The Arguments for and Against GMO's
Arguments in Favor of GMO's
Arguments against GMO's
Strengths and Weaknesses of the Arguments
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are controversial. There are many proponents that argue GMO's provide significant social and economic benefits, while those against the technology argue there are potential disadvantages, including risks to health and the environment. The aim of this paper is to explore the issue of GMOs, looking first at what they are, and then considering the advantages and disadvantages associated with GMO use.
GMO's are organisms, including plants and animals where there has been an alteration to the organisms DNA which did not take place naturally (Elena et al., 2013). The creation of GMO's is usually referred to a biotechnology, but it may also be called recombinant DNA technology of gene technology (Elena et al., 2013). The process of creating GMO's involves the researchers identifying characteristic they would like to produce in their target organisms, and introducing those characteristics through altering the genome, taking the relevant characteristic genes from other species (Amofa, 2014; Elena et al., 2013). GMO's that are use for human consumption are then referred to as GMO food. The first genetically modified plant was seen in 1983, with the development of a tobacco plant that was resistant to antibiotics (Elena et al., 2013). The Flavr Savr tomato, a GMO which was developed to extend shelf life by delaying the ripening process after it was harvested, was first approved by the FDA in 1994 (Whiteman, 2000), the following year many other crops were approved, including canola, corn/maize, cotton, squash, and soybeans (Elena et al., 2013). By 2011 there were 25 different crops that were authorized to be grown commercially in the U.S. (Elena et al., 2013). The take up of GMO's has been rapid, in developed and developing countries, in 2012 it was estimated that more than 170 million hectares were being used to grow GM crops (United Nations, 2014). The practice is seen across the world, as well as the U.S. which is responsible for 45% of the GM crop areas; other countries growing GM crops include Argentina, India, South Africa, Pakistan and China, as well as many European counties (United Nations, 2014). The rate of adoption is increasing, with many commercial interests perceiving the potential for major benefits. However, this has not reduced the potential controversy, and there are still concerns regarding whether or not the benefits will outweigh the risk.
Arguments in Favor of GMO's
There are many potential benefits associated with GMO's and GM food. These benefits can include, but are not limited to, desirable characteristics such as resistance to pests or disease, increased yields, better nutrition and potential benefits in the context of pharmaceuticals (Elena et al., 2013; Amofa, 2013; Gabol et al., 2012).
One of the major advantages has been the ability to develop crops which are resistant to pests. Every year huge amounts of crops are lost as a result of pests, this has a financial implication for many farmers, and can reduce the available food which is needed, and can have a significant impact especially in developing countries where there may be seen shortages (United Nations, 2014; Anonymous, 2001). In many instances, it can be some of the poorer areas that have the greatest disadvantages, as the producers may have only constrained resources to purchase insecticides/pesticides, which may result in under-treatment (a side effect of which may be increased resistance), or less favorable insecticide/pesticides choices (United Nations, 2014; Whiteman, 2000). In GM crops resistance to pests is created by the introduction of toxins into the genetic make up of the plants in order to make them more resistant (Paoletti et al., 1998). For example, there has been the introduction of the bacteria...
The benefit is not seen only within the plants, but the development of genetically engineered crops may also be beneficial to the way in which insecticides are produced, with the potential to create more effective insecticides where there still needed (Paoletti et al., 1998). Therefore, the ability to develop crops that have a natural resistance to pests may help to increase the economic benefits to producers, provide a higher level of food due to lower crop losses to pests, as well as potentially reduce the amount of pesticides which are utilized.
GM crops have also been developed with the aim of increasing tolerance to herbicides. The growth of crops may be hindered by the presence of weeds; weeds may compete for nutrition and water from the soil, and can crowd out the target crop. Therefore, the elimination or minimization of weeds helps to increase the yield that is produced. In many crops it is not viable for weeds to be removed manually, due to the amount of labor that is needed, and other practical considerations regarding access (Amofa, 2014). A common method of treating weeds is the use of herbicide, but these are expensive, and also carry risks as herbicide sprays may also damage the primary crop (Amofa, 2014). The developments of GM crops have included increased resistance weeds, so they can compete more effectively, which has reduced the need for the use of herbicide sprays (Anonymous, 1999). This is beneficial as it reduces the direct and indirect costs associated with herbicide spraying (Amofa, 2014; Anonymous, 1999). These characteristics benefit the producers by reducing costs and increasing yield which also provides financial benefits, and also provides a greater level of crops for supply to food chains. This has a ready been seen with crops such as soya beans (Amofa, 2014).
Resistance to disease can also be introduced through genetic modification, so that crops may have resistance to different potential ailments, such as bacteria, fungi, and other viruses that may damage the crops. Genetic engineering can increase the potential resistance, and there is a potential in the future for crops to be developed which will remain completely disease-free (Scorza et al., 2001; Lynn et al., 2001). A good example of this has been seen with genetic alterations made to barley and wheat in order to overcome Fusarium Head Blight (Gabol et al., 2012). The benefit is the potential to reduce the damage of crops by diseases, providing financial benefits for producers as well as increased yields that can enter into the food chain.
Increased resistance to difficult growing situations is also a major advantage that is facilitated through genetic engineering of crops. The world already has a number of areas in which significant food shortages can result in famines, especially in difficult growing conditions, and with an increasing both population these problems are likely to continue (Zhang and Blumwald, 2001). Increased development is also reducing the amount of prime agricultural land that is available for the growth of crops. Therefore, the development of crops which can grow in difficult conditions, such as in dry or arid conditions, or areas where there is a high level of salinity in the soil, could be extremely valuable. One example has been the development of tomatoes which can be cultivated on soya with a high level of salinity, where the genetic modifications have resulted in the plants accumulating salt in the foliage, but not in the tomatoes themselves (Gabol et al., 2012). Drought resistance and increased tolerance to salinity will be valuable in creating crops that can be grown on land that is currently unproductive, especially for developing countries where there are food shortages (Zhang and Blumwald, 2001).
Genetic engineering may also create crops that are able to help in overcoming malnutrition, another characteristic which may be particularly valuable for developing nations (Gabol et al., 2012). In 2000, the first crop that was modified to increase its nutrient content was seen with the development of golden rice (Elena et al., 2013). Rice is a staple crop in many developing areas, but it lacks many essential nutrients, particularly vitamin A The lack of vitamin A can lead to blindness, with many cases reported in areas such as Africa (Gabol et al., 2012). The introduction of a high level of beta-carotene into golden rice facilitated an increased nutritional content that could provide vitamin a to those who needed it (Gabol et al., 2012).
Genetic engineering may also be utilized with in the biomedical industries, with plants, and/or/livestock, engineered to provide pharmaceutical proteins (Murray et al., 2010; Houdebine, 2009). Genetic engineering can also facilitate the development of GMOs may provide a source of human antibodies, tissue or organs that may be utilized for transplant, and other biomedical substances (Vazquez-Salat et al., 2012; Houdebine, 2009). The development of GMO's for medical uses is still in the relatively early stages, but the benefits are quite apparent, providing significant human benefits.
The final benefit that may be with the potential for GM crops to…
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Protection and preservation of the environment through increased yields and reduced use of chemical pesticides and herbicides. This is because genetically modified foods grow at a faster rate and in bigger quantities which means less forest land is cleared for agriculture and the natural habitats and biodiversity is preserved. The crops are also made pest and disease resistant which means that less pesticides and herbicides are used which could pollute
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