The 21st century has become a world of wonders, a world of scientific and technological miracles. Moreover, a world where human kind strives to solve all of its ills without knowing enough about repercussions. If this dream is to be realized, we as an inter-dependant society, have a moral and ethical duty to make fundamental decisions as to the limits of science and technology in our every day life. Technology is emerging as the ruling power in western societies in the 21st century, and therefore, human kind is finding it more and more difficult to survive without constant aid from new hi-tech advances.
Computers and the internet has become men’s “best friend”. Children are growing up with Nintendo and Xbox, and consequently without the wondrous knowledge of playing tag, climbing a tree, playing in the dirt or with little insects. They have no familiarity with a world without television and videogames, a natural world where everything is organic and healthy. As the futurist Alvin Toffler points out in an article in the New Scientist, “welcome to the latest installment of that (future) shock: the GM revolution.
Gene therapy. Spare-part tissues grown from engineered fetal cells. Organ-donor pigs and their viruses. All these are part of it, but they are the remote part that exists only in the labs and the imaginations of scientists. GM food is different, it’s already left the labs. 1 In this paper, we will examine and try to clarify different philosophies that are competing to control world food production. In particular, we will mainly focus on the use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GM or GMOs) and Organic Farming.
Each philosophy has its adherents and its detractors are locked in a boisterous and intransigent battle. This has led to a clouding of issues, making it very difficult for people to develop an informed decision. We believe that the issue at stake is crucial to humanity’s existence, since it transcends national and political boundaries. All humans share this planet and ingest its harvest of food, thus, an error in policy can lead to universal catastrophe.
As Toffler further points out, “suddenly, plant science is no longer a quiet backwater for genial professors and their cuttings. It is the stuff of big business, patent rivalries and closely guarded technical tricks. If you believe biotech’s gainsayers, this brave new plant science is also ushering in a dark age in which all genes will bear a ‘no trespassing’ sign, and the companies that own them will move them from species to species like Lego bricks, to the detriment of what’s left of the natural world and our respect for it.
Many organisms researchers are manipulating are more complex than bacteria and have greater emotional resonance for humans, either because they are mammals or part of our food supply. “2 On the other hand, as Nathan Batalion points out “a farmer may use toxic chemicals for many decades, and then let the land lie fallow for a year or two to convert back to organic farming. The chemicals tend to break down into natural substances within months or years. A few may persist for decades. But genetic pollution (from GMOs) can alter the life in the soil for ever! “3 Background
General Background For the past 12,000 years, human kind has interfered with nature in different degrees to guarantee a steady stream of food. From the cultivation of wheat to the domestication of wild animals, humans have manipulated nature for their advantage and survival. Consequently, this has led to a more continuous and reliable source of food that allowed humanity to establish civilizations, pursue knowledge and create the world we know today. Unfortunately, for all the advancements we have accomplished a large portion of the world’s population lives in hunger.
As a civilized society, it is our duty and responsibility to try to eradicate hunger and try to raise the standards of less fortunate nations. Farmers, eager to increase their crop yields and number of livestock, have adopted different new methods and technologies with hopes of success. Overall, their efforts have been outstripped by the increase in the world’s population and the failure of some of the technologies to live up to their promises. Over the years, the use of chemicals, pesticides and herbicides has grown to an unprecedented degree.
This has led to problems not envisioned by society, such as, soil and water pollution due to overuse, resistance to herbicides and pesticides by organisms, mutagenicity and even resistant forms of bacteria. Today, there have emerged two competing solutions for the farmer’s woes, Genetically Modified Organisms and Organic farming. Both solutions have their supporters and their detractors. Simply put, Organic Farming is farming without the use of chemicals and farming with GMOs is using genetically modified crops to increase yields and lower the use of chemicals, herbicides and pesticides.
Genetically Modified Organism Background The promise of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) or Genetically Modified Foods (GMFs) is increased yields from agriculture, more powerful control of pests and weeds, reduced use of agrochemicals and enhanced nutritional value. “The agro-biotechnology industry has announced a revolution: it promises to increase world food production and reduce the requirements for water and other natural resources. Reduction of atmospheric emissions and chemical contamination of soils may be achieved.
Another accomplishment this revolution promises is an abundant nutritionally improved diet for malnourished populations. Central to this revolution is genetically modified food (GMF)”4. That is the promise of GMOs. Essentially, the process of genetically modifying a plant starts with a piece of DNA that has been isolated from an animal, another plant or a bacterium. This isolated piece of DNA can code for a protein, which has a specific function and could impart the ability of a plant to resist insects, grow at an accelerated rate, require less water and resist disease and chemicals.
The isolated DNA, or gene, is then placed into a plant cell. As a result, the plant growing from this modified cell, carries the inserted gene and is “enhanced” to express new traits; however, the plants exhibit traits that are not possible under natural conditions. In the U. S, GMOs have found their way into a large portion of processed foods. As of January 2002, “5. 5 million farmers worldwide – mainly in the U. S, Argentina, Canada and China – now grow GM crops covering more than 50 million hectares. And with the vast countries like Indonesia about to join the GM club, next year’s leap could be bigger still”.
5 Meaning, two thirds of all U. S processed foods have GM ingredients and 70-80 million acres of land is growing GM crops. This represents approximately 25% of agricultural lands in the U. S. Furthermore, products such as soybeans, corn, tomatoes and rapeseed (canola), have been genetically modified and are currently in the processed food chain. The problem is not that these products are on the market but, there are no labeling requirements, and today Genetically Modified Foods fill our supermarket shelves, our kitchens and restaurants. Sadly, “few consumers are aware this has been going on”.
6 The use of GMOs and GMFs is by no means universally accepted. While the U. S has adopted a very aggressive GMO and GMF program, with voluntary labeling, other countries have adopted a more conservative approach. Virtually all of the European nations, many Latin American countries as well as countries in the Near East and Asia have partially banned, restricted or imposed a moratorium on the use of GMOs or GMFs. Many countries require labels indicating that the food has been Genetically Engineered and impose severe legal penalties for non-compliance. Organic Farming Background.