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Ethical Aspects
of Biotechnology
GMOs, Biosafety and Bioethics
26th
April 2015
BSc (Hons) Biotechnology
University of Maur...
Contents
● What are “Ethics”?
● Different aspects:
○ Legal
■ Ethical and legal introduction
■ Democracy and GMOs
■ Scienti...
Introduction
What are “Ethics”?
● The act of defining what is morally right or wrong.
● Also assess the reasonings behind our decisions...
Ethical Aspects
of
Biotechnology
Legal
Food
Environment
Medicine
Developing
countries &
the poor
Legal
Ethical and legal introduction
No consensus over the risks of a product or activity
Trade dispute
(One country restricts, ...
Ethical and legal introduction
1. Exception based on democracy
Unclear scientific position:
● Trading systems must respect...
Democracy and GMOs
● Views of the populations should be respected.
● If an agreement contains a clause allowing one party ...
Scientific Arguments about Scientific
Uncertainty
● Event theoretically possible but has not occurred = Whether it will
oc...
The morality of taking risk
● There should be a balance between possible gains v/s possible harms.
● E.g: Profits to be ma...
Developingcountriesandthepoor
The Problem of Food
Security and the Poor
~ 600 M poor people in the world
~ 40,000 die each day due to malnutrition
50% o...
Developing countries and the Poor
● The least developed countries however, where poverty is
most rampant and increase in f...
Implementation: Regulatory or Economic
Issue?
● More of a regulatory than economic issue in developing countries.
○ Import...
Different aspects in Developing Countries
Empowerment
Can we increase
production of crops and
feed the World?
Can the crop...
Different aspects in Developing Countries
Intellectual Property
Rights
Biotechnology produces
disease-free seeds which
far...
Centres of Origin
Limitations of farmers to
use modified organisms
that are not from their
centres of origin.
Since no pro...
Food
Genetically Modified Foods
● About 75% of processed food produced in the US
contain some GM ingredients.
● These foods inc...
Improvement of Crops
● Advances in biotechnology now allows the production of plants
with novel traits such as longer shel...
Potential benefits of GM foods
● Genetic engineering can be used to remove genes associated with
allergies e.g. the gene t...
Potential benefits of GM foods
● Can be used to induce herbicide resistance leading to decrease use
of herbicides
● Induct...
Ethical Aspects of GM Food
There is a need to raise
agricultural
productivity to deal
with problems of
poverty and food
in...
Ethical Aspects of GM Food
Unnaturalness
GM crops are associated with a sense of “unnaturalness”.
It is wrong in itself to...
Health risks associated with GM food
● Toxins and engineered genes associated with GM foods may enter
the human circulator...
Environment
Biotechnology and the Environment
● Biotechnological products/applications to the environment are
based on human activitie...
Biotechnology and the Environment
GM crops with
improved
nutritional
traits
GM crops
with drought
and stress
tolerance
GM ...
Biotechnology and the Environment
● Beneficial traits to humans - But the environment?
● GM crops have been controversial ...
Biotechnology and the Environment
● Strong belief that GM plants will cause loss of biodiversity.
○ Monocultures and inbre...
Biocentric
Ethics
concerned with
an individual
organism
● Ethics with respect to the environment and biotechnology are:
● ...
Biotechnology and the Environment
● Preservation of fauna and flora is highly debatable when
significant and explicit inpu...
Medicine
Introduction of GMOs in Medicines and
Researches
• Since the 1980s, GMOs have emerged as one
of the mainstays of biomedica...
Pharmaceutical Products
• Production of complex pharmaceuticals by
enabling the generation of safer and cheaper
vaccines a...
Gene Therapy
Gene therapy
Gene therapy is becoming a
treatment option for
diseases ranging from rare
metabolic disorders t...
Genetic modification of insects
● Genetic modification of insects has become an important area
of research, especially to ...
Ethics concerning animal rights
Animal rights concerns:
• Concern in ethics when discussing
animals is their capacity to s...
Ethics of Disease Prevention
● Widely held ethical principle that human life is worth saving.
● Thus try to improve existi...
Social concerns of the use of GM in medicines
and research
● If the blending of animal and human DNA results in chimeric
e...
Other ethical aspects of using GM in medicines
and research
Medical emergencies
The Trade-Related Intellectual
Property Ri...
Conclusion
Conclusion
Biotechnology is a technology that operates at
molecular level. Many applications of it are meant to
solve glob...
