Ethical Issues Behind Feeding People With Genetically Modified Organism

Subject: Genetically Modified Food
Pages: 13
Words: 3378
Reading time:
12 min
Study level: College


Genetic engineering is the amendment of the genetic composition of a particular organism or simply the adjustment of an organism’s transmissible matter in a bid to produce desirable characteristics (Starr, Evers, and Starr 190). It involves methods such as transgenesis, which employs lentiviruses’ capacity to relocate DNA or RNA materials to animal cells.

Genetic engineers have been working to improve the quality of life and quantity of animal and plant production. This improvement has been done through development of disease resistant plants and animals. Genetic engineers have also been able to come up with higher yielding crops to modify animals to increase the quantity and quality of their products.

The engineering involves itself more in prokaryotes, reproducing variety of species using different strains in the hybridization process, and recombining various deoxyribonucleic acids (DNA) to produce quality species (Starr, Evers, and Starr 108).

There has been much controversy on the ethical issues that concern genetic engineering including questions of whether it is right to interfere with the creation and evolution process. Is it moral to change the genetic composition of an organism that has no ability to defend itself? Is it ethical to feed human beings with genetically modified organisms that are not clearly labeled? Is it moral to change the environment through genetic engineering? These ethical questions have triggered the minds of many people.

However, the major ethical concern about genetic engineering is on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and their impacts on human beings’ health, spirituality, environment, decision-making, and ability to choose what one wants in life. The argument is that since genetically modified organisms have altered genetic composition, they are likely to affect the organisms that consume them negatively. Genetic engineering produces specific genetically modified organisms compared to the use of mutagenesis (King 9).

The science does not result in a defined genetic composition of the resultant species. The process depends on the choice of engineering that is done on the genes ranging from gene alteration, gene insertion, or gene removal. In the process of creating these steady changes, organisms are exposed to various treatments that end up creating unspecific alterations.

For instance, the engineer may choose to insert the required gene artificially into a virus or else decide to use a tiny syringe to pop in the DNA into the nucleus of the target organism using a gene gun. The process alters the peace of the host, for instance, a rat, a sheep, or even a pig, as it has no choice of rejecting regardless of the cost thereof since the engineers only focus on the intended results. This case is not ethical to many opponents of genetic engineering.

Another is that it is unethical to alter the genetic content of an organism to form elements that no one knows their advantages and their predispositions. The alterations in the genetic makeup may act as predisposing factors to diseases and other environmental factors. The use of selective production in plants and the adoption of soma clonal (differences seen in vegetation that have been formed via tissue culture) in animal reproduction have also been opposed on ethical grounds (Crevel 385).

Proponents of genetic engineering and genetically modified foods in particular argue that it results in increased nutrients and quantity in plants, improves plants and animal resistance to pathogens, improves the growth speed, and that it enables plants and animals to survive in adverse weather conditions. They have therefore been able to use genetic science in transgenic plants for example rice, cotton, corn, soybeans, and other plants. Both man and animals consume the plants’ yields.

Therefore, genetic engineering has been useful in this case based on how it has resulted in high food production, which as in turn been a plus to the population. In addition, the reduced utilization of pesticides has been associated with the increased health levels of people. Since genetically modified foods are made through transgenesis, opponents of genetic engineering regard feeding human beings and animals with such food as unethical.

The argument is that transgenesis involves inserting transgenic genes from a species into another different one. Opponents are also against changing the genetic composition of an organism from the way it was originally created since scientists will not create another organism with original genetic composition. To them, the act is unethical interference with the creation.

Scientists have been accused of playing the role of God in modifying the creation whereas they cannot begin their own creation (Deborah 30). In fact, most of the crusaders of ethics in genetic engineering have referred to genetic engineers as people who are driven by their ego to care about individual benefits that they get from genetic engineering and not what society and the environment get (Epstein 37).

Such genetic engineers disregard the ethical principle of professionalism that dictates that an action can only be done when there is certainty that it will not harm an individual or society or when its degree of harm is known. In most cases, genetic engineers do not know the impact of the marker gene on society and the environment.

