Ethics and GMOs
The emerging field of Bio
led to the development of numerous
in the field of agriculture. The increased need to feed the world has opened
many developments to increase the yield of famers around the world.
The emerging sciences of
genetically modified organisms have developed a path to potentially solving the food
needs for future generations. As the science develops, the
perspective forward is a boundary
responsibilities that accompany them
patenting and potential ownership of life
ns the world
Genetically modified organisms and the intellectual property they create presents a
danger to the establishment
of agriculture as it is today. Genetically modified (GM) foods can
be the savior
of the food needs of the 21st ce
ntury, or they will be the beginning of the
corporate ownership of life itself.
From ancient times of simple farmers selecting the best seeds for their crops humanity
has strived to make crops improved and bountiful. Before the biotechnology advent, Farme
used their own methods to yield better results. Farmers used their own seed banks and with
their own personal natural selection was able to track and harvest better crops. This was the
predominant form of advancement for agriculture for thousands of ye
ars. With advent of the
modern age and advancements in technology we now have genetically modified organisms
GMOs, using b
combines the biological
sciences with the development of modern technology to strive for an enhanced biological
Biotechnology has changed the landscape for agriculture and has created genetically
Using genetic engineering technique
alter an organism through direct
human manipulation represents the basis for GMOs. The implementation of recombinant DNA
modification techniques represents the chief alteration method.
Yann, Maeseele, Reheul, Van
, & De Waele
nsplanting splices of DNA into a host organism in the
hopes to alter that organism for the
desired changes can create many needed additions to the
crops of today.
The use of genetic modification primarily through r
DNA, and the mapping of the
genome of various agricultural organisms have given forth an industry of GM food.
(Yann et al.,
With the ongoing research began to take shape, the leaps and bound into c
crops to become stronger and more yielding showed progress. In opposition to mutagenesis
which is mutation breeding, genetically modified foods have favorable portions of other
organisms inserted into the host for beneficial changes. . (
information from an organism and then inserting that information into the host crop can then
be used for a particular benefit, such as GM cotton receiving genes from the bacteria
to resist the common pests that co
nsume the cotton crop. (
Kapur, M., Bhatia, R.,
