Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Genetically Modified



Over the past few years, there has been a growing popularity in organic food. This has stemmed from the increased knowledge the public has on how our food is made and where it comes from.  One of the primary reasons for the push to organic options is the food industry's production of genetically engineered foods.

Genetic engineering takes the genetics of one organism and puts it into something else. With genetically engineered food, animals and plants are transformed primarily so we can produce more food faster and cheaper. Genetically engineering food has become so prevalent that the majority of processed foods in a grocery store contain genetically engineered ingredients (http://centerforfoodsafety.org/geneticall7.cfm).

There are many who argue that genetic engineering has adverse effects on humans, animals, wildlife and the environment. A recent documentary, Food Inc. (http://www.foodincmovie.com/), focuses on some of these concerns. While there are many concerns, in a world where people starve, is the ability to bring more food to market at a cheaper price a bad thing? It is a moral paradox and I suggest you do a little personal research to come to your own conclusions.

A similar genetic engineering concern has also been recently publicized in the commercial paper industry (Forests Of ArborGen Genetically Modified Trees OK'd For U.S. South).  For years, paper companies have been planting forests of trees to be used for commercial paper. These forests help protect the conservation of natural forests.

Eucalyptus trees are being planted as they grow faster and produce high-quality pulp but they only do well in warm year-round climates such as Florida.  Genetic engineering has allowing the company ArborGen to change the genetic makeup of these trees by modifying them to withstand freezing temperatures which will enable their growth in states north of Florida.  The concern is that these genetically engineered trees will invade the natural ecosystem. That could cause a number of problems. ArborGen is confident they can control the trees but questions still remain.

Again, as with genetically modified food, this creates a moral paradox. We know trees are good as they take in carbon dioxide and produce oxygen. Is it bad that paper companies are looking for more ways to increase the number of trees put in the ground? From the paper company's perspective, the alternative is to use trees from natural forests but no one wants that. In the effort to produce more trees and paper though, one has to be concerned about genes being transfered from a genetically engineered tree to a natural tree especially when it is believed by some that the eucalyptus tree uses more groundwater (lowering the human supply) and could be more flammable.

There are strong arguments for and against genetic engineering which creates the dilemma. Perhaps in a few years we'll have conclusive knowledge to know whether genetically engineering our food and our trees was a good or bad idea.  

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