GMO and food engineering

Feeding the Planet:
The Ethics of Genetically
Modified Organisms and Food
Matthew McCoy
11/10/14 11/17/14
What is Genetically Modified Food
• History of agriculture
• About 80% of soybeans and 40% of corn grown in the
United States last year were genetically modified
– part of processed foods, yet nothing in the label on these
products has ever indicated the presence of genetic
– 39.9 million hectares worldwide (about 98.6 million acres)
were planted in these transgenic crops. The vast majority of
this acreage is given over to herbicide-tolerant soybeans and
insect-resistant corn.
• About 75 percent of processed food that is produced in
the United States contains some GM ingredients
• Federal Food and Drug Administration has not
required labeling that indicates a product has
been genetically altered unless it contains one
of the eight most common food allergens
• The European Union already requires labeling
of any food with 1 percent or more genetically
modified ingredients.
Should GM food be labeled?
Types of GM crops
• Transgenic – infuse genetic material from
separate species.
• Mutagenesis – identifying and modifying
important genes responsible for desired traits.
Mutagenesis crops do not fall under the EU
requirement for GM labeling!
Example GM Crops
• Fish “antifreeze” protein into tomato
• a gene from an African frog into rhododendrons to confer enhanced
resistance to root rot.
• Monsanto's Roundup Ready soybeans with reduced trans fats and
increased heart-healthy mono-unsaturated fats
• Syngenta's StayRipe banana, which ripens slowly and has a prolonged
shelf life
• potatoes and peanuts less liable to trigger life-threatening allergic
• tomatoes that help prevent cancer and osteoporosis
• rice modified with synthetic human genes-one to make human lactoferrin
to treat anemia and the second to produce lysozyme to treat diarrhea
(Dalton, Rex: "California Edges towards Farming Drug-producing
Rice," Nature 428: 591, 2004).
• nontoxic anthrax vaccine through the transgenic modification of petunias
• Weed that changes color when growing near a landmine detection
Frankenfoods vs. The Green Revolution
• Language tends to bias conversation
• Creating genetic monsters or using advances in
science for breeding
• "On one hand, you have the proponents who are
talking about the benefits of genetic engineering
in terms of science," says Martin Calkins, S.J.,
assistant professor of business ethics at Santa
Clara University. "On the other, you have people
in butterfly costumes.“
s990520-1.html caterpillars who eat GMO pollen die
"seed sterility" or "Terminator gene"
• This technology allows breeding of plants with
seeds that will not reproduce. Companies can
use it to prevent farmers from holding over
seeds to grow another crop the following year.
– sterility may pose particular problems for poor
farmers in the developing world, who rely on
carrying seed over from one year to another.
– it may also protect others by preventing their
varieties from being adulterated through
Why pursue GM crops?
• More uniform plants make it easier to harvest
• Develop plants which are better suited to
particular environments (drought/disease
• Increase the nutritional content
• Increase yield
• Longer shelf life
• No medical harm traced to GMOs
– Several recent comprehensive reviews from various
authors summarize the results of food-producing animal
feeding studies with the current generation of GE crops
(Deb et al., 2013; Flachowsky, 2013; Flachowsky et al.,
2012; Tufarelli and Laudadio, 2013; Van Eenennaam,
2013). Studies have been conducted with a variety of foodproducing animals including sheep, goats, pigs, chickens,
quail, cattle, water buffalo, rabbits and fish fed different
GE crop varieties. The results have consistently revealed
that the performance and health of GE-fed animals were
comparable with those fed near isogenic non-GE lines and
commercial varieties.
• Is it the Microwave or DDT?
Risks to the Environment and Wildlife
• Genes may "escape" and find their way into other
members of the species or other species. Imagine the
trouble if herbicide-resistant genes found their way
into weeds.
• GM crops could compete or breed with wild species
threatening biodiversity.
• Monogenetic crops may not react sufficiently to
environmental stresses, posing the danger of an
reenactment of Ireland's potato famine.
• What are the risks to birds, insects and other nontarget species that come into contact with or consume
GM plants
Benefits to the Environment and Wildlife
• Improved productively could result in more food
from less land and a decreasing reliance on the
cultivation of marginal land.
• Genetically engineered pest and disease
resistance could reduce the need for pesticides
and other chemicals, thereby decreasing the
environmental load and farmer exposure to
• The potential longer shelf life of fruits and
vegetables could decrease the gross wastage
associated with transportation and storage.
Risks to Human Health
• There is the potential that allergy-producing genes will
be inserted into unrelated foodstuffs. Since GM foods
are not labeled, a person could suffer a potentially fatal
allergic reaction, e.g., an allergenic Brazil nut gene was
transferred to a soybean variety, but the resultant
modified crop was never released to the public.
• GM products may inadvertently enter the human food
supply as evidenced by the settlement between
Syngenta and the U.S. government over the accidental
sale of unapproved GM (Bt10) corn seed to farmers.
Benefits to Human Health
• Genetic engineering could be used to remove genes
associated with allergies, e.g., the blocking of the gene that
produces the allergenic protein in peanuts.
• The insertion of genes into crops such as rice and wheat
can enhance their nutritional value, e.g., Golden Rice.
• Genetic modification could be used to produce healthier
foods, e.g., by eliminating trans fats or caffeine for example.
• Genetic engineering could be used to develop
pharmaceuticals and vaccines in plants, decreasing the risk
of adverse reactions and enabling faster vaccination of
large populations.
It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature
• Even for the non-religious, transgenic crops
can violate the maxim: "It’s not nice to fool
Mother Nature." Many opponents believe that
the genetic code of every organism has
evolved over millions of years and that
tampering with it is an act of hubris.
Is a creepy feeling enough to justify a GMO ban?
• The Catholic Church has come down somewhere
in the middle: four square against tampering with
the human genome but ready to give a "prudent
yes" to the engineering of plants and animals. As
Elio Sgreccia, vice president of the Roman
Catholic Pontifical Academy for Life, told the
Catholic News Service, "We are increasingly
encouraged that the advantages of genetic
engineering of plants and animals are greater
than the risks. The risks should be carefully
followed through openness, analysis, and
controls, but without a sense of alarm."
• But the risks from other bioengineering
applications may not be balanced out by the
– Are you doing the manipulation to increase the
profits for some large agribusiness?
– Is the intended result purely cosmetic?
– Does it address some health need?
• Many “first generation” crops aimed at
improving the bottom line.
Potential Socio-Economic Effects
• Small-scale farmers could be negatively impacted
by the market dominance of a few powerful seed
companies. Some worry about the potential loss
of traditional farming practices such as collecting,
storing, and replanting seed.
• The proprietary nature of biotechnology may
slow basic research, and patent protection may
hinder the entry of GM foods into developing
countries as has been the case with
Case Study: GM in the Supreme Court
• Bowman v. Monsanto Co.
– Bowman bought seed from grain elevator where
he and his neighbors sold Monsanto Roundup
Ready Soy.
• Sold as commodities, not as seeds for planting
– Unanimous decision uphold that patent
exhaustion does not permit a farmer to reproduce
patented seeds without the patent owners
Case Study: Bring Back the Chestnut
• American Chestnuts
were once the most
abundant tree in the
eastern United States.
• Devastated by blight
imported on Japanese
chestnut trees.
• Over 5 billion trees lost
Ethical Issues
• Should GM foods be allowed? How should
they be regulated?
• Are GM crops necessary to address world
• How do we weigh the risks and benefits in

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