About Me

My photo
Hi my name's Paul, I'm studying A levels in a school in Kent and am aspiring to go to The University of Nottingham to study Plant Bioscience. Enjoy my blogs, they will mainly be about Biology. Contact me at rubiscoactivase@gmail.com

Saturday, 17 March 2012

In depth analysis of an article about Genetic Modification

The first article I will be looking at is entitled “The Future of Food: An introduction to the Ethical Issues in Genetically Modified Foods”[1]. This article is written by Margaret R. McLean, who is the Ethics Centre Associate Director and Director of Bioethics for the Santa Clara University. The article I am looking at is the adaptation of a talk delivered at the conference "The Future of Food: Legal and Ethical Challenges"[2] held at the Santa Clara University on 15th April 2005.
The article starts by highlighting common misconceptions with a series of statements to be answered true or false. These statements help to show not only the lack of understanding in this topic area, but also how relevant it is to people’s lives. The relevance is shown by the outstanding fact that about 75% of processed food produced in the US contains some genetically modified ingredients[3].  This means by taking the US as guidance, almost everyone in civilised society has consumed some type of genetically modified food.
The second paragraph of the article talks about how humans have been modifying crops before the modern developments in genetic engineering and biotechnology. It talks about how early human agriculture, from over 8000 years ago, has been developing plants for improved yields and resistance to pests, diseases  and fluctuations in weather. McLean then makes the link between these types of modification and modern genetic biotechnology by saying “These age-old techniques can now be complemented, supplemented, and perhaps supplanted by an assortment of molecular "tools" that allow for the deletion or insertion of a particular gene or genes to produce plants (animals and microorganisms) with novel traits, such as resistance to briny conditions, longer "shelf-life," or enhanced nutrient content.”[4]  This quote portrays the article’s overall view very clearly. Modern genetic modification is something to complement or maybe even replace that of traditional selective breeding, in order to create a genotype that will benefit humans. McLean conveys the opinion that genetic modification is just a faster, more precise method of selective breeding. She makes this point by giving the example of developing a plant with drought resistant properties in the third paragraph, saying that the outcome is the same only faster by inserting the gene with the drought resistant properties compared to “crosses with resistant varieties, selection, and backcrossing”[5].
McLean also writes about a new type of genetically modified crops that are designed to produce pharmaceuticals. A planned 50 hectares of genetically modified rice was to be grown near San Diego by Ventria Biosciences. Two types of rice were to be grown by Ventria, one was modified to make human Lactoferrin (used to treat anaemia) and the other was modified to produce lysozyme (used to treat diarrhoea). They were modified by inserting a human gene into the rice plant. Both diarrhoea and anaemia are very common in children under the age of 5 in developing counties (LEDCs). However the plans were turned down due to fear of neighbouring rice being contaminated. This shows what possible potential genetic modification can have and how it is being affected by people’s fears of the unknown. The extent of these fears is shown by the brewer Anheuser-Busch threatening to boycott rice from Missouri if Ventria was allowed to set up the genetically modified rice plantations.
I believe McLean has shown a fair argument here, she has given facts and not presented her opinion on these facts. For example, with the genetically modified rice McLean has just told the reader what has happened and allowed the reader to decide whether the prevention of these rice plantations was justified. McLean has told us why they were refused permission to grow, but has not forced any opinion on the reader. It is for this reason that I believe this article to be unbiased and hence a credible source.
McLean has also presented possible risks of genetically modified organisms in an easy to interpret list, with main categories split into sub categories. For example the first possible risk is entitled “Potential Risk to the environment and wildlife”[6]. Within this category there are four possible ways in which the environment and/ or environment is put at risk due to genetically modified organisms. This therefore presents a clear and easy to read format, helping to show the McLean wishes to clearly convey both sides of the argument. McLean makes the point within this category that genes may ‘escape’ and find their way into different members of the same species or into new species entirely. This could therefore cause more harm than good if certain genes are transferred to certain organisms. The next point McLean makes is genetically modified organisms could compete or breed with wild species. This could threaten biodiversity and cause problems in food chains and ecosystems. Another point given in this category was that monogenetic organisms could potentially not react significantly to environmental stresses; this could potentially lead to a food shortage (if the organism was being used for food production). The last point given is the potential effects coming into contact with the genetically modified organism could have, for example if a genetically modified crop was consumed by a species of bird.
These four points are presented in a non opinionated way and help to show one side of the argument. This helps validate this source as credible and free from bias.
McLean also gives another category as to why genetically modified organisms may be a risk; this category is entitled “The Potential Risks to Humans”[7]. This category is split into two subcategories. The first of which is the potential of allergy stimulating genes being inserted into unrelated food stuffs. This could cause a fatal allergic reaction. The other sub category McLean presents is that genetically modified products may accidentally make their way into the human food supply. These points are again presented in an opinion free way allowing the reader to make up their own mind regarding whether or not these potential risks are enough to discredit the benefits associated with genetic modification.
The next risk category presented by McLean is “The potential socio-economic effects”[8]. The first of two sub categories is that small scale farmers may be negatively impacted by industrial market dominators. This may lead to loss traditional farming methods and hence heritage. The second sub category is that the proprietary nature of biotechnology may slow down research and patent protection may result in genetically modified crops being refused entry into developing countries (LEDCs). I believe the second point made is not as valid as the others made, however it is important to convey all the possible potential risks involved with genetic modification, something which I feel McLean has done very clearly and effectively, without displaying any bias.
The final category given by McLean does not have any sub categories and is entitled “the potential risk to public trust generated in part by industry refusal to label GM foods as such”[9]. I don’t believe this to be an adequate risk to associate with genetic modification; however its inclusion helps to show how McLean is trying to present all possible potential risks associated with genetic modification.
McLean therefore has presented all the possible risks associated with genetic modification in a non opinionated way, expressing each one clearly and factually; some also have an example to help further understanding. After presenting these points McLean balances the argument by presenting a series of points, conveyed in the same way as the potential risks, which display the benefits of genetic modification, helping make the article fair.