Pros and Cons of Genetic Engineering

There are many benefits of genetic engineering, but there are many risks too. Genetic engineering is the direct manipulation of genetic material in order to alter the hereditary traits of a cell, organism, or population. Basically, scientists take DNA of one product and put it into another product to get a mixture of traits from both products. It’s like breeding different breeds of dogs to get a certain look or personality. Some people don’t mind what goes into genetically altered foods, while others feel uncomfortable with the idea of eating any of it.

The effects that genetic engineering has on the environment, living organisms and the product being engineered have been widely talked about up until the last few years where the amount of discussion going on about this topic has dropped immensely. For this reason this paper contains older information that I find to still be a valid outlook on what genetic engineering has in store for us. As with many other topics of debate, there are two big sides to the controversy of genetically engineered foods: people who believe they are unsafe, and those who think they cause no harm.

Many people believe that eating genetically altered foods is “unnatural” and dangerous. If the product was not originally meant to have a different gene in it, then it shouldn’t have it now. One fear about genetic engineered crops is that growing them will get out of hand. While federal rules require farmers to plant a certain percentage of non-genetically engineered corn alongside any pest-resistant corn, an estimated 21 percent of farmers are not following those rules (The Nation’s Health. 2010. Pg. 6). Farmers are putting too much reliability on modified crops.

While so many people dislike the idea of genetically engineered foods, there hasn’t been any research that specifically states any negative effects of them. Sure, if a tomato is altered with peanut genes, it’s risky for people with peanut allergies to eat that tomato, but eating genetically altered foods hasn’t been proven to mutate one’s genes, make them sick or turn their skin weird colors. A study by a man named Arpad Pusztai claimed that some people who ate genetically modified potatoes suffered organ damage.

After only 10 days of eating the wonder spud, which now produced its own pesticide, the rats suffered from damaged immune systems and organs. The pesticide wasn’t the problem because rats (and humans) have been eating it in perfect safety in foods where it naturally occurs. The problem must have been due to the process of genetic engineering itself, it was the biggest shock of Dr Pusztai’s life. (Smith, page 74. ) However, the article, The Lanclet, that published the study also, critiqued it, stating that the experiments were incomplete, included too few animals per diet group, and lacked controls.

So the conclusion that the potatoes were dangerous was not relevant. Pusztai was then sacked for publicizing research which hadn’t been peer-reviewed (Wooster, 2001, pg. 1). As this article proves, even though there have been small experiments trying to prove the dangers of genetically altered foods, they are just speculations as to what could potentially be the effect of genetically altered foods. In an article about Transgenic Crops, some of the risks they listed included antibiotic resistance, allergic reactions, eating foreign DNA, and changed nutrient levels (Soil and Crop Sciences, 2004, pg. ). Can eating genetically altered foods raise the dangers of allergic reactions? Will they make our bodies more resistance to antibiotics? Can it destroy our DNA in any way? While all these questions are being studied for answers, there is no proof that the answer is “yes” to any of them. It is all speculation right now and probably will be for a long time. On the other hand, there are many people who believe that there is nothing wrong with genetically altered foods; they can be good for us, even. Scientists are trying to use genetic altering technology to save thousands of lives.

Vitamin A, which is an essential nutrient to our health, is the number one vitamin in the world that people do not get enough of. In places where there are high poverty levels, such as China and Africa, children and adults are so deficient in Vitamin A that it is the number one cause of blindness and death in many areas. White rice is the most commonly consumed product in the entire world, as it is cheap and easy to grow. Scientists think that by altering the genes of white rice to carry Vitamin A, it could significantly increase the health of thousands to millions of people all over the world.

It could save lives (Williams, Doug. Speech). When I think about this, it seems like a really sensible idea. What’s wrong with making people healthier? There might be risks, we do not know what eating genetically altered food does to our bodies officially, but the benefits would outweigh those risks. There are other potential benefits to genetically altered foods that have been talked about. Benefits besides the white rice theory include oranges that replace daily multi-vitamins, potatoes with higher starch content that will not absorb fat, and soybeans ontaining insulin for the treatment of diabetes. (PR Newswire, 2009, pg. 1). For someone who has problems with taking vitamins, whether they just don’t have the time or can’t get into the habit, this could be another easy way to get those essentials. Eating food that is rich in starch but not in fat can also be appealing to many people. Starch is a tricky mineral to obtain but something that our body needs for good digestion. Even more, put yourself in the shoes of someone who has diabetes.

Taking insulin shots everyday gets tedious and is time-consuming, and many people find the prospect of putting needles in their arms unpleasant. If there were a way to make taking insulin as easy as eating a meal, it would be a huge breakthrough. Soybeans containing insulin would make the lives of millions of people easier. Not only could genetic engineering be used on crops and plants, but animals could also be engineered for leaner meat. (Union of Concerned Scientists. 2002. “Potential Benefits of Genetic Engineering” page).

Again, yes there may be other risks to this, but it’s the same thing with every medicine and antibiotic out there. There can be side effects of anything you take. Eating genetically altered foods would just be an effortless way to get the vitamins you need and for some, the medicine they need to stay alive. There are many ways to tell if a food has been genetically modified. I myself have noticed the changes that come from genetically engineering food from working on a family farm. There are a few major differences that can be noticed between natural and engineered crops.

One difference is that engineered crops are generally bigger and if one compares them to naturally grown foods, they would notice that they tend to have less taste. Taste of course is all a matter of opinion, but it is noticeably less juicy and many of the genetically altered tomatoes I encountered had no seeds. Another noticeable difference of the foods is that the engineered ones have less of a rich full color, like tomatoes for instance, while a nice naturally grown tomato has a nice bright, juicy red hue to it.

Yet another difference one would see in a genetically modified tomato is the size difference. A modified tomato is about two to three inches bigger in circumference. The last major difference one wouldn’t know unless they were the farmer or the buyer is that some plants are genetically engineered to have pesticides mapped onto their D. N. A so that they repel insects without needing to be sprayed. On one hand, this is an extremely useful trait. It saves the time and effort farmers put in to spraying fields, but on the other hand, it’s debatable on whether it’s healthy to do that to crops.

Is it a harmless gene? Or is it as though they put the pesticide inside the plant itself, and that’s what we would be eating? Now with extra Pesticides! Doesn’t sound extremely appetizing. To me, I think the effort of perfecting a crop without the use of altering its genetic structure is good in its own way because it makes the quality of the food more than that of the engineered food. There are many things to consider when it comes to the topic of genetic engineering. It’s a topic that people talk and debate about, but that no one can officially prove or disprove facts about.

While a few people are indifferent to the issue, most people have a view on the matter of genetic engineering. There are those who are opposed to genetic engineering, with its unknown side effects it could have and the potential risks impacting our society. Then, there are those who are for genetic engineering, which say it could lead us into a better future, like the examples stated earlier in the paper. It could make people sick, or it could save thousands of lives. No one really knows at this point in time.

Experiments are done on animals, which often times have different reactions to experiments than would a human. The only way to test genetically altered foods on humans is by selling the products. Whether white rice, tomatoes and soy beans should be tampered with or let be as nature intended, the fact is that genetic engineering is our future. It will soon be brought more to attention, as has every other medical controversy, and we will decide to either abandon it altogether or step up and advance it even further.

As was stated in the paper, my own opinion is that we need to approach genetic engineering with caution. Man has been known to meddle and tamper with nature. Is there a limit to what we should do? Or is this knowledge of mutating and changing genes to our benefit just another gift of nature to provide for its inhabitants? With more research and tests, hopefully scientists will someday be able to determine for sure what is best for the world.

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