For instance, tomatoes that have been modified to take longer before ripening bear the marker gene, which might be left in the gut when they are consumed, and later lead the victim animal to build up resistance against antibiotics. Such animals may therefore take a long duration to treat when they suffer from bacterial diseases. In fact, with the continued consumption of these products, some of the antibiotic medicine may never function. It is therefore difficult for them to take precautionary measures.

Scientists use cisgenic modifications in plants that are not easy to crossbreed (Deborah 33). When genetic engineers crossbreed organisms whose genes are very closely related, they are not required by law to go through the normal tight regulation procedures. To the opponents, this big loophole is unethical since it gives scientists the right to interfere with creation in a negative way.

When researchers alter the genetic composition of any organism, they test its qualities before recommending it for food. There are regulators and mediators who work independently to ensure that quality standards are adhered to during the whole process of genetic modification (Lassen et al. 267). After the adjustment, the product is taken through a series of tests by the regulatory authorities. It is only after such regulations that the engineers are allowed to send the product to the market.

To the proponents of genetic engineering, there is a proper inspection and regulations before the products are released to the market. After the regulatory authorities give a green light to the modification, mass production of the organism is done for the market. Various researchers such as Deborah have approved genetic engineering while others such as Lassen completely oppose it, or are reluctant to adopt it arguing that it is unethical.

Based on this foundation, this paper explores the ethical issues in genetic engineering focusing specifically on the ethical issue of feeding human beings on Genetically Modified Organism (GMOs).

Data and Facts

In genetic engineering, a number of scientists assume the role of directing the creation towards what is good and bad according to the way it was created. Epstein argues that scientists act as if they were God to alter the evolution process of what has been in existence since creation (39).

Whenever a scientist takes the role of altering the genetic elements of an organism, he or she assumes that the engineering can work better relative to natural selection and even evolution in managing world habitation. Genetic engineering should improve the quality of life for human beings. However, the use of Genetically Modified Foods may negatively affect human beings. It is through the consumption of genetically modified foods that foreign genetic components get into the human body. Crevel establishes that 45% of the corn being consumed in the United States currently is genetically tailored (385).

Moreover, 85% of the soybeans being consumed in the United States are also a product of genetic engineering. Since most of the Americans depend on corn as the staple food, they are therefore consuming huge percentages of genetically modified organisms every day. The small quantities of various chemicals that are used to develop genetically modified organisms accumulate in the consumers’ body thus leading to poor health.

Genetic materials can be consumed in the form of viruses from genetically adapted organisms, bacteria, and vaccines. When new genes get into the human body, they alter their genetic orientation (39). Genetically tailored foods contain a unique gene referred scientifically as a marker gene.

The marker gene accompanies the gene that carries a particular trait that the genetic engineers want manifested in an organism. Scientists have confirmed that the gene is resistant to antibiotics. Although it is only an indicator of whether the required genetic traits have been inherited in a successful manner, it makes human and animal body resistant to antibiotics.

The ethical question that is generated from this premise is whether it is ethical to feed human beings with a substance that may endanger their health especially when such Genetically Modified Organisms are not clearly labeled. Every genetically modified organism that successfully undergoes the process of gene transfer contains a marker gene. When humans and animals consume such an organism, the marker gene gets into their systems thus making their body resistant to antibiotics.

It is estimated that between 70% and 75% of industrial processed foods in most local markets are products of genetic engineering. Such a percentage is very high for the population to depend on without proper education. It means that most people consume genetically tailored elements without information.

Out of ignorance, any consumer of GMOs who takes such foods when taking antibiotics the medicine is made useless by the marker gene. His or her health situation is made worse to the point of dying from bacteria attack and multiplication. The person also becomes more prone to bacteria diseases, which are very common in the world. Is the outcome ethical? A person who consumes these tailored foods for a long duration will develop resistance to antibacterial medications.

Consequently, when such a person ails, no antibacterial medicine will help treat his or her illnesses. People have died with others becoming sicker by consuming foods that they do not know whether they have the marker gene or not. Such an action is unethical and a threat to human life. Lassen et al. observe that genetically modified foods have been used in a deceptive manner in order to meet marketing ends (263). Genetic engineering has made people consume vegetables and fruits with lower nutritional levels without information.