References
References
● Darryl Macer, 2003. Ethical, legal and social issues of genetically modified disease
vectors in public health...
Thank you for
your attention!
Questions?
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Ethical Aspects of Biotechnology

Explains some of the pertinent ethical aspects related to biotechnology: legal, developing countries and the poor, food, medicine and agriculture.

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Ethical Aspects of Biotechnology

  1. 1. Ethical Aspects of Biotechnology GMOs, Biosafety and Bioethics 26th April 2015 BSc (Hons) Biotechnology University of Mauritius Ritesh Bhagea, Samiirah Chummun, Sabiah Heerah, Huda Nazeer , Iswarree Punchum
  2. 2. Contents ● What are “Ethics”? ● Different aspects: ○ Legal ■ Ethical and legal introduction ■ Democracy and GMOs ■ Scientific arguments about scientific uncertainty ■ The morality of taking risk ○ Developing countries and the poor ■ The problem of food security and the poor ■ Developing countries and the poor ■ Implementation: Regulatory or economic issue? ■ Different aspects in developing countries ○ Food ■ Genetically modified food ■ Improvement of crops ■ Potential benefits of GM foods ■ Ethical aspects of GM food ■ Health risks associated with GM food ○ Biotechnology and the Environment ○ Medicine ■ Introduction of GMOs in medicines and researches ■ Pharmaceutical products ■ Gene therapy ■ Genetic modification of insects ■ Ethics concerning animal rights ■ Ethics of disease prevention ■ Social concerns of the use of GM in medicines and research ■ Other ethical aspects of using GM in medicines and research ● Conclusion ● References
  3. 3. Introduction
  4. 4. What are “Ethics”? ● The act of defining what is morally right or wrong. ● Also assess the reasonings behind our decisions, i.e ○ the concepts and principles that are employed to justify our moral choices and actions. This is specifically important in the applications of Biotechnology as the latter deals with many serious issues concerning the human nature, health, food and the environment.
  5. 5. Ethical Aspects of Biotechnology Legal Food Environment Medicine Developing countries & the poor
  6. 6. Legal
  7. 7. Ethical and legal introduction No consensus over the risks of a product or activity Trade dispute (One country restricts, while the other sees as legitimate) Right or wrong (Decided by international law) Restrictions: 1. Implicit exception 2. Explicit exception
  8. 8. Ethical and legal introduction 1. Exception based on democracy Unclear scientific position: ● Trading systems must respect views of population of states ● Wrong to impose unsafe or undesirable product 2. Exception based on science Unproven dangers = cannot be excluded ● Lack of scientific proof ● Precautionary approach need to be present Forms of exception: Democracy and Science
  9. 9. Democracy and GMOs ● Views of the populations should be respected. ● If an agreement contains a clause allowing one party to derogate when the majority wishes to, then it barely deserves to be discussed in terms of laws or called an agreement at all. ● Democracy alone cannot justify derogations from WTO law. ● Should be politically realistic. ● If population feel strongly that WTO is wrong, then govt should perhaps leave or renegotiate the terms of their membership.
  10. 10. Scientific Arguments about Scientific Uncertainty ● Event theoretically possible but has not occurred = Whether it will occur ○ E.g: If a generation or 2 have eaten GMOs without identifiable consequences = No harm to health (limitation of time span for health) ● Outcome of scientific debate WE JUST DON’T KNOW
  11. 11. The morality of taking risk ● There should be a balance between possible gains v/s possible harms. ● E.g: Profits to be made or lives saved through greater production v/s cost or harm of things that went wrong. ● Decisions are dependent on various benefits and harms. ● Reflect different world views on different levels. (i) Essence of the acts involved (ii) Differences due to emphasis (iii) Level of variations (perceptions reflect whole political and social philosophies and in turn religious and metaphysical views) ● Moral character on GMOs view is seen by comparison with other dangers.
  12. 12. Developingcountriesandthepoor
  13. 13. The Problem of Food Security and the Poor ~ 600 M poor people in the world ~ 40,000 die each day due to malnutrition 50% of them are children ● Most limiting resources for food production: land and water. ● Solution: Increase yields on the available land (increase production capacity) using biotechnology. ● The Green Revolution was not enough to eradicate poverty. ● Solution: Need to increase food production in developed countries for export at a price that the poor can afford, and thus the purchasing power.
