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Do the potential risks justify stopping the development of GM foods when they could be a benefit to developing countries? On the one hand we can say it would be immoral to stop the development of GM foods when they are such a benefit to poor developing countries. GM crops can be developed with resistance to problems such as disease and pests, therefore we can produce greater yields and help feed members of developing countries.
However on the other hand, there are a lot of risks involved, and it is fair to ask if there is actually a benefit to the more developing countries, maybe we are being ‘blackmailed’ into the decision of continuing with the development of GM foods, by being told that it is the ‘morally right’ decision. If we look at the wider picture of things we can see that GE seeds are infact very expensive. Are the farmers in these developing countries expected to purchase these seeds themselves? Will they be able to afford it? Are they going to be able to buy enough to solve their problems?
It is unlikely that the production of GM foods is going to solve hunger problems in these developing countries. It is then we come down to the question, do the risks outweigh the benefits? A concern on genetically modified food is if it is actually safe to eat. Promoters of GM foods will tell us that they are thoroughly tested and that we can be assured that they are safe. We are told that there has not been a single respectable scientific body anywhere in the world that has declared a GM crop now in cultivation to be a danger to the ecosystem.
However we can argue that the only way to determine that GM foods are safe is by scientific research done over a long period of time. The idea of genetically modified food is generally new and perhaps the testing and research period has simply not been long enough to give us the final answer on if its actually safe for us to eat these foods. A cause for concern is that GM crops could lead to genetic changes in other species through cross-pollination, in the US, pollen from US maize has caused damage to the caterpillars of the Monarch butterfly and organic maize has become contaminated by GM maize.
Organic foods are generally not tested; if they become contaminated by GM crops we are not sure of their safety. It is perhaps considered unwise to continue with the development of such GM crops if putting a risk onto our organic foods too. People who wish to avoid GM crops will be denied the choice and we can argue this is unfair and perhaps as morally wrong as denying that GM foods should be stopped in their development.
In the UK we already fight Giant Hogweed, Japanese Knotweed and other weeds accidentally introduced from other countries – these may be more of a problem than weeds derived from cross-pollination with GM plants. It is not necessarily good for our own environment to continue with the production of GM foods. Another risk is that these herbicide tolerant crops could spread these genes to crops we do not want to have these genes. If care is not taken weeds can become herbicide tolerant and this worsens the problem rather than solves it. Is it a risk we should take?
Genetically modified foods do of course have their advantages. Crops, which are resistant to disease or pests can be developed, allowing us to be sure that the plants we plant will grow properly. This will be advantageous to the farmers as they are almost guaranteed a good crop yield and will not have to rely so heavily on crop rotation and the incorporation of recycled organic material. There is also a benefit to developing countries here. The higher the yield, the better and the more likely hunger problems can be stricken out, but in reality is this the case?
Another argument in favour of GM foods is that GM crops will require fewer chemicals so are better for the environment. The evidence so far suggests that fewer chemicals are used on herbicide tolerant and insect resistant GM crops. This in turn brings savings in the energy that would have been used to produce and transport those chemicals. However a move to herbicide tolerant crops does not necessarily lead to an overall reduction in these chemicals. More ‘broad spectrum’ herbicides will need to be used than before to replace the previous herbicides used.
It can be argued that these are highly toxic and will actually kill far more plants, insects and birds than the other herbicides would. A further concern is for organisms such as birds. Biodiversity could be reduced if single crops replace existing ecosystems. It has been deemed possible that this could eliminate species such as skylarks as their food would be being destroyed. Another consideration to be made is that if GM crops are more effective at killing target insects, this might deprive other organisms which prey on them, such as birds.
The potential benefits to organisms are being researched but as of yet, there a few that can be offered. Should we sacrifice organisms that are actually beneficial to us for something that is not necessarily the answer to the problem of hunger? On the positive side GM crops may allow us to develop medical applications, for example a new rice with increased vitamin A and iron content is almost ready to meet a huge need in South-East Asia for a population where blindness and anaemia are serious problems.
But then the question arises is this rice going to be accessible to those who need it? Overall in my opinion the potential risks do justify stopping development of GM foods. There are far more disadvantages, and being generally a new scientific idea we cannot be sure of the problems and damage it can cause. It is possible that there are far more long-term effects that, because research has not been conducted long enough we will not find out until far into the future, when it will be too late to stop it.
As it is not certain that developing GM food is actually going to be a worthwhile benefit, I think the risks should be concentrated on more, once the damage is done there is no going back, but further research could minimalise risks further, and perhaps find a way of eliminating them entirely. I think at this stage it is not fair to say that it is morally wrong to not give GM a chance. The risks involved outweigh by far the benefits, and I think that these risks could cause far worse problems than the problems in the developing countries. I think it can’t be seen as beneficial, only problematic.