In the past decade, we have become witness to the creation to the birth of " Dolly, the lamb, " in-vitro fertilization, organ transplants, and nutritionally enhanced food, all of which fall under the very controversial topic of cloning. These dramatic advances in biotechnology have spurred many ethical debates as well as questions by many philosophers, researchers, scientists, as well as everyday people in dire need of these advancements for medical reasons. On the one hand, from a utilitarian perspective, bioengineering is essentially creating, " the greatest good for the greatest number," by possibly eliminating life threatening diseases and prolonging human life. On the other, it provokes fear throughout humans that one-day biotechnology may advance so far as to be able to clone human beings. Despite these fears, we can see how the bioengineering of food is a positive advancement in technology. Life can be prolonged and enhanced with cures for diseases; higher yielding crops and more nutritionally enhanced food, benefits all of us.
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First of all, let us take an ethical standpoint. Based on the famous nineteenth-century English philosopher John Stuart Mill, "The purpose of a moral action is to achieve the greatest overall happiness, and to create the greatest good for the greatest number." (Donaldson, p. 5) The bioengineering of food essentially creates the greatest good for the greatest number; for obvious reasons, all humans need food, and more nutritious food at that. The influence of bioengineering in crops could result in food that is more nutritious, better tasting, as well as creating a higher yields of crops. This bioengineered food can help to provide the poor with food at a more rapid pace. As, with the use of bioengineering, scientists are able to genetically alter crops through a process known as selective breeding. In this process, scientists can create crops having only desirable traits, thereby eliminating the undesirable traits. You may ask, why can"t we just grow crops in the traditional manner? According to the International Food Information Council Foundation, "Rather than spending 10-12 years to breed plants in the traditional manner, mixing thousands of genes to improve a crop plant, modern crop breeders can select a specific genetic trait from any pant and move it into the genetic code of another plant through biotechnology." (Food Biotechnology Inc., Background)
Biotechnology, according to the International Food Information Council foundation, is in essence helping the economy, by affecting the amount of growth. Instead of yielding a crop full of undesirable traits, farmers now would be able to create a very desirable new crop. Being able to control production rates would directly benefit poor income families, and the population of the world that is struggling with starvation problems. As former president Jimmy Carter states, "Responsible biotechnology is not the enemy; starvation is. Without adequate food supplies at affordable prices, we cannot expect world health, or peace." (Biotechnology Industry Organization) Carter is emphasizing that having bioengineered food would help the third world countries that are starving, as a plethora of new food would be made at a relatively affordable price.
Statistics have shown that already to this day, the bioengineering of food is helping farmers to be able to produce a crop that would feed many more. As it states in The Benefits and Politics of Biotechnology, "Plant technology in this half-century has helped make it possible for the U.S. farmer, who in 1940 fed 19 people, to feed 129 today." Essentially, with this new technology, we are now able to feed more of the population, as more and more people are added to this planet, the scarcity of food will only become more prevalent. " Biotechnology is one of the best hopes for solving their food needs today, when we have 6 billion people, and certainly in the next 30 to 50 years, when there will be 9 billion on the globe." (AgBioWorld, Benefits) Biotechnology is helping to create the greatest good for the greatest number, as without this type of engineering being able to supply over 9 billion people is virtually impossible. As stated earlier, it takes almost a decade for some crops to develop. To further emphasize the issue that bioengineering is the key to solving shortages in food, Steve Wentworth, Farmer and Chairman of the Foundation Earth stated, ""Bioengineering is another tool for farmers to utilize to bring abundance to America.
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Activists on the opposing end of the issue may argue that bioengineering is not a safe process and is a hazard to its users. While those issues may be true, you have to keep in mind, that " Millions of people have eaten the products of genetic engineering and no adverse effects have been demonstrated. (Transegenic Products on the Market)" So while, there may be slight health effects, in the overall consequences of such things, there is no huge effect. Even though we may not know it, we have been consuming bioengineered food for a long time.
As of a 1999 a consensus done by the Food and Agricultural Biotech Products, there are over 40 marketable foods and cooking solvents that consumers are buying already. For example, several types of corn, seeds, cotton, tomatoes, and soybeans are currently marketable products that are being bioengineered. Most of these perishables have been genetically altered to resist specific undesirable traits, such as pesticides, herbicides, or other various types of harmful insects. Let"s take for example, cotton that is produced by Monsanto. As stated by the Agricultural Biotech Products on the market, "Cotton with Monsanto"s Bollagard gene is protected against cotton bollworms, pink bollworms and tobacco budworms." If bioengineering weren"t available for this type of cotton crop, it would most likely not produce a high yielding crop, as the insects would surely attack the crop. Bioengineering, also resists specific types of pesticides, and or herbicides. For example, Clearfield corn, produced by American Cynamid is resist to the herbicide imidaolinone. Now, growers can yield the highest possible yield for their corn crops, thus solving the problem of shortages of food. The Food and Agriculture Biotech Industry, states, "Introduced in 1992, imidazolinone-tolerant and resistant corn allows growers to apply the flexible and enviornmentally friendly imaidazolinone herbicides to corn. Registration of Lighting herbicide, a new imidazolinone specifically for use on Clearfield Corn was approed by the EPA on March 31, 1997. One Postemergence application of Lightning herbicide provides both contact and residual control of broadleaf and grassy weeds resulting in maximum yield potential.
That itself may not be enough to prove to activists against the bioengineering of food, that it is indeed a safe process, and will bring about higher yields in crops. All genetically engineered food is checked thoroughly by the FDA, and is regulated under the FFDCA ( Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act). As the World Health Organization of the United Nations stated, " The use of these techniques does not result in food which is inherently less safe than that produced by conventional ones." In fact, bioengineering makes plant breeding safer as instead of the traditional method of moving thousands of genes around to find the desired traits, only one gene needs to be altered.
In addition to creating a much higher yield of crops as well as a more nutritionally advanced field of crops, bioengineering of food can also help in terms of finding cures for particular diseases. For example, there has been a new rice strain that is being developed that may have the potential to prevent blindness that occurs in millions of children who are deficient in Vitamin A. As stated by AgBioWorld Industry, " edible vaccines, delivered in locally grown crops, could do more to eliminate disease than the Red Cross, missionaries and U.N. task forces combined, at only a fraction of the cost." This is only the beginning, with more funding for bioengineering, scientists have the potential to alter other strains of DNA that could potentially be the cure for cancer, or other terminating diseases.
Bioengineering not only opens doors in terms of benefits for science and cloning, but grants us the knowledge that there are solutions to helping undeveloped nations and their starvation threats. Bioengineering genetically alters plants so that they are more abundant, and likewise more nutritious, as all of the undesirable traits can be altered to be left out. Though many activists may disagree, it is up for us to take a stand on this ethical issue. Would we rather let starving nations and people die from hunger, or save them by following this new advancement in technology? If we could, would we jump at the opportunity to save a child from blindness? Or starvation? That is for you to decide.
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