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Genetically Engineered Foods - Pros and Cons

Essay by review  •  September 9, 2010  •  Essay  •  3,420 Words (14 Pages)  •  2,320 Views

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The world has seen many changes and advances over the last century, but possibly none that hold as many possibilities as genetic engineering. Genetic engineering is turning up in more and more places, and it is almost certainly here to stay. Just as computers and plastics changed most aspects of living since they were invented, biological engineering has the potential to do the same in the future. This new technology has a wide range of possible benefits, from helping farmers, to improving foods, to helping the environment, to helping sick people. Genetic engineering may even one day be used to help solve world hunger. However, it also has its dangers and risks, which need to be considered along with its benefits. The fact that not everything is known about genetic engineering, and that large corporations use it to make a profit, is scary to many people. The recent technology of genetically engineering crops, plants, and animals, which involves modifying their genetic structure, has lead to benefits for farmers and everyday people; however, there are also numerous concerns due to the fact that the long term results are unknown, the possibility of dangerous accidents, and the danger of increased chemical usage.

In the past decade, the world has seen genetic engineering become more and more common, and it is affecting many aspects of life. It has found applications in fields such as pharmaceuticals, farming, and research, to name a few. But many people still don't understand what it means for something to be \"genetically altered.\" To understand this technology, it is necessary to explain a few basic principles.

Every living organism in the world is made up of cells that contain deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). As many people learned from watching Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park, DNA is the \"blueprint of life.\" The online article \"What is Genetic Engineering?\" explains how DNA and genes work in an organism. DNA contains information that the body needs for functions such as cell reproduction (growth) and biochemical processes. All species have a unique DNA code, and every feature of an organism depends on this code to function normally. Genes are special segments of DNA, which control certain functions, characteristics, and features of an organism (such as eye color, metabolism, size, etc.). Molecular biologists have recently learned how to manipulate genes to a certain extent. They have discovered enzymes that allow them to cut and splice specific genes and build customized DNA codes. Also discovered were vectors, which are DNA codes that can insert themselves into other separate codes. A virus is an example of a vector. Scientists learned how to build and use special vectors to insert genes of their choice into an organism's DNA code (\"What is Genetic Engineering?\"). Numerous techniques (such as selective breeding) have been used for years to change gene codes, but through genetic engineering, scientists can move genes much easier than before and with greater precision (\"What are the Dangers?\"). Scientists believe that by using these techniques, they will be able to improve the quality and characteristics of food that people eat.

Genetically modified food (\"GM food\") is food with ingredients that have been genetically altered for traits such as larger size, pest resistance in the field, and faster growth. For example, scientists have used this technology to improve a tomato's ability to resist freezing. To achieve this, a gene from a flounder was added to the tomato's DNA code, which enable the plant to resist frosts and extends its growing season (\"What is Genetic Engineering?\"). Another gene was found that could help wheat grow in fields that normally would not support it. Cows with altered DNA can even produce milk that contains chemicals such as human insulin, which diabetics need to survive (\"Frequently Asked Questions\"). These are all examples of how scientists can use gene-splicing technology to alter a plant or animal's characteristics.

The numerous potential benefits of this recent technology are very intriguing. Proponents of this technology claim that biotech crops could, or do, reduce pesticide usage, increase yields per acre, raise the nutritional value of food, and require less water to grow. In a recent speech, the US Secretary of Agriculture, Dan Glickman, spoke of how the field of medicine is being transformed by biotech. Human insulin, cancer medications, antibiotics, and vaccines are all products of genetic engineering. A new genetically engineered (GE) drug has the potential to save hemophiliacs from bleeding to death. Scientists are also researching GE bananas that could one day be used to give vaccines to children in third-world countries (Glickman).

Proponents of genetic engineering also believe that this technology will help the environment. In the article \"Monsanto: Playing God,\" by Kirkpatrick Sale, some of these benefits are discussed. Monsanto, one of the largest corporations involved in genetic engineering and research, has developed crops that can be sprayed with the powerful herbicide Roundup (also manufactured by Monsanto) without being affected by it. This means that a farmer can spray a field of crops with a chemical that is lethal to virtually all weeds and plants and, as a result, not have to worry about cultivating or plowing. This is beneficial since plowing fields causes much loss of topsoil through wind and water erosion (25 billion tons of topsoil are lost each year). Monsanto claims that by using its \"Roundup Ready\" seed, the need to plow the ground before planting is greatly reduced, since weeds can be sprayed after the crops are planted. They also assert that using \"Roundup Ready\" crops and Roundup in combination increases crop yields by five percent, which also benefits the farmer through increased profits (Sale 17).

A reduction in the need for pesticides is another benefit of genetic engineering that is often cited. Robert Shapiro, the CEO of Monsanto, explains this theory in the magazine article \"How Genetic Engineering Will Save Our Planet.\" Ninety percent of the costly chemicals sprayed on crops are wasted, which is not good for the environment, or for the farmer who is paying for them. But by using biotech, plants can be genetically coded to resist or kill insects and pests by themselves, without using chemical pesticides. The genetic technology is also more efficient than chemicals, which take a large amount of raw materials and energy to produce and apply (Shapiro 29). Bt, a pesticide that naturally occurs in the environment, has also been incorporated in genetically modified (GM) crops. Crops such as corn and soybeans have been engineered to

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