Genetic engineering techniques in agriculture

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The development of genetic engineering techniques led to the increase of a heated controversy within the fields of agriculture and bioscience . Genetically modified plants, organisms, and animals have risen in popularity with an almost equal measure of proponents and opposers. The proponents of GMOs argue that the first objective of commercial agriculture is to feature nutritional benefits to food while opponents site health risks, agricultural and environmental effects also as ethical issues arising from GMOs. The Golden Rice project is an example of the source of debate on the merits and demerits of genetically modified foods. the target of this essay is to research the arguments of supporters and opposers of Golden Rice and pronounce a stand on the Golden Rice project debate.

Golden Rice is a biofortified genetically modified crop that primarily breeds and grows in the Philippines (“GMO: The “Golden Rice” Debate”). Industrial Agriculturalists grow the crop in test fields, and the produced grain is yellow as opposed to the usual white grain, hence the name “Golden Rice.” The crop is engineered with a corn gene and another bacterium to produce beta-carotene that is a rich source of vitamin A (Harmon). The inadequacy of vital vitamin A nutrients in the regular white rice causes more than a quarter million deaths cases of blindness for children in Asia and Africa. Rice is the main source of calories in the Philippines and therefore, the nonprofit organization International Rice Research Institute sought to genetically modify rice to provide the much-needed vitamin A and improve nutrition in Philipines and some parts of Africa that are most affected.

The proponents of Golden Rice present persuasive arguments to support the case that the sole purpose of the Golden Rice Project is to eliminate vitamin deficiency. According to Harmon, research shows that a bowl of Golden Rice provides 60 % of a person’s requirements of vitamin A. However, an environmental group called Greenpeace dismisses the fronted nutritional gains of Golden Rice and argues that there are other numerous ways of solving the malnutrition problem without necessarily genetically modifying crops. For example, the Greenpeace organization proposes the growth of rice from available seeds that are not altered by external genes but still provide vitamin A supplements (Harmon).

Furthermore, evidence shows that the genes ingested in the fortified rice are not manufactured industrially but extracted from other nutritional crops such as carrots, watermelons, and squash. Professor Michael D. Purugganan of New York University asserts that the opposers of the Golden Rice project only play into the fears of the public and intentionally fail to present facts about Golden Rice to misinform farmers and consumers to create a public outcry (Harmon). On the other hand, the highly publicized project elicits suspicion as a public relations exercise to be the gateway to a new world of genetically modified crops with the sole purpose of making profits for agrochemical companies. Indian environmentalist Vandana Shiva claims that like all other GMOs, Golden Rice is a highly publicized Trojan horse whose aim is to offer minimal benefits to consumers and gain public support to promote more GMO production by biotech corporations for profits. Neth Dano, a farmers’ advocate with the ETC Group in the Philippines adds that biotech companies who sell genetically modified seeds are taking advantage of the poor who readily accept perceived help without questioning the legitimacy of the product on offer (Charles).

The primary ethical issue regarding Golden Rice is the tradeoff between benefits and risks. The primary advantage of the entire project is to improve nutrition and alleviate suffering for millions of children who go blind annually. Professor Nina V. Fedoroff of King Abdullah University in Saudi Arabia who spearheaded a petition in support of Golden Rice, says that those who oppose the project are inhumanely comparing minor risks to the ultimate goals of saving countless lives across the globe (Harmon). Javier Delgado of Mexico, a signatory to the petition, adds that while the project can save numerous lives, the baseless fears can destroy the intention. The risks of the project are also glaring. For instance, research shows that while it is highly likely that Golden Rice can solve the malnutrition problem, the impact of the food on children’s health is unclear and skeptical (Gerry). Also, there is the high risk that GMO crops planted in the same environment with non-GMO foods could cross pollinate and enter the food supply. Such a development could affect the biodiversity of the ecosystem leading to productivity problems in farms fields (“GMO: The “Golden Rice” Debate”). However, according to Harmon, the possibility of genetic contamination is low because rice is a self-pollinating crop. Further, given that the modification seeks to improve nutrients, any effects would not be adverse but limited. This study notes the ethical case of non-involvement of the Philippine farmers and consumers in the Golden Rice debate. The debate is dominated by scientists and anti-GMO activists leaving the farmers, consumers, and citizens unheard. Ethics demand that all parties must be involved in decision-making.

Considering the arguments presented by both opposers and proponents of Golden Rice, this study opposes the project due to too many unknown risks and effects. For example, other than the told benefits of vitamin A supplement, scientists have not explained other health impacts and projections on health outcomes. Furthermore, the details of the lack of environmental risks are sketchy. However, this study notes that Golden Rice aims to save lives. Evidence shows that Philippines is slashing the vitamin A deficiency by other non-GMO means such as vitamin A supplementation programs sponsored by UNICEF (“GMO: The “Golden Rice” Debate”). Also, the numerous unexplained risk outweighs the cost of finding other beta-carotene-producing plants.

Conclusion

The development of genetic engineering techniques led to the rise of a heated controversy in the fields of agriculture and life science. Both the opposers and proponents of GMOs such as Golden Rice have persuasive arguments in defense of their position. However, an analysis shows that there are too many risks and unexplained effects of Golden Rice. There are better cost-effective ways to solve the vitamin A deficiency without risking adverse health and environmental impact.

Works Cited

“GMO: The “Golden Rice” Debate.” New York University. N.p., 2016. Web.[med.nyu.edu/highschoolbioethics/genetically-modified-organisms-%E2%80%9Cgoldenrice%E2%80%9D-debate]. Retrieved 6 Oct. 2017.

Harmon, Amy. “Golden Rice: Lifesaver?.” New York Times. N.p., 2013. Web.[www.nytimes.com/2013/08/25/sunday-review/golden-ricelifesaver.html?pagewanted=all&_r=2&]. Retrieved 6 Oct. 2017.

Charles, Dan. “In A Grain Of Golden Rice, A World Of Controversy Over GMO Foods.” NationalPublic Radio. N.p., 2017. Web. [www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2013/03/07/173611461/in-agrain-of-golden-rice-a-world-of-controversy-over-gmo-foods]. Retrieved 6 Oct. 2017.

Everding, Gerry. “Genetically Modified Golden Rice Falls Short On Lifesaving Promises.” WashingtonUniversity St. Louis. N.p., 2016. Web. [source.wustl.edu/2016/06/genetically-modified-goldenrice-falls-short-lifesaving-promises/]. 6 Oct. 2017.

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