The presence of genetically modified crops in our society has raised many concerns and legal issues. Overall, genetically modified organisms are thought to be unhealthy and many people believe that they have right to know the origins of the food they eat. This is extremely problematic with genetically modified crops because genetically modified wheat, corn, and syrups are found in many packaged grocery products without any indication of their use. Therefore, it is essential to inform the public about how genetically modified crops are made, the situations where they are helpful, and the situations where they should be avoided.
Scientists genetically modify plants through a process known as transfection. To do so, they must first determine which genes interest them and will be usefully incorporated into plants. Historically, these genes have included pesticide resistance, genes that code for growth hormones, and genes that enhance nutrition. For the scientists to be able to isolate the individual gene, they must know its exact chromosomal and allelic location. DNA sequencing and gene annotation allow them to uncover this information. Once the proper DNA sequences are identified, they must isolate DNA from their organism of their choice and perform a restriction digest, which helps “cut” the gene of interest from the DNA. They then insert this gene into either bacterial vectors (using the T-DNA region) or a virus, which can then be inserted into the plant’s genome via recombination. Although there are several variations of this protocol, this is the basis of the process. Regardless of the mode of transfection used however, the scientists must be sure to insert the new gene into an area that will preserve the codon triplets the plant requires to thrive and grow (ABNE, 2010).
After the above steps are complete, the scientists must determine whether all of the plants seeds have the genes of interest and whether the plant will be safe for the environment. These kinds of studies are carried out in a greenhouse before they are approved for public use.
Genetically modified crops have several advantages and disadvantages that the public should be aware of. First of all, genetically modified crops are an excellent way for farmers and people who sell produce to earn more money. These plants will grow taller and provide more food, contain more nutrition than its natural predecessors, stay fresh longer, and have enhanced resistance to pests and pesticides. In addition to saving money, this technology will be able to help third world countries who are suffering from food shortages. Produce can be developed that requires less water and care to grow and provides the nutrition that these starving people are lacking. Therefore, genetically modified crops do show some promise for helping society.
One of the major disadvantages of genetically modified crops is the legal involvement between these large biotechnology companies and small time farmers. A highly publicized case, Monsanto Co. versus Geertson Seed Farms, demonstrated why genetically engineered seeds are harmful to independently owned farming businesses and the legal rights of landowners. Monsanto company sued Geertson Seed Farms because the company discovered that their copyrighted Roundup Ready alfalfa was growing on their property without their permission. Roundup Ready alfalfa is resistant to a specific pesticide produced by the company; to verify this, Monsanto used this product on Geertson Seed Farm’s crops; the crops that belonged to Geertson died, while the modified Monsanto crops thrived. Geertson claimed that he didn’t steal the seeds, and they just landed on his property due to forces of nature. Meanwhile, Monsanto insisted that Geertson had to pay a fee for having these plants on his land.
Geertson did not win this case, and shared his story which earned him many supporters (McEowan, 2010). He claimed that since Monsanto cannot prevent a cross contamination of their own seeds into other people’s land, they did not have a right to step foot on his property or to charge him a fee for these seeds. Geertson responded simply by removing the Monsanto plants and attempting to sort out which seeds were his own and which belonged to Monsanto or were a combination of the two. This raised the ethical dilemma of ownership of living material and whether companies should be able to patent living things.
Personally, I don’t approve of the use of genetically modified plants in grocery stores, while I do feel that they are occasionally useful to help feed people in third world countries. I prefer to know that the food I’m eating is pure, and hasn’t borrowed any genes from other organisms. I would be more accepting of genetically modified organisms if the foods that use them were clearly labeled as such; however, since it is currently nearly impossible to determine the source of my food’s ingredients, I would prefer that genetically modified plants were not sold in our nation’s grocery stores.
I also believe the use of genetically modified plants leads to unnecessary legal battles that usually result in the favor of the biotechnology company, even if they are in the wrong. In the case of Monsanto Company, they are wrong to pursue small farmers that had their genetically modified plants growing on their fields without Monsanto’s permission. Seeds naturally travel by wind and animal carriers, and since Monsanto cannot control the travel of their product, they should not be able to patent it or attack those that accidentally acquired these plants (McLean, n.d.). In almost all cases, these farmers were more interested in selling their own specially bred products rather than Monsanto’s and would have rather not had their stock contaminated with this biotechnology.
Unfortunately, our currently legal system has not progressed enough to keep up with modern issues and concerns. Hopefully it will one day be adjusted to consider the fact that living things should not be patented or owned; they are a force of nature and no one can truly own them. Even though genetically modified organisms offer many advantages, we don’t know the long term health risks they could pose, and should avoid consuming them if at all possible. It is important for us to find ways to convince our local governments to pursue GMO food labeling in supermarkets in addition to protecting small farming businesses from these large biotechnology companies.
ABNE. (2010). Process of Developing Genetically Modified (GM) Crops. NEPAD. Retrieved from http://www.nepadbiosafety.net/subjects/biotechnology/process-of-developing-genetically-modified-gm-crops
McEowan, Roger. (2010). Roundup-Ready Alfalfa Injunction Upheld. Iowa State University, Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation. Retrieved from http://www.calt.iastate.edu/alfalfa.html
McLean. (n.d.). The Future of Food: An Introduction to the Ethical Issues in Genetically Modified Foods. Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. Retrieved from http://www.scu.edu/ethics/practicing/focusareas/medical/conference/presentations/genetically-modified-foods.html