In the contemporary world, scientists have made great discoveries and achievements; some of which were game changers in their respective fields. Scientists have progressed in their respective fields because of the advanced technology available in today’s world. Most of scientific discoveries and inventions are meant to help make living easier, like by combating problems that ordinary people face on their daily living (LeVaux). These include getting remedies for chronic illnesses and other improvements in the health sector, improving security, communication among other developments. Every technology that comes with substantial benefits normally comes with considerable risks as well. When using technology, it is wise to evaluate entirely and understand the risks and potential risks that come with the technology. Genetic engineering field has experienced numerous breakthroughs, especially in agriculture (plant and animal production), such as the ability to create genetically modified foods. The availability of genetically modified food has raised concerns from different stakeholders about the risks of consuming these foodstuffs. This paper evaluates the risks and concerns raised by various stakeholders about the effects of genetic engineering on plants, humans, animals and the environment.
The health risks associated with genetic engineering (GE) have been at many times, described in alarmist terms, and exaggerations that imply that; food from GE is inherently unsafe for human and animal consumption. However, no scientific evidence is available to show that refined products derived from GE foods such as oils, sugars and proteins, are different from those derived from conventionally bred crops. It is wrong to assume that there is no health risks associated with GE crops (Bu.edu). There are no abundant investigations on the impacts of the specific genes that are modified in these crops. There are different ways in which genetically engineered crops can cause health problems. For example, genes coming from an allergenic plant with desired traits could transfer the allergenic trait to the target plans (Lotter 63). It was noted so in 1996 in GE soybean in brazil; where a nut gene was added to soybean to improve its value as animal feed, but produced allergic responses to test subjects with nut allergies. It is, therefore, true to argue that GE may have undesirable traits transferred to target plans; which presents a serious health threat, especially if the undesired trait has never been previously noted.
Animal genetic engineering can make large amounts of profit for the food, healthcare and sporting industry. It can also contribute a great deal in the preservation of endangered species. However, like other forms of GE, this technology raises ecological, moral and ethical concerns. From the societal point of view on GE, individuals are members of a community composed of interdependent parts. Instincts prompt humans to compete for their place in the community – doing anything possible to serve his personal interests, but human ethics prompt him to cooperate with the community. It is fundamental that human actions and interactions with nature be considerate of the long term impacts these activities (West 441).
Genetic engineering in animals raises ethical issues; where three theories have been put forth to express these ethical concerns. The first approach is the animal welfare theory; which argues that humans must give equal weight to the violation of non-humans interest as they do with similar violation of human interest. This creates a moral objection to GE on animals. They argue that animals have a natural right to have their genetic integrity maintained, something that has been violated by genetic engineering. The second approach is the Anthropocentrism theory, which recognizes that humans have a responsibility to natural ecosystem, but for the primary interest of promoting human life (West 433). An anthropocentrist is not concerned by GE on animals if it is done with the interest of humans; that generates ethical concerns from animal rights activists. The third approach is the deep ecology theory; which focuses on the whole ecosystem instead of individuals who comprise it. Deep ecology theorists believe that ecosystems should be healthy in the sense that they are sustainable, diverse and balanced, like the natural undisturbed ecosystems. GE on animals thus causes imbalance in the ecosystem and should be avoided. All these theories present ethical concerns about the effects of genetic engineering in animals (Union of Concerned Scientists).
Trees have been genetically engineered to suit different human needs such as timber quality and density, and desired lignin contents. Scientists working in the fields of economy and molecular biology have identified various concerns from the spread of GE forest trees (Mathews & Campbell 5). Although there are no documented adverse effects of transgenic trees on the environment, some voluntarily and involuntarily introduced GE trees have “survived” and subsequently caused extinction of native species. Some scientists are concerned that transgenically enhanced resistance to pest and diseases will force these pests and disease pathogens to evolve better resistance to the currently effective biological and chemical control agents. Other concerns include the possibility of resistant biotypes evolving and their unknown subsequent impact, and the products of GE trees altering bio-trophic processes in the recipient ecosystems. The fears of the unknown possible effects after the transgenic trees evolve as expressed here pose a serious concern (Mathews & Campbell 8) .
There are many concerns about the effect of GE organisms on the environment. There is a risk of transgene spreading in the environment, depending on the ability of the plant or animal to out-cross or transfer genes horizontally, and the phenotype that the gene imparts. Many cases of exotic plants becoming weedy show the possibility of a novel organism escaping and causing considerable damage to the ecosystem. The chances of transgenes spreading by outcrossing are entirely dependent on the sexual compatibility and proximity of the GE plant and other species (Mathews & Campbell 9). Many forest trees are dioecious, and wind pollinated; thus pollen can be transferred to far distance to their wild relatives. Once transgenes find a way to escape to wild ecosystems and propagate or get modified by natural means it is hard to manage them or their outcomes. An engineered gene may cause a GE plant (or a wild relative to that plant) to become toxic or invasive to livestock and wildlife. This is a serious threat to the natural ecosystems, as transgenes can multiply and evolve to previously unpredicted states.
On industrial agriculture, risks of GE can be demonstrated by the “superweed” crisis. The superweed crisis is as a result of the damaging effects of GE in agriculture. Millions of hectares of farmland in the U.S. are infested by weeds that have developed resistance to herbicides. Ways to fight these superweeds include the use of more toxic herbicides – which have more undesirable effects on the environment (Lotter 67). Agribusiness companies will develop new genetically engineered crops to tolerate these toxic herbicides. However, in reality; there are no guarantees that the superweed story will not repeat itself; giving rise to a new wave of resistant weeds. Some anti-genetic engineering activists have put forward arguments against GE seeds, arguing that they weaken or destroy the other seed crops. These effects brought about by GE have damaging effects to the farms and the general environment.
In conclusion, there are serious concerns about the impacts of genetically engineered crops to the environment, to humans, wild and domesticated plants as well as wildlife and livestock. Serious concerns arise because GE organisms (plants or animals) may evolve, adapt, transform and then multiply beyond human control. With the modern advances in technological advancements and discoveries, risks and concerns will always be present in all scientific endeavors. There is no rigorous approval process to ensure that all GE crops get effectively regulated. There is no stipulated process to guarantee that GE crops that can cause health problems will be identified early enough and kept off the shelves and far from public access. It is, therefore, upon the scientists and relevant authorities to ensure that GE does not have adverse impacts on individuals, animals and the environment.