A good example is what happens when genetic engineers adjust vegetables and fruits by inserting a certain gene onto them to make them live last without decaying. When shopping, consumers of such vegetables are not able to distinguish whether the vegetables have been on the shelves for many days, or they are fresh. As vegetables and fruits stay on the shelves, their nutritional value changes.

Lassen et al. affirm that these customized foods have certain genes inserted on them to make them appear bigger, have better colors, and or look attractive (263). Such artificial qualities of GMOs deceive shoppers to purchase the items without proper knowledge. The move is unethical because it may negatively affect patients who have had medical recommendations on the nutrients that they should take. The deceiving nutritional value of GMOs may just weaken their health.

It is unethical to deceive people by colors and appearance. Epstein cautions that genetically modified foods carry more toxins than naturally grown food (39). The resistance of these foods to some pathogens may be a weakness to allow for attacks by other pathogens. Levels of toxins in GMOs also increase due to reactions of the natural genetic composition of the organism with that of the inserted gene. What is the case for people who are allergic to certain food materials? What happens to them when they consume foodstuffs containing food elements to which they are allergic?

Some people are allergic to some types of protein, which means that they are negatively affected by consumption of protein elements (Starr, Evers, and Starr 33). However, Rifkin observes that, when genetic engineers inject protein genes into certain plants to improve certain qualities, they do not relay such information to consumers (22).

A consumer may eat certain vegetables containing milk genes without information. Such a person’s health is negatively affected by the protein element. Interfering with someone’s health without any consent is unethical. A person who is aware of his or her health condition avoiding certain foods may consume GMOs containing the same allergic substance without consent.

It is also unethical to make consumers buy products made out of genetic modification even when they are not for it. Genetically modified materials are sold without proper labels in various shopping outlets. Customers always buy the products without information on their genetic composition. Such a move is unethical.

Rifkin argues that GMOs may reach humans in the form of food without their approval (Rifkin 22). Living things are very volatile when they are let into the environment. Hence, it becomes almost impossible to recall them back. Therefore, scientists lose control of genetically modified materials that they release to the environment hence posing adverse effects in generations to come since genetic materials are transferable across generations. When such genes are transferred in the form of GMOs, they reach various generations without their knowledge of the genetic composition of the organisms they consume.

Such acts are unethical. On the other hand, genetic engineers focus on the benefits of genetically modified organisms to them and to their career. They will focus on the increased product quantity and quality rather than the side effects. In such cases, engineers may benefit from exploiting the ordinary people who have no information about the composition of the food that they consume.

Scientists use bromoxynil chemicals and glyphosate to make genetically modified plants pest-resistant. These elements have been associated with carcinomas and development retardation in fetuses. Although bromoxynil enables farmers to have increased produce due to low levels of pest destruction, it is unethical to feed people with it.

Fruits and vegetables that have been grown using glyphosate are also more in terms of quantity. Reduced pest attack increases the quantity and quality of the products. Genetically modified organisms are majorly injected with the two chemicals to make them appear more attractive to the consumer. Most of these kinds of foods are not labeled especially when they are sold in green grocers and supermarkets. The farmers may have increased returns from the increased quality and quantity of the product. However, the consumers may end up suffering for the rest of their life.

Use of Bovine Growth Hormone to make cows produce more milk has also been associated with cancer. The hormone(r BGH) makes cows produce milk with IGF-1, which causes human cancer. Injection of cows with Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH) makes them produce more milk in terms of quantity. The farmer therefore benefits from increased returns from sales of milk and other animal products. Since every farmer would want to have higher yields from his or her animals, it would be ethical to educate both the farmers and the consumers about the consequences of the hormone.

Most of the farmers have adopted the use of genetically modified organisms in production. No one should be left in the risk of consuming products whose composition they do not know. It is therefore unethical to feed humans with milk containing IGF-1 without their consent. It is also immoral to inject animal genes into plants and use the resultant organisms to feed vegetarians without their consent. Such a person consumes protein contents without his or her information.

It is also unscrupulous to feed a Muslim who does not consume pig meat with vegetables whose genetic composition has been altered by injecting them with pig genes. Such an action goes against the ethics and spirituality of the consumer. All GMOs ought to be labeled.

