Thursday, January 30, 2014

The debate on Genetic Engineering

Genetic engineering is the technology which allows us to isolate, implant and modify the genes of living organisms. It has a widespread utility on agriculture, especially in the way we cultivate crops.

With this technology we can, for instance, take the genes from apple that makes them resistant to cold and insert it into tomatoes that will then grow better in the cold climate. Similarly, we can remove the reproductive capacity of the seeds of certain plant after the first generation. That makes the harvested seeds incapable of germinating and growing into a new plant. So, there are various implications, both positive and negative from the genetic engineering.

The main risk lies in those corporate organizations which act out of ethics and morality and go on to pursue their greed for wealth. Monsanto is an example of the organization which at now produces Genetically Modified (GM) seeds for many crops like maize, wheat, tomatoes, chillies, etc. The major concern is that the same company produces pesticides and seeds and therefore, they can put more burden upon farmers by manipulating the genetic characteristics of the seeds. They can essentially remove the gene that makes such crops resistant to a specific disease. Afterwards, they can launch the pesticide in the market to fight that condition, thus increasing their sales and profit.

The proponents of GMO products cite "hunger" as a strong basis to support their cause. They put forth question like, "How would you feed world population without GMO products?" Their answer regarding the safety issue is many food products produced through GMO technology are already out in the market and they have been considered to be harmless and essentially same in the nutritional value as those produced differently. However, the GMO technology is still in the infancy state and therefore, there still exists a possibility of reaching a dreadful consequence in the long term.

Similarly, the supporters of GMO argue that Genetic modification done artificially by GE technology has been taking place naturally since millions of years. Therefore, if no hazards are there with natural genetic modification, there will also be no hazards from the artificial process. The acts are essentially the same and will bear the same consequence, i.e., nothing unusual will happen. However, our biological genetic modification has taken place slowly and gradually, in order to adapt with the changes in the environment and our lifestyle. However, the modification through genetic engineering (GE) is an all of a sudden change which is unhealthy in its very nature. And because we don't have as long history as the nature, in GE modification, it is too fast to conclude that we are and we will be safe.

The Genetically Modified Crops yield seeds which are infertile. This makes farmers heavily dependent upon the seed companies like Monsanto. By then, they will have lost their indigenous breeds of their crops. At that instance, if something hinders the supply of seeds, the farmers will not be able to plant anything. Or absence of such seeds by any means no cultivation.

Another big issue lies on patent wars. Once a big corporation protects a gene or a particular breed by using patents, it can sue every other farmers who have been planting it since a long time ago. Can such breeds and genes be allowed to patent-protected is a serious issue that should be considered by the governments of many countries.

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