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ESL Debate – Genetically Modified Food

Tuesday, July 31, 2012 @ 06:07 AM
posted by Jo

Are there environmental, moral, or health issues associated with genetically modified food? 

CONTEXT

For the last year genetically modified (GM) food has been in the news almost every day! There are an enormous number of changes that can be made to organisms with genetic modification. These range from the introduction of fish genes into plants to lead to better frost resistance to modifications leading to rice plants producing more vitamin A. One of the most controversial additions is the 'terminator' gene, a stretch of DNA that renders the seeds produced by the plant infertile; this makes the plant unable to reproduce (and is used by seed companies to force farmers to buy new supplies of the seed each year). In the past varieties of crops and their seeds have not been owned by anyone. There is an increasing trend for biotechnology companies to patent GM crop varieties and thus own the exclusive right to produce and sell their seeds. This means that farmers in developing (and developed) countries will become dependent on these multinational seed-producing firms who will be able to charge high prices for patented varieties.

ARGUMENTS

Pros Cons

 

Genetic modification is unnatural.There is a fundamental difference between modification via selective breeding and genetic engineering techniques. The former occurs over thousands of years and so the genes are changed much more gradually. Genetic modification will supposedly deliver much but we have not had the time to assess the long-term consequences. Genetic modification is entirely natural.The process of crop cultivation by selective breeding, which has been performed by farmers for thousands of years, leads to exactly the same kind of changes in DNA as modern modification techniques do. Current techniques are just faster and more selective. In fact, given two strands of DNA, created from the same original strand, one by selective breeding and one by modern modification techniques it is impossible to tell which is which.

 

It is wrong to introduce the DNA of one species into the genes of another- e.g. using fish genes in tomato plants to make them frost-resistant. This attempt to 'play God' is short-sighted and unnatural. It is perfectly natural and safe to introduce genes from one organism into another.We must remember that all DNA is made up of the same four fundamental molecules regardless of which organism the DNA came from originally.

 

There is a problem associated with scientifically testing the impact of genetic modification of food. 'Peer review' (the checking of scientific test results by fellow scientists) is often made impossible by the unwillingness of biotechnology companies to give up their results for review. Until scientific tests show there to be some real risk of harm from farming and eating GM food there is no case for a ban. Not only is genetically modification natural and well understood but extensive testing is applied to every new GM foodstuff before it is placed on the market. This testing takes two forms.

 

There are a number of dangers associated with the food itself.For example, the addition of nut proteins to soybeans caused those with nut allergies to go into shock upon eating the soybeans. Although this was detected in testing, sooner or later a transferred gene will cause risk to human health because the scientists did not conceive it could be a problem.There are also possible dangers associated with the scientific technique itself by which the DNA is modified, an example is the spread of antibiotic resistance. GM foods also present a danger to the environment. The use of these crops is causing fewer strains to be planted.

 

The fears about GM food have been nothing more than a media spin. It is often claimed, for example, that those allergic to nut protein died upon eating soybeans beans to which nut DNA had been added. This is simply not true - this possible problem was picked up in testing and the product was never released on the market. There is no reason why many different strains of GM crops cannot be produced and planted - where this is not happening at present, it should be.

 

Debate topic © International Debate Education Association (http://idebate.org), used under Creative Commons license.

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