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Genetically Modified Food: Ethical Implications along the Food Chain

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Abstract:

By manipulating the genetic make-up of plants and animals, gene material from one organism is artificially inserted into another species. This is supposed to give genetically modified (GM) organisms new capabilities.

There are many promises, the gentech-industry made during the last decades. However, none of the supposed pioneering scientific findings really turned out to be transferable to reality. First of all, the industry promised to produce genetically modified (GM) seeds which would result in better crop quality, higher resistance against certain pests and diseases and higher yields. Hence, the farmers would benefit from GM seeds, requiring fewer pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers, resulting in better economic income. As a positive side-effect, the environment would benefit from less use of harmful chemical substances in agricultural production.

Reality has shown that the opposite has come true. After decades of research there are no GM food crops that live up to all this hype. In the United States, farmers have been sueing producers of GM seeds for poor harvests for years (Bové and Dufour 2001, p 145). Newspapers and NGOs consistently report about Indian farmers who have committed suicide; the poor quality of GM cotton and new, so far unknown pests, in combination with debts due to overpriced seeds take away their means of existence. Farmers who were supposed to reap the benefits of GM technology instead run the risk of facing financial ruin.

GM plants have shown to be very susceptible, and prone to various other diseases and pests. One example for the misleading promises of the industry is MON810 maize, patented by the controversial American Monsanto company. This maize is genetically engineered to produce a modified insecticide (Cry1Ab) that naturally occurs in the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). The production of this toxin is supposed to protect maize plants from European corn borer larvae (ECB, Ostrinia nubilalis). However, the maize made headlines due to poor performances, concealed facts about potential health risks and doubtful usefulness.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5848/CSP.1786.00015

Publication date: January 1, 2010

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