promoting equity in poorer countries. The United Nations mandate on food is as follows:

Food should be available to all in a quantity and quality sufficient to satisfy the dietary needs of individuals, be free from adverse substances and acceptable within the culture concerned. Such foods should be acceptable in ways that are sustainable and that do not interfere with the enjoyment of other human rights.

However, it is not so straightforward. The grain demand is expected to double in the next 20 years, and the global demand for cereals is expected to increase from 0.3% to 1.4%. Total arable land currently stands at only 300 million hectares. If the population grows by 2% per year, food production must increase by 3.2% per year. Traditional farming methods simply cannot keep up with this. As one scientist has put it, "The myth that agriculture is practised in a rural Garden of Eden needs to be dispelled and replaced with the reality of it being a struggle to produce food for an ever increasing population against natural forces." GM crops can be seen as one of the Ð''rescue-robots' of hunger, and a way of fighting against human suffering. Much higher yields of staple foods are produced through GM without enlarging the land space. New technology will result in improvement in fruit and vegetable shelf-life, improved nutritional quality and health benefits in foods, improved protein and carbohydrate content of foods, improved fat quality and more. Allergens could be taken out of peanuts or wheat, and lower calorie sugar could be produced from GM sugar beets. GM is also vital in protecting some foods we already consume. For example, unless scientists can find a way to genetically enhance the banana's ability to ward off parasites, we will be banana-less in 10 years. Benefits are endless. In a 1999 study, it was found that 96.2% of GM plants could survive freezing experiments, versus just 9.5% of traditional plants. There is simply no comparison.

Almost half a million children are affected by lack of Vitamin A, but with the sale of GM Ð''golden rice' which contains high Vitamin A from a daffodil gene , this problem can be resolved. Conversely, the potential of developing transgenic crops enriched with iron could provide the solution to the problem of anaemia which claims nearly 20% of maternal deaths in Asia and Africa. A large proportion of medicines used today contain plant extracts, which aid in curing major diseases like Hodgkin's lymphoma, AIDS, and carcinoma. GM technology can help to advance these cures and even create vaccines.

One further advantage of GE technology is that it may actually be good for the environment and ecosystems. Plants can be bioengineered to absorb toxic metals from the soil, enabling land tainted by mercury or lead to be usable again. The amount of damaging herbicides used to kill off weeds will also be reduced. Herbicide- resistant crops can be created so that farmers spray less often and later in the season so weeds can provide cover for insects and an increased food supply for small mammals and birds. Many chemicals currently used in farming have unwelcome environmental effects, but GM can help alleviate these by allowing us to produce more efficient, renewable sources of biodegradable fuel, such as Bio-diesel. GM plants can even be used as bio-factories to yield raw materials for industrial uses, and in removal of toxic industrial wastes.

The advent of this new technology has been likened to the so-called Ð''Green Revolution' involving the introduction of high yielding varieties of wheat and rice produced by conventional breeding after 1960. While this played a strong part in increasing food availability, GM has the ability to drastically exceed this, and to limitlessly benefit human endeavours.


While the idea of alleviating hunger and Ð''saving the world' so to speak does sound increasingly tempting, it can also be seen as simplistic, limited, and overall idealistic. It has been suggested that the risks in implementing the technology will far outweigh the benefits, resulting in a relapse of technology and dragging us further still from an enlightened society. An argument is that there is a vast gap in the necessary knowledge and research into the outcomes of altering genetics in farming. Although some gene alterations are tested on animals, are these animal models sensitive enough?

Another issue relates to the mechanisms of producing GM food Ð'- just how controlled



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