The emergence of genetically engineered food has become widespread in contemporary times, particularly because of the fact that the human population is constantly growing to the point where the natural production of food proved inadequate. The need to feed the human population with enough food has since stood as the justification of numerous caucuses supporting the production of genetically engineered food. At the same time, genetically modified food has become the center of dispute by groups opposing it for reasons such as its allegedly unhealthy effects and unethical ways of producing it, among many others. This study aims to clear out the debate on the ethics of genetically engineered food through a review of the existing literature. Consumption of genetically engineered food, as far as the existing literature is concerned, does not have any concrete negative effects and is thus amenable. However, the production of genetically engineered food, usually by corporate farmers, produces unfavorable repercussions to the lives of small farmers.
Arguments on Genetically Engineered Food
The first impression people usually think of concerning genetically engineered food is that it is unhealthy and unfit for long-term consumption. Given the argument that genetically engineered food is not natural, people would usually think that it is better to stay away from the side of danger, as it is possible that genetic modifications could actually introduce costs. At the same time, being risk-aversive would also lead to people missing the benefits of genetically engineered food, which is why it is important to consider various scientific developments on the matter. Conservatism without deep consideration of the facts may lead people to skip the benefits of genetically engineered food, given that unfounded fears could push them against consuming it (MacKinnon, 2013).
Currently, there is no strong scientific evidence leading to the harmfulness of genetically modified to the health of consumers, despite suspicious manifestations such as the growth of “superweeds” due to herbicides. However, it is also important to take note of the ethical consideration of sustaining the needs of the human population to have an adequate source of food. The use of genetic modification to protect crops from drought or extremely low temperatures attests to such a need. At the same time, it is also important to consider the perceived rights of plants and animals from non-natural changes provided by genetic modification. Interfering with nature, as MacKinnon (2013) has asserted, stands as an ethical consideration taken against genetically engineered food, which involves having to undergo the strenuous test of “[distinguishing] good forms of manipulating nature from unacceptable ones”.
Another ethical consideration on genetically engineered food goes beyond the parameters of health and nature. The production of genetically engineered food, typically by corporations engaged in farming, entrenches on the rights of small farmers, whose natural ways become outdated and costlier when paralleled with the sophistication and cost-efficiency of mass-produced food that underwent genetic modification. Kaplan (2005) recognizes that while harmful health effects of genetically engineered food has yet to emerge, it is important to understand the issues of the producers as well. “Distributive justice”, in the words of Kaplan (2005), becomes the main ethical case-in-point on genetically engineered food, in that the powerful corporate farmers win and small farmers lose, regardless of lower prices associated with greater mass production (Thompson, 2012).
Articles on Genetically Engineered Food
Improving the nutritional quality of food has become a key purpose of genetic modification of food. Nordlee et al. (1996) took said case in their study of improving the nutritional quality of transgenic soybeans, which lack methionine in its protein. Transmitting 2S albumin from Brazil nuts, which are rich in methionine but allergenic, became the proposed manner of Nordlee et al. (1996) in improving the methionine deficiency of transgenic soybeans. The experiment, which proved a success, concluded that genetic modification could make the transmission of allergen from an allergenic to another food possible (Nordlee et al., 1996).
Studies on transgenic cattle for milk have also characterized the use of genetic modification in developing food production. As seen in studies on transgenic mice, developing transgenic cattle for greater efficiency in milk production stood as a highly promising prospect. Yet, the costs of developing transgenic cattle, as enumerated by Wall et al. (1996): “low rates of gene integration, poor embryo survival, and unpredictable transgene behavior”, may prove as strong hindrances to the fulfilling the maximum potential of transgenic cattle for greater milk production.
In terms of health risks, genetically engineered food does not pose any danger. Yet, producers, policymakers and other stakeholders must keep in mind the following ethical considerations in engaging in genetic modification for food production: the interfering effects on natural processes and the welfare of small farmers. To the extent that the foregoing stakeholders consider said ethical issues with great care, producing and consuming genetically engineered food do not stand to have unethical repercussions.
Kaplan, D. (2005). What’s wrong with genetically modified food? Journal of Philosophical Research, 30 (Issue Supplement), 69-80.
MacKinnon, B. (2013). Ethics: Theory and contemporary issues (2nd Ed.). Boston, MA: Wadsworth.
Nordlee, J., Taylor, S., Townsend, J., Thomas, L., & Bush, R. (1996). Identification of a Brazil-nut allergen in transgenic soybeans. The New England Journal of Medicine, 334, 688-692.
Thompson, P. (2012). Genetically modified food: Ethical issues. eLS, Web.
Wall, R., Kerr., D., & Bondioli, K. (1996). Transgenic dairy cattle: Genetic engineering on a larger scale. Journal of Dairy Science, 80 (9), 2213-2224.