  14. 14. Developing countries and the Poor ● The least developed countries however, where poverty is most rampant and increase in food production is most needed, cannot afford the necessary research and extension facilities to bring to the farmers. ● This accessibility problem is what have turned many people against GM crops who claim that this technology rather benefits multinational corporations than feeds the poor. ○ Of the crops of the poor that include the cassava, rice, millets, sorghum, sweet potatoes, yams and legumes, only rice has benefited from biotechnology. ● In developing countries: concerns and fears regarding the safety of foods produced by biotechnology further dampen development. AreGMcropsreallyaccessibletothosewhoneeditmost?
  15. 15. Implementation: Regulatory or Economic Issue? ● More of a regulatory than economic issue in developing countries. ○ Importance of risk assessment prior to implementing use, generally involves field trials. ○ Risk assessments are costly; require skilled personnels. ○ The UNEP Guidelines on Biosafety details the aspects that are to be considered in the risk assessment. ○ Poor countries and some developing ones cannot assess impact of GMOs and minimize any risks. ● International companies do not tend to market GM products that have not gone through regulatory procedures. ○ Transboundary issues as country of import may not have the same regulatory requirements as the country of export.
  16. 16. Different aspects in Developing Countries Empowerment Can we increase production of crops and feed the World? Can the crops be rigorous enough to withstand distribution? Can we free women from farming? Exploitation No access to products of biotechnology due to IPR. Dumping of unwanted products. Can the poor really be fed since the staples of the poor receive little development? Socio-economic issues Hinder export? Case of a decrease in export of sugarcane since the High Fructose Corn Syrup was developed. Oil from coconut palms in Philippines has decreased in production, transgenics in the US are producing better yields. Research & Development for Agriculture Can positively note that biotechnology is supported by research and extension establishments. However the private sector is often ignored.
  17. 17. Different aspects in Developing Countries Intellectual Property Rights Biotechnology produces disease-free seeds which farmers find beneficial in increasing yields. IPR rights elevate the costs of seeds. However, Protection of Intellectual Property is a means of providing finance to implement the technology. Crop Genetic Diversity Loss of particular genetic varieties in favor of others. Examples: banana, wheat, rice. However several steps have been taken to prevent this including the creation of gene banks. Genetic Erosion Is the loss of genetic diversity esp the loss of individual genes and combinations of genes. Caused by the substitution of a large no. of varieties for a smaller number of new varieties. Happens when local varieties are replaced by improved & exotic varieties. Biodiversity Can we collect plant materials from other countries and then patent them? Should countries have compensation for their indigenous knowledge? Example: Turmeric; long been used by the indigenous but patented by researchers. Liability Should operators be liable during production, culturing, storage, handling, use, destruction, disposal and release of genetically modified organisms?
  18. 18. Centres of Origin Limitations of farmers to use modified organisms that are not from their centres of origin. Since no problems have been posed for the case of maize, scientists endorse the use of new varieties in centres of origin. Uniformity Shouldn’t there be uniformity in the regulations of different countries to prevent discrimination? A protocol that provides a baseline has been developed for LMOs which concerns mainly their transboundary movements. Monitoring Should there be international monitoring before release of GMOs particularly those that might affect diversity? Will the monitoring not be regarded as interference rather than an effort to implement safety of the technology? “The view in countries where there is enough to eat, and where choice of what to eat is assumed may be significantly different from that pertaining in other countries. Choices need to be made by those who have to live with their consequences.” Different aspects in Developing Countries
  19. 19. Food
  20. 20. Genetically Modified Foods ● About 75% of processed food produced in the US contain some GM ingredients. ● These foods include crackers, breakfast cereals and cooking oils. ● The most common GM foods are soy, cotton, canola, corn, sugar beets, Hawaiian papaya, alfalfa and squash.
  21. 21. Improvement of Crops ● Advances in biotechnology now allows the production of plants with novel traits such as longer shelf-life, increased nutrient content and drought resistance. ● The advent of GM crops provides new opportunities for increasing agricultural production and feeding the world.
  22. 22. Potential benefits of GM foods ● Genetic engineering can be used to remove genes associated with allergies e.g. the gene that produces allergenic protein in peanuts can be blocked. ● The insertion of genes into crops such as rice and wheat and enhance their nutritional value e.g. Golden rice. ● Genetic modifications can be used to produce healthier foods e.g. by eliminating trans fats or caffeine.
  23. 23. Potential benefits of GM foods ● Can be used to induce herbicide resistance leading to decrease use of herbicides ● Induction of insect and pest resistance → Decrease use of insecticides and pesticides ● Induction of abiotic stress resistance
  24. 24. Ethical Aspects of GM Food There is a need to raise agricultural productivity to deal with problems of poverty and food insecurity. Genetic engineering allows the production of plants with desired traits speedily and at low costs.
  25. 25. Ethical Aspects of GM Food Unnaturalness GM crops are associated with a sense of “unnaturalness”. It is wrong in itself to alter the “essence” of species or to interfere with the natural order. Environmental risks Genes can flow from modified plants to wild plants leading to potential threat in biodiversity. Health risk: Because of the possible harmful health effects of GM foods, GM foods should be properly labelled to allow people to choose whether to consume of not to consume GM foods.
  26. 26. Health risks associated with GM food ● Toxins and engineered genes associated with GM foods may enter the human circulatory system causing disruption in biological events ● GM foods may also be linked to gluten disorders ● A research carried out in 2012 showed that GM corn was linked to rat tumours ● GM foods may also be linked to human breast cancer cell growth, thyroid issues and infertility ● Glyphosate present in GM foods are known to cause malformations and birth defects at high doses ● Glyphosate is also linked to weight gain, depression and Alzheimer’s disease
  27. 27. Environment
  28. 28. Biotechnology and the Environment ● Biotechnological products/applications to the environment are based on human activities. ● This can be regarded in 2 ways: ○ Domination ○ Harmonization ● Biotechnology has been used for various purposes in the environment such as: ❏ Prevention of infectious-vector transmitted diseases ❏ Removal of greenhouse gases ❏ Removal/degradation of waste products ❏ Reduced impact of pesticides, insecticides, etc.
  29. 29. Biotechnology and the Environment GM crops with improved nutritional traits GM crops with drought and stress tolerance GM crops with insect, disease resistance ● Agriculture and Environment - Closely related ● Modern Agricultural practices: ● GM crops production - Beneficial to humans? ● Goals (Green Revolution): ○ Increase crop production, ○ Strengthen food security, ○ Decrease poverty and eradicate resulting infectious diseases.
  30. 30. Biotechnology and the Environment ● Beneficial traits to humans - But the environment? ● GM crops have been controversial since their production for many reasons. ● Concerns expressed w.r.t GM plants are: ○ Possibility of horizontal gene transfer of transgenic DNA and the potential to create new viruses and bacteria that cause diseases . ○ Effect of synthesised substances on non-target organisms. ○ Unintentional generation of superweeds and superbugs by evolution. ○ Concerns related to food safety.
  31. 31. Biotechnology and the Environment ● Strong belief that GM plants will cause loss of biodiversity. ○ Monocultures and inbreeding techniques- wild strains are overlooked. ○ Drop in soil ability to contain other crops. ● International debates on the rights of farmers and breeders to genetic resources.
  32. 32. Biocentric Ethics concerned with an individual organism ● Ethics with respect to the environment and biotechnology are: ● Concerns with respect to threats on environment and human health. ● Ethical issues w.r.t the act of modifying DNA. ● Ownership of biological innovations - Can humans own life? Biotechnology and the Environment Ecocentric Study of an ecosystem with prevailing concerns Anthropocentric Ethic views engaged on Humans
  33. 33. Biotechnology and the Environment ● Preservation of fauna and flora is highly debatable when significant and explicit input of views from spiritual/ religious aspects and cultures are involved. ● Some approaches based on “what can the environment offer” and so, it is protected for food supplies and future generations. ○ E.g: Maori tribes refuse any modification of native forest. ● Ecocentric approaches, view the environment not by what it can give but with an intrinsic value. ○ E.g: Some Christian traditions see the environment as a creation of God, with humans as custodians to it.
  34. 34. Medicine
  35. 35. Introduction of GMOs in Medicines and Researches • Since the 1980s, GMOs have emerged as one of the mainstays of biomedical research. • The use of GMOs in medicine and research has produced a debate that is more philosophical in nature. • Ethical issues in introducing GMOs as medicines and research include: Violation of natural organisms' intrinsic values Tampering with nature by mixing genes among species Objections to consuming animal genes in plants Animal rights
  36. 36. Pharmaceutical Products • Production of complex pharmaceuticals by enabling the generation of safer and cheaper vaccines and therapeutics. • E.g: Insulin was initially derived from pigs and cows which arose concern about: Animal Welfare: There is serious concern that animals will suffer as a result of being genetically modified. Religious problem: Some religions (Jews and Hindus) prohibited the use of insulin derive from animal sources. • Today insulin is produced through GM microbes, which is less likely to cause allergic reactions. • Yet use of genetic engineering in the production of medicines is still an issue though many people are benefited with none harmed.
  37. 37. Gene Therapy Gene therapy Gene therapy is becoming a treatment option for diseases ranging from rare metabolic disorders to cancer. Introduction of these GM cells into the patient could cure the disease without the need for a matched donor. However gene therapy has been a controversial subject in the past years. Ethical reasons: • Cells used for the study are often taken from human embryos. • The techniques will not be accomplish for the intended purpose. • Replacement tissue will never be grow from a person’s own stem cell.
  38. 38. Genetic modification of insects ● Genetic modification of insects has become an important area of research, especially to prevent parasitic diseases. ● Introduction of these GM mosquitoes into the wild may someday help eradicate transmission of the malaria parasite without widespread use of harmful chemicals or disruption of the normal food chain.
  39. 39. Ethics concerning animal rights Animal rights concerns: • Concern in ethics when discussing animals is their capacity to suffer or feel pain. This concern is weaker for the GM mosquitoes. • Concern that we are manipulating life for human purposes without considering the interests of the animal. •Biodiversity concerns about endangered animals that are used for genetic engineering. Intrinsic concerns: Pain, sentience and consciousness Extrinsic values: The status given by human society on some animals (national symbols)
  40. 40. Ethics of Disease Prevention ● Widely held ethical principle that human life is worth saving. ● Thus try to improve existing and develop new approaches for preventing, diagnosing, treating, and controlling infectious diseases that cause loss of human life. ● Methods used to achieve these goals, including the extent to which risks to human health, damage to the environment and other living organisms. But is it worth it?
  41. 41. Social concerns of the use of GM in medicines and research ● If the blending of animal and human DNA results in chimeric entities possessing degrees of intelligence or sentience never before seen in animals, should these entities be given rights and special protections? ● What, if any, social and legal controls or reviews should be placed on such research? ● What unintended personal, social, and cultural consequences could result? ● Who will have access to these technologies and how will scarce resources such as medical advances and novel treatments be allocated?
  42. 42. Other ethical aspects of using GM in medicines and research Medical emergencies The Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement gives priority to medical emergencies. Ethics of Technology Choices Debate on whether we should concentrate limited research cost on developing technologies that rectify problems or on studies to learn how to prevent those problems from occurring. Consent from Trial Participants All research participants should give informed consent before receiving any intervention that has a reasonable risk of causing harm.
  43. 43. Conclusion
  44. 44. Conclusion Biotechnology is a technology that operates at molecular level. Many applications of it are meant to solve global issues in medicine, food and environment. However, no matter how beneficial it seems, it does come with drawbacks. Modifications brought to living organisms are given strong ethical considerations, regardless of where and how the technology is applied. To be able to counter these, strong scientific proofs and results must be provided on GMOs on how they interact with the environment, humans and animals in nature.
  45. 45. References
  46. 46. References ● Darryl Macer, 2003. Ethical, legal and social issues of genetically modified disease vectors in public health. UNDP/World Bank/WHO Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases. 03.1. ● Davies, G. (2006). Morality Clauses and Decision making in Situations of Scientific Uncertainty: The Case of GMOs. The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Faculty of Law. 10-06. ● Capron, A. M., Häyry, M., Takala, T. and Herissone-Kelly, P. (2007). Ethics in Biomedical Research: International Perspectives (Vol. 186). ● Chrispeels, M. J. (2000). Biotechnology and the poor. Plant Physiology 124(1), 3–6. ● De Melo-Martín, I., & Meghani, Z. (2008). Beyond risk. EMBO Reports 9(4), 302–306. ● Ethical aspects of agricultural biotechnology. (1999). [Delft]; The Hague: EFB Task Group on Public Perceptions of Biotechnology ; Cambridge Biomedical Consultants [distr.]. ● International Life Sciences Institute. (2002). Safety considerations of DNA in foods: expert group report reviewed at a workshop held in June 2000. Washington; Brussels: ILSI press ; ISLI Europe. ● Marx, M. E. (2007). The benefits and ethical issues behind using genetically modified organisms in agriculture. Interdiscipl. J. Health, Ethics Policy 6, 1–5. ● Weale, A. (2010). Ethical arguments relevant to the use of GM crops. New Biotechnology 27 (5), 582–587.
  47. 47. Thank you for your attention! Questions?

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