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What are the possible environmental risks of Genetically Modified Crops? Is it morally permissible to proceed with a potentially harmful course of action if you are unsure of the consequences?

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Introduction

What are the possible environmental risks of Genetically Modified Crops? Is it morally permissible to proceed with a potentially harmful course of action if you are unsure of the consequences? There is much concern about GM foods, some of which are being tested, others that are already used as ingredients in the food we eat. GM stands for genetically modified and this is the process by which scientists are able to pinpoint a gene which produces a desired outcome, extract it, copy it and insert it into another organism. Some see genetic engineering opening up great opportunities in agriculture, food and medicine. For others it is a threat to something very basic about our lives and the natural world. It is unnatural, harmful and unethical and immoral. Some would say that we have been involved in genetic modification for centuries e.g. seeds from cereals and other crops that were hardier and grew better were selected for planting the following year to produce better yield. With GM organisms however the modifications that occur are ones that couldn't possibly occur in nature e.g. adding genes from a virus to a plant to allow it to become virus resistant. Supporters of GM see the benefits as follows. Currently 25% of world food crops are lost through insect attack every year; that is enough to feed one billion people. ...read more.

Middle

Supporters of GM foods say that 'crops will be specially adapted to the diverse farming conditions and practices and offer a higher nutritional value and income.'7 The NCB position is that it would be 'immoral of us to stop using GM' 8 however opponents think that GM products could reduce the developed countries reliance on crops from the developing countries. This could result in trade and economic damage. Others doubt whether developing countries will actually receive the benefits. In 20 African countries they have published a statement that claims gene technology will not help their farmers but will 'destroy the diversity, the local knowledge and agriculture systems...and undermine our capacity to feed ourselves.' 9 Some new crops being developed by biotech companies have a 'terminator' gene built in to prevent the farmer from keeping the seeds produced for the following year. This could lead to complete dependence on biotech companies which is a serious concern for farmers in poorer countries who couldn't afford to buy the seeds every year. A further concern is that wide use of gene technology will reduce the diversity of crop species grown and so reduce the 'gene pool.' This gene pool has already been reduced by modern farming techniques and it is feared that the availability of GM crops will increase the problem. Most people think that we should not tamper with nature as they are concerned about the transfer of genes from animal to human origin or visa versa. ...read more.

Conclusion

But the research for the Consumers' Association 2 shows that consumers do have anxieties that go beyond these narrow considerations, e.g. some have objections to the patenting of life forms, others fear that biotech companies will dominate the worlds food supplies - a view supported by the Rural Advancement Foundation International, which is concerned that the world's genetic resources will become concentrated in the hands of a few companies. Already a third of the worlds seed market is controlled by ten leading companies 3 We simply do not know enough about consequences for human, animal and plant life throughout the world of planting GM crops at the moment. More testing needs to be carried out preferably by independent research bodies rather than biotech companies, before GM organisms are released into the world. GM foods are not necessarily bad, but allowing GM crop planting without proper knowledge of the effects both long and short term is unwise and dangerous. Once biotech companies are sure that their products will have no undue effects on biodiversity, food chains and people's health, GM crops should be permitted, but until then they shouldn't be allowed. We must use the benefits of GM but proceed with great caution. 1 + 2: Food for our future - GM modification and food (an information pack produced by the Food Commission) 3: Nuffield Council on Bioethics: www.nuffieldbioethics.org 4: 5: 6: GM Foods: Pros and Cons, An SRT Information Sheet. www.srtp.org.uk 7: 8: 9: 10: 11: A quote from his speech at the Balfour lecture 1996. ...read more.

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