Feeding the Planet: The Ethics of Genetically Modified Organisms and Food Engineering Matthew McCoy 11/10/14 11/17/14 BINF705 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 (2005) – part of processed foods, yet nothing in the label on these products has ever indicated the presence of genetic modifications. – 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 Labeling • 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 reactions • 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.“ – http://www.nature.com/news/1999/990520/full/new 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 hybridization. Why pursue GM crops? • More uniform plants make it easier to harvest • Develop plants which are better suited to particular environments (drought/disease resistance) • Increase the nutritional content • Increase yield • Longer shelf life Safety • 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 http://www.scu.edu/ethics/practicing/focusareas/medical/conference/presentations/genetically-modified-foods.html 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 toxins. • The potential longer shelf life of fruits and vegetables could decrease the gross wastage associated with transportation and storage. http://www.scu.edu/ethics/practicing/focusareas/medical/conference/presentations/genetically-modified-foods.html 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. http://www.scu.edu/ethics/practicing/focusareas/medical/conference/presentations/genetically-modified-foods.html 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? Morality? • 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." Motivations? • But the risks from other bioengineering applications may not be balanced out by the benefits. – 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 pharmaceuticals. http://www.scu.edu/ethics/practicing/focusareas/medical/conference/presentations/genetically-modified-foods.html 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 permission 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 http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/05/genetically-engineering-an-icon-can-biotech-bring-thechestnut-back-to-americas-forests/276356/?single_page=true Ethical Issues • Should GM foods be allowed? How should they be regulated? • Are GM crops necessary to address world hunger? • How do we weigh the risks and benefits in biotechnology?