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Engn 300 Name: Arvin K. Chow
Santa Clara Univ. Date: March 3, 2001
Genetically Modified Food
Technology Name: Biotechnology
Category: Genetically Modified Foods
Keywords: Biotechnology, Genetics, Genetically Modified Food, DNA.
Technology - Genetically modified foods (GM foods or GMF) offer a way to quickly improve crop
characteristics such as yield, pest resistance, or herbicide tolerance, often to a degree not possible
with traditional methods. The techniques of modern genetics have made possible the direct
manipulation of the genetic makeup of organisms. In agriculture, genetic engineering allows
simple genetic traits to be transferred to crop plants from wild relatives, other distantly related
plants, or virtually any other organism.
The traditional methods of genetically engineering foods have been to graft different types of
foliage together, such as different types of fruit trees to create new types of fruit. For example,
combining the orange with the tangerine created the tangelo. Another example, although not
food bearing, would be the rose. Many varieties of roses now exist due to grafting techniques
used over many years. This method of genetic engineering has been going on for hundreds of
years and only until more recently has people started question the potential side effect of this
technology, albeit more Framkensteinish now than before.
The on-going research in recombinant DNA technology has brought a new precision to the
process of crop development, which traditionally selects desired traits through crosses between
crops and their wild relatives (a laborious and relatively imprecise method). Genetic
modification can be used in many ways to control a variety of traits of plants, and the
consequences of one manipulation may be completely different from another based on the traits
Social Impact – The stakeholders in the use of Genetic Engineering (GE) would be the companies that
are involved in GE, farmers, produce markets, pharmaceutical companies, consumers and others.
Depending on the type of GE involved, different people may benefit from the various aspects of
GE. For example, in the case of the genetically engineered tomato, which was modified to last
longer in the ripened stage, the growers and the produce markets would benefit most as the
tomatoes would look better and have a longer shelf life. There is controversy as to whether the
tomato tastes better or is healthier, however they are costlier. In another case, such as the golden
rice, the benefits could be for everyone. In this case less fortunate, or people from third world
countries, people can get vitamin A which would otherwise not be available without the help of
GMF. Provided that the rice is readily available for all. The availability of the golden rice would
prevent blindness in children in third world countries as vitamin A helps children’s visions as
In general, I believe that the availability of GMF can benefit all people; including the poor. As
produce is made to last longer and have perhaps have less exposure to pesticides, the accessibility
of produce for the poor should increase. This does not address the controversies of genetically
engineered foods to the table however. It is obviously apparent that there is a great deal of
concern over the used of genetically engineered foods just by the number of websites on the
matter. There are concerns as to possible side effects such as mutations to a lack of regulations
for GMF and even labeling.
The topic of GMF does not look as if it will bring society together; it may indeed cause people to
take sides as to whether this technology is safe. For example, in the case of the golden rice,
although the concept of having rice with multiple vitamins seems to be favorable, there were
protests in Europe as to the use of GMF. People questioned that safety of the product. Besides
that adding of Vitamin A, could other genetic alterations have been made that could affect human
DNA, our immune systems, etc? Again, GE can not only add nutritional values to food products,
GE is proposed to enable disease resistance, chemical pesticide resistance, etc. Unfortunately,
the individual that invented the golden rice is now in hiding, keeping his recipe secret. Is this fair
to him, when what he was trying to do was make a better product?
GE does appear to be having a great of effect on employment, as there are a number of
companies and educational institutions globally that are focusing on this type of research.
Ethical Questions - The power of genetic modification techniques raises the possibility of human
health, environmental, and economic problems, including unanticipated allergic responses to
novel substances in foods, the spread of pest resistance or herbicide tolerance to wild plants,
inadvertent toxicity to benign wildlife, and increasing control of agriculture by biotechnology
corporations. If there are unanticipated responses to the GE foods, then it is automatically
perceived to violate people’s rights.
This leads into a bundle of questions, such as, whether products that were developed using GE
should be labeled accordingly. This would allow the people that are not sure of the effects of
GNF to selectively not use the products. Before, when genetic engineering was basically grafting
of similar species together to produce a hybrid, that was considered acceptable as effects on
human genetics was not threatened. Or, perhaps the media did not recognize the technology as
being a note worthy. Now, being able to genetically splice DNA from one type of
microorganism and combine it with another would be considered playing with nature. What
effects will it have on the human species? What about other species? What caused Mad Cow
The use of GE would be fair for some, but others may not think so. Take the example of the
vegetables that have longer shelf lives and are defect free. The produce markets and the growers
would definitely thinks it’s fair game to grow and market the GMF. The products look better and
last longer so that there is a higher probability that the product would be sold. The consumer on
the other hand does not think it’s fair to pay higher prices for a product that doesn’t provide any
added nutritional value, but has some risk by consuming a product that was genetically
If the intent is to develop foods that are tastier, healthier, grown with less pesticides, more
vitamins, less fat, more abundant, etc, then genetically engineering foods are being developed for
the common good. The questions that should be asked are: Is genetic engineering the only way
to achieve these goals? Should we pursue this?
It seems to me that there will always be questions such as; what’s is best for my family and me?
I look forward to the summer every year, just for the variety of fruits and vegetables available. It
used to be that the produce was locally grown and picked so there were only certain times of the
year when specific produce was available. For example, cherries, peaches, nectarines, etc. Then
we started importing them globally all year around. I remember articles that came out that said
the imported fruits and vegetable were full of pesticides, and that they should not be consumed
because the FDA did not regulate them. Was this local propaganda to try to make people buy
only local produce, or was it real? Now, fruits and vegetables are available almost year around,
with little to no concerns of pesticides. Imports just cost more.
Legal Implications - There are legal implications when it comes to genetically engineered products.
For example, “More than 40 years ago, he began crossbreeding 30,000 popcorn hybrids before he
developed his famous gourmet popcorn. It was Orville who conjured up the name Gourmet
Popcorn.” 40 times their original size when popped -- double the size of other kernels. This is
the story of Orville Redenbacher and his popcorn, which afterwards he patented to protect his
creation. I would believe this scenario holds true for most inventions or creations.
Reference; http://www.naplesnews.com/today/neapolitan/a84808f.htm , and
There are no regulations that controls genetic engineering of food products, but then again, how
does one go about regulating GE. If regulations were generated, perhaps labeling that shows
what type of organic manipulation was done may put people at ease and perhaps get some of the
skeptics to buy it.
As in the simple case of the popcorn, protecting research, inventions, processes, etc. is important
to the economics of corporations as well as individuals. The referenced web site “Biotechnology:
Patenting Issues, January 1990-July 1996” http://www.nal.usda.gov/bic/Biotech_Patents/ , has
articles such as “Agricultural biotechnology and the public good”, ”Intellectual property rights
for plants.”, and “Producing a seedless watermelon.” Copies of the article were not available,
but the idea that GE foods and other intellectual property may be patented to protect their
Falling back on the golden rice issue; was it truly genetic concerns that the people in Europe were
angry about, or could there have been a concern over the price of the rice? If the inventor was in
hiding and keeping the recipe secret, could it be because he’s looking at the economics of what
he can monetarily make from it?
Scientists are no longer restricted to transferring resistance from related species, but can
introduce genes from unrelated plants or from microbes, insects, or animals. Introducing viral
genes can result in transgenic plants that are resistant to the virus. For example transgenic
modification has produced a strain of papaya resistant to the Papya Ringspot Virus. Plant
resistance can also be obtained by introducing 'defence genes' that express antimicrobial peptides
or proteins normally found in fungi, insects and animals.
As one can see from the examples above, having the ability to prevent diseases and make more
desirable products than the competitions, can give anyone the edge in the global economy. There
would be higher yield, thus better economic stability.
Environmental Issues - The ever increasing world population requires similarly increasing food
supplies, some of which may be accomplished by bringing marginal lands into cultivation.
Modifications to the plants can help protect against some of the ups and downs of the normal
climate, as well as produce plants that are able to be productive in harsh growing conditions.
Both traditional plant breeding and genetic modification can be used to improve the ability of
plants to tolerate heat, salt, drought, and other climatic stresses.
There are environmental concerns too that are unknown when it comes molecularly altered
plants. What are the effects on the soil that the molecularly altered vegetable was picked from,
which will be tilled into the ground in preparation for the next crop? Will it affect the next
crops? Will it affect how the underground streams or water sources?
Unanticipated Consequences - While traditional breeding methods mostly involve only the transfer
of genes between the same or closely related species, modern transgenic techniques allow genes
from the same species, or even from different species, to be inserted into an organism. Some
critics of GM technology contend that transgenes might be transferred from transgenic plants to
other organisms, like bacteria or humans, and that this "horizontal gene transfer" could pose a
grave danger to us and to the environments.
In the class example of placing a peanut gene into tomatoes, although the desired outcome was as
intended, there could be side affects that were not anticipated, such as someone that is allergic to
peanuts. How will someone know what types of genetic manipulation may have been performed
unless products are labeled. Is this realistic to do though? In reference to the supply of foods
globally, there are FDA regulations in the United States, but this does not guarantee that imports
are following the rules for GMF.