Are GMCs Beneficial to A Society? Tackling the Dilemma from a Utilitarian Perspective
by sakuowo on February 9, 2017 - 4:23pm
Genetically modified crops (GMCs) have become widely used in agriculture over the last 10 years, constituting over 10% of the world’s harvest on arable land (ISAAA). By modifying the DNA of a plant through the introduction of a non-naturally occurring trait in the species, benefits such as higher crop yield and herbicide, pest, disease, and drought resistance can be found in the new product ("Genetically modified crops"). Despite scientific consensus affirming that GMCs do not pose a greater health risk than conventional food (Nicolia et al. 1), a lack of long-term studies and regulations on their effects on an individual’s health have made the consumption and production of these crops a controversial subject. Although there exists public apprehensions regarding the impact of such products on human health and the surrounding ecosystem, the use of GMCs is ultimately beneficial to a society as demonstrated by the following arguments presented from the perspective of a Utilitarian ethical framework.
Some people argue that GMCs should not be used as there is currently insufficient long-term research on the impacts of such crops on an individual’s health. Indeed, certain studies affirm that the current research on genetically modified plants is inconclusive and does not endorse their safe usage (Krimsky 27), whereas others go as far as to claim that the consumption of such crops may cause common toxic effects and cancer (Domingo et al. 8), and trigger allergies (Andersson et al. 1). The scientific community’s inability to predict the consequences of the use of GMCs reflects the limitation of their knowledge, a vital aspect of the Utilitarian framework (Waurenchen, “Utilitarianism” 10). Indeed, in a consequence-oriented framework where courses of action bringing the greatest good for the greatest amount of people are encouraged (Merrill 21), unpredictability associated with the limitation of knowledge can be harmful: the use of GMCs may not contribute to the good of the consumers and their surrounding environment. Without an assurance of the safety of such produce and the agricultural system’s ability to regulate such products because of the uncertain consequences of its use, it is not possible to endorse GMCs from a Utilitarian standpoint as it may possibly cause harm for a large amount of people.
Individuals also affirm that GMCs have not significantly impacted the global fight on hunger and malnutrition, and thus have not generated positive consequences despite the amount of time and money invested. Indeed, research on modified plants such as golden rice was supposed to target problematics such as vitamin A deficiency (VAD) in countries mainly belonging to the Southern hemisphere. It has however failed to deliver any results in 17 years as the product is still in development (Everding) despite costing a total of 9.3 million as of 2007 (Stein et al.). Considering that Utilitarian ethics emphasizes “the results or the actual consequences of the action” rather than the motive (Merill 21), this framework would suggest that GMCs production should not be continued as they do not produce practical results.
However, GMCs are ultimately beneficial to society as the advantages of production and usage of these crops outweigh the possible consequences. Indeed, the previously mentioned research affirming that these organisms pose a health risk are false: the statistical methodology of the 6 studies asserting that GMCs were harmful was flawed and did not demonstrate negative health impacts (Pachin 1). 1783 published articles on GMOs over the last 10 years (Pachin et al. 1) have overall demonstrated that genetically modified organisms such as maize and soybeans “are as safe and nutritious as the respective conventional non-GM plant” (Domingo).
Furthermore, GMCs enhance productivity and efficiency gains: growing modified crops has increased farm incomes by $150.2 billion in a time span of 19 years, from 1996-2014 (ISAAA). The farming of GMCs has also reduced pesticide inputs in agricultural fields by 8.2% since 1996, leading to an overall reduction in the environmental footprint by 18.5% (ISAAA). The production of such crops has also helped tackle issues such as cyclic cotton bollworm infestation in India, suppressing the loss of up to 50-60% of the crop through the commercialization of genetically modified cotton in 2002 (ISAAA). Although certain projects such as the Golden Rice Project have yet to be completed, GMCs ultimately benefitted the good of the greatest number of people by playing a role in reducing the agricultural industry’s environmental footprint and producing higher crop yield.
In conclusion, GMCs benefit a society despite ongoing criticism about the possible impacts of such crops on a person’s health and their surrounding environment. Despite the recent sensationalist reports and debates on GMCs, human interference in agriculture is not a new trend: human beings have been selectively breeding specific traits in plants for thousands of years. With new advancements in technology, there now exists new ways to tackle this subject: introducing new traits into an existing species is just an advancement on a previous practice. Or else, how would you be able to eat that perfectly round and juicy watermelon?
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Domingo, José L and Jordi Giné Bordonaba. "A literature review on the safety assessment of genetically modified plants”. Environment International. 37 (4), 2011, pp. 734–742.
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Nicolia, Alessandro et al. "An overview of the last 10 years of genetically engineered crop safety research." Critical Review in Biotechnology, 2013, p. 12.
Panchin, Alexander Y. and Alexander I. Tuzhikov. "Published GMO studies find no evidence of harm when corrected for multiple comparisons". Critical Reviews in Biotechnology. 37 (2), 2016, pp. 1–5.
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