Actions and Outcomes

From the above scientific facts and discussion, it is arguable that genetically modified foods have various unethical results. It is therefore necessary that various steps be carried out to avoid the negative impact of such unethical move from influencing human life negatively. Genetically Modified Organisms should be clearly labeled to provide the necessary information to consumers. It will make those opposed to genetic engineering avoid consuming such foods against their ethics.

Making those opposed to genetic engineering consume GMOs is unethical. Genetic engineers should therefore come out openly and brand products of genetic engineering. Human beings have a right to know the composition of what they consume. Although some of the producers of genetically modified organisms are out to make profits, it is unethical to hide health information. Publicizing the information means that most of the consumers of certain products are aware of the composition.

Hence, they consume it by choice. When animal genes are injected into plants, scientists should clearly indicate the genetic composition of the final products. The engineers should take into consideration the utilitarian principle. All actions on genetically modified organisms should be good for all human beings.

Scientists should be guided by morality to make the world better. Effects of genetic engineering are far reaching. Sometimes, the effect may affect a series of innocent generations. The fact that people are anxious to embrace modern technology in plant and animal production does not mean that genetic engineers play games with human life.

Scientists should therefore be guided by utilitarianism principles. No one should change the genetic composition of certain human foods without knowing the exact composition of the product (Deborah 30). It is dangerous to do guesswork with matters of life. Genetically modified organisms have a certain impact on living organisms. It is therefore important that genetic engineers take precaution when researching, developing, and marketing genetically modified organisms for human consumption.

This paper also recommends that proper testing, production guidelines, assessments, and reporting procedures be put in place to ensure that true and factual information that goes to genetic engineering is equally reported. Errors that have been made by scientists in the past shall then be avoided.

With such measures in place, people shall have the information required when using genetically tailored organisms. Finally, scientists should put in place proper civic education procedures to educate people about genetic engineering, genetically customized organisms, and their impact on their health. Hence, they are not prepared for the ramifications of consuming GMOs.

Epstein asserts that civic health education should also explain to people about the consequence of the marker gene that is transferred together with the genetic material that is injected to the organism during genetic engineering process (32). The fact that the gene is resistant to most antibiotics and that it transfers the same resistance to the defense mechanism of the consumer should also be made known by every likely consumer. Such efforts will be of great importance to people who are taking antibiotics and to those who are likely to have similar medical recommendations.

It is also important that such scientific information be well explained to those who consume genetically modified organisms and the general public. Scientific information should be synthesized and disseminated to the right audience. Every consumer should be made to know the danger inherent in such foods and the precautionary measures that they can take.

Findings of this paper reveal that the nutritional value of various foods that are made of genetically customized organisms should be clearly labeled especially when such foods are sold. Such a step is necessary to ensure that consumers have information concerning the nutritional value what they consume. It is worth noting that such genetically modified foods are not likely to have the nutritional value similar to that of the natural organism. In fact, most of them have a lower nutritional value compared with the natural organisms.

People should also be informed about the level of toxins in certain GMOs. Governments of various countries have a duty to defend the citizens from any health hazards. They should therefore investigate various processes of developing GMOs and analyze the product. They should ban or put tight regulations for genetically modified organisms whose content is not well labeled.

Works Cited

Crevel, Reinout. “Allergenicity of Refined Vegetable Oils.” Food Chem Toxicol 38.4(2000): 385-93. Print.

Deborah, Muoio. “How the Humble Potato could feed the World.” New Scientist 2.2667(2008): 30-33. Print.

Epstein, Robert. “Redesigning the World – Ethical Questions about Genetic Engineering.” Vajra Bodhi Sea: A Monthly Journal of Orthodox Buddhism 32.76(2001): 34-39. Print.

King, David. GM Science Review. First Report, Prepared by the UK GM Science Review. Harvard: Harvard Press, 2007. Print.

Lassen, Jesper, Hauge Madsen, and Peter Sandoe. “Ethics and genetic engineering – Lessons to be learned from GM foods.” Bioprocesses and Biosystems Engineering 24.5(2002): 263-271. Print.

Rifkin, Jeremy. “Playing Ecological Roulette with Mother Nature’s Designs.” The Trouble with Meat 9.3(1998): 22. Print.

Starr, Cecie, Christine Evers, and Lisa Starr. Biology Today and Tomorrow With Physiology. Belmont, CA: Yolanda Cossio, 2007. Print.