Genetic Modification is the method of obtaining individual genes, which are then copied and repositioned into another living organism to modify its genetic code and incorporating or removing particular characteristics into or from an organism. 1 There are many viewpoints on the issue genetic modification, some scientifically based on environmental factors and potential economic growth, others concerning ethical, moral and social perspectives.
Ever since the breakthrough of genetic modification, deliberation has surrounded all issues involving this controversial topic. Many organizations have published books, videos, and leaflets arguing their side of this debate. Advances in GM biotechnology, such as the incorporation of the gene which stops the Arctic Flounder from freezing, has been placed into the genetic sequence of strawberries to stop them shrivelling in the cold British weather2, these ‘modifications’ have led to many intrinsic and extrinsic moral issues arising from this “new” technology.
Dr Robert Farley of the Monsanto Institute, USA3 believes that genetic modification of crops for human consumption is a much more efficient and effective way of creating more resilient wheat crops than traditional cross-pollination. This is because genetic modification is more specific in changing a particular gene, rather than cross-pollinating, as this changes another 30,000 – 40,000 random genes, creating an entire new variation.
Under his hypothesis, GM technology is much safer, economically, and environmentally, he believes the ease of changing and modifying just one gene in a genetic sequence is far less complicated and bordering on the unknown than traditional methods. The insertion of Vitamin A into the genetic structure of rice has meant that 2-4 billion people across the third world have had their chances of becoming blind reduced many times over4, this is just one example of where GM technology has been beneficial to consumers.
On the other side, against biotechnology, stands Dr Doug Parr, Chief Scientist at the Greenpeace Organization. In his opinion, “franken-foods” are a disaster to the natural ecosystem of the world, which has operated in harmony for millions of years5. He deems any interference with a basic part of a genetic sequence, alters the entire chemical composition of the chain, not just modifying one gene as Dr Farley states. He suggests that changing the composition of crops to give them better attributes leads to problems in other parts of the global ecosystem.
The enhancement of soya crops, by giving them better nutrition from brazil nuts led to a problem with nut allergy suffers contracting an allergy from the genetically modified soya. This problem led to a setback in the demand for GM soya. The publication by the ‘Food and Drink Federation (FDF)’ entitled “GM Crops & the Environment” stated the benefits and risks of genetically modifying world food crops. Where scientists can improve by copying information from one organism to another, there is no superior means of improving the traits of animals and plants than by natural reproduction.
6 Although, throughout the world, there were 27 million hectares of GM produced crops in 1998, only 11 countries were part of this GM crop manufacture, of these countries, the US were the main producers at 20. 5 million hectares followed by Argentina and Canada7. The UK was not one of these countries mentioned. However, GM crops are grown in the UK, although not on a commercial scale. The publication also alerts us to the risks of conventional farming that we have used for hundreds of years in the UK, proving that even without GM, farming and crop production is not very safe for the environment.
For example, wheat yields have increased from 2 to 7 tonnes per hectare, the use of herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, and fertilizers have all led to problems with the abundance and diversity of wildlife in the UK. In the last 30 years, 24 of the 40 wild birds found in the English countryside have declined. Nearly 90% of tree sparrows and 80% of corn buntings have diminished. 8 The removal of woodland, to create larger fields, and reduction of insects from the increase in use of chemicals may have been a factor in this decrease.
One problem with genetic modification of crops is that their ‘new genes’ may spread to closely related species leading to a ‘corruption’ of natural varieties of the same species. There is also a fear that we are unable to truly comprehend the total affects of new combinations of genes on food chains, and balance in ecosystems, and that these new variations will lead to an erosion of crop biodiversity through a domination of production systems with a few closely related species9.
Although, staying with traditional processes may lead to major effects of the animal and plants kingdoms because of concentrated, regular use of crop maintenance with chemicals to reduce pests and weeds, along with ‘over-feeding’ of plants to produce greater yields. GM technology Overall, I can believe that genetic modification and other form of new biotechnology, although should have continued research implemented on these ‘new areas’ of science, we should always be weary of our ability to change to basic structure of life on this planet. We should always be aware of consequences, both beneficial and damaging.
Whether or not we decide to continue with GM technology in the future. We should not allow ourselves to take only advantageous measures from our newfound knowledge. There must be a limit to modification of genes, if we use our technology without foresight, there will come a point where the disadvantages of our GM technology will far outweigh the advantages. We must seek to understand the possibly irreversible consequences of our actions, and the fundamental way in which organisms interact with each other; the way we are altering the natural course of evolutionary patterns.(Word count – 1,032)
Bibliography “GM agriculture in the UK? ” July 1999 * Horizon Video “Is GM safe? ” March 2000 * “GM Crops & the Environment” published by FDF Advanced Biology by Michael Kent OXFORD 1 Booklet on “GM Crops & the Environment” published by the FDF 2 Mrs Ettershank, Biology Teacher, Haileybury 3 Taken from Horizon Video “Is GM safe? ” March 2000 4 Jeremy Rifkin, Campaigner, from Horizon Video “Is GM safe? ” March 2000 5 Taken from Horizon Video “Is GM safe? ” March 2000.
6 introduction to “GM Crops & the Environment published by FDF 7 BBSRC publication “GM agriculture in the UK? ” July 1999 8 section on UK Farming Today in the FDF publication. 9 extract from BBSRC publication “GM agriculture in the UK? ” July 1999 page 3 1 Show preview only The above preview is unformatted text This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our GCSE Variation and Inheritance section. Download this essay Print Save Top Here’s what a star student thought of this essay 5 star(s).