Starting its history in the early 1960s, biotechnology has emerged over the years as a well developing industry. The biotechnology industry experienced it first major take off with the discovery of recombinant DNA in 1973. This technology allowed us, and still allows us today, to manipulate the fundamental building block of life, DNA. While we have manipulated the DNA sequences of several species organisms to today, among some of the most important yet least broadcasted organisms are crops. While crops are not seen as something that has a direct effect on the human population, such as a genetically engineered bacteria that helps in fighting off disease, the long term effects of genetic engineering have a great impact on our society. These impacts from the genetic engineering of crops are being witnessed today social speaking and speaking in terms of health and disease as well.
One of the first majorly marketed biotechnologies was Bt-corn in 2003. Bt-corn was developed from splicing a gene of a bacterium known as Bacillus thuringiensis and inserting recombinant DNA that coded for a gene to make a plant more herbicide resistant. As a result of the gene insertion, crop production of crown was greatly increased in the U.S. The significant increases in crop production of corn led to a huge demand for Bt-corn across the world. By the end of 2003, approximately 62 million hectares of Bt-corn were planted worldwide. While corn across the world began to flourish from the implementing of this gene, other genes contained within Bt bacteria were not being taken account for. The individual toxins within these bacteria were cloned with the implemented gene including toxins of the Cry family. These toxins, however, have not yet to be tested because the cost of isolating the toxins from the genetically modified corn, putting our health safety at risk. Cry toxins, however, do have known effects on other mammals including stigmentation of cellular growth within insects, mice, cows, pigs, and maize itself.
Among other genetically modified crops was the development of the Flavr Savr tomato. The company Zeneca developed its first genetically modified product by modifying a tomato to make it bulkier with reduced water content. As a result, tomato would have greater viscosity and would be more suitable for puree or soup. It grew the first of these crops in California in 1994. In 1996, the first genetically modified tomato was put in production for sale. These GMOs were the only GM foods for which the FDA has considered requiring pre-market approval. Both tomatoes contained marker genes that gave resistance to an antibiotic kanamycin used in medicine. People began to question whether or not gene could be passed from the tomato to the bacteria and could cause it to become resistant to the antibiotic. The company Calgene took up the question and was referred to the FDA who used Flavr Savr as a GMO test case. Flavr Savr was approved and Zeneca’s similar product in mid-1994. In doing so they decided that GM foods in general should not be regulated differently to non-GM foods and would not require pre-market approval. There was no scientific evidence, however, that the tomatoes were safe for human consumption. In fact, the FDA had ignored many of its own scientists who were concerned that research had shown that GM tomatoes had a potential to cause stomach lesions. In 1994, it was found by professors at the University of West Ontario that Flavr Savr tomatoes of a genetic sequence from the Cauliflower Mosaic Virus could create virulent new viruses. Before the release of the tomatoes and in the year 1991, Dr Edwin Mathews from the Department of Health and Human Services and of the FDA's Toxicology Group wrote to the FDA Biotechnology Working Group saying: “Genetically modified plants could also contain unexpected high concentrations of plant toxicants”. Despite all of these findings, however, GMO today still have less constraints placed on them for their release for sale than non-GMOs. Does this really make much sense at all?
This now brings us up to the same dispute we are having over genetically modified crops today. Approximately 1 million more farmers planted genetically modified crops last year than in 2007 with an additional 10.7 million hectares of GM crops planted in 2008. Biotechnology today is now reaching once undeveloped parts of the world like Burkina Faso and Egypt. One of the latest popular GM crops being widely used includes Roundup Ready sugar beets. “Golden Rice” is another uptaking GM crop awaiting approval in China. The rice is genetically modified so that nutrients like Vitamin A will be plentiful within the crop, thus preventing Vitamin A deficiencies for the country of investment.
While several new GM crops are expected to release by 2015 across the world, we still have not placed additional standards upon GM crops to even bring them up to the level of examination of non GM crops. This means that GM crops being sold are not guaranteed safe to the public. Are the benefits of these GM crops really worth the risk?
My opinion: We should encourage the use of biotechnology in the field of agriculture, however, at the same time, we need to act with great caution. One way to reinforce safety precautions in the field of agriculture is to approve additional constraints on GM crops by the FDA. If anything, we should take at least the same number of precautions with dealing with GM crops as we do currently with non GM crops. Essentially we are altering something that we already analyze to a great extent. Since we are now causing variability within a species from altering specific genes, we should have less knowledge about the species than we did before the alterations theoretically. Therefore, it would be wise and to the benefit of the health safety of the public to analyze GM crops to a greater extent than non GM crops since we know less about them. While several scientists working in this field might feel confident in their knowledge of certain GM crops, it would not be wise to under analyze GM crops since they have younger and less predictable than non GM crops that have existed for hundreds of years. We should still produce GM crops, however, for the purpose of variability and sustainability of a species as a result of natural selection. Also, there are several benefits of planting GM crops over non GM One benefit includes increased yields which can cause the farmer to make more of a profit and allow more flow of money into our suffering economy right now. Overall however, I think less money should be invested in increasing the number of GM crops available. Instead, I feel that money saved should be invested into the establishment of stricter laws upon GM crops, for the safety of crop variability and the safety of the public in regards to our overall health.