genetic engineering


6. The Disadvantages of GE

Dangers of Genetic Engineering

Genetic engineering is a new technology and scientists are still experimenting. So, there maybe some hidden dangers in it. Now, let’s find out some of the things that we need to take note of:

Fundamental Weaknesses of the Concept

  • Imprecise Technology—A genetic engineer moves genes from one organism to another. A gene can be cut precisely from the DNA of an organism, but the insertion into the DNA of the target organism is basically random. As a consequence, there is a risk that it may disrupt the functioning of other genes essential to the life of that organism. (Bergelson 1998)
  • Side Effects—Genetic engineering is like performing heart surgery with a shovel. Scientists do not yet understand living systems completely enough to perform DNA surgery without creating mutations which could be harmful to the environment and our health. They are experimenting with very delicate, yet powerful forces of nature, without full knowledge of the repercussions. (Washington Times 1997, The Village Voice 1998)
  • Widespread Crop Failure—Genetic engineers intend to profit by patenting genetically engineered seeds. This means that, when a farmer plants genetically engineered seeds, all the seeds have identical genetic structure. As a result, if a fungus, a virus, or a pest develops which can attack this particular crop, there could be widespread crop failure. (Robinson 1996)
  • Threatens Our Entire Food Supply—Insects, birds, and wind can carry genetically altered seeds into neighboring fields and beyond. Pollen from transgenic plants can cross-pollinate with genetically natural crops and wild relatives. All crops, organic and non-organic, are vulnerable to contamination from cross-pollinatation. (Emberlin et al 1999)

Health Hazards

  • No Long-Term Safety Testing—Genetic engineering uses material from organisms that have never been part of the human food supply to change the fundamental nature of the food we eat. Without long-term testing no one knows if these foods are safe.
  • Toxins—Genetic engineering can cause unexpected mutations in an organism, which can create new and higher levels of toxins in foods. (Inose 1995, Mayeno 1994)
  • Allergic Reactions—Genetic engineering can also produce unforeseen and unknown allergens in foods. (Nordlee 1996)
  • Decreased Nutritional Value—Transgenic foods may mislead consumers with counterfeit freshness. A luscious-looking, bright red genetically engineered tomato could be several weeks old and of little nutritional worth.
  • Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria—Genetic engineers use antibiotic-resistance genes to mark genetically engineered cells. This means that genetically engineered crops contain genes which confer resistance to antibiotics. These genes may be picked up by bacteria which may infect us. (New Scientist 1999)
  • Problems Cannot Be Traced—Without labels, our public health agencies are powerless to trace problems of any kind back to their source.
  • Side Effects can Kill—37 people died, 1500 were partially paralyzed, and 5000 more were temporarily disabled by a syndrome that was finally linked to tryptophan made by genetically-engineered bacteria. (Mayeno 1994)

Environmental Hazards

  • Increased use of Herbicides—Scientists estimate that plants genetically engineered to be herbicide-resistant will greatly increase the amount of herbicide use. (Benbrook 1999) Farmers, knowing that their crops can tolerate the herbicides, will use them more liberally.
  • More Pesticides—GE crops often manufacture their own pesticides and may be classified as pesticides by the EPA. This strategy will put more pesticides into our food and fields than ever before.
  • Ecology may be damaged—The influence of a genetically engineered organism on the food chain may damage the local ecology. The new organism may compete successfully with wild relatives, causing unforeseen changes in the environment. (Metz 1997)
  • Gene Pollution Cannot Be Cleaned Up—Once genetically engineered organisms, bacteria and viruses are released into the environment it is impossible to contain or recall them. Unlike chemical or nuclear contamination, negative effects are irreversible.

IN SUMMARY :

Despite all the benefits of genetic engineering, there are some threats bring along. They are mainly identified as potential health risks and environment hazards.

First is the concern of potential health risks. There is a possibility that introducing a gene into a plant may create a new allergen or cause an allergic reaction in susceptible individuals. For example, scientists have used lectin in potatoes to prevent aphids from attacking potato plants but some people are allergic to lectin. Also, there is a growing fear of the unknown consequences of consuming food that is not natural.

Second is the environmental hazard. Environmentalists have expressed concerns over how genetically engineered food crops can affect biodiversity. For example, some pest-resistant plants are indirectly destroying harmless insects like Monarch butterflies. It is not possible to design a toxin that would only kill crop-damaging pests and remain harmless to all other insects. Hence, as more species of plants and animals become extinct, biodiversity will be lost.

Furthermore, genes may transfer to non-targeted species. For example, when the pollen of a pest-resistant crop is carried by the wind or insects to compatible natural crops, gene pollution is inevitable. This will in turn result in a loss of biodiversity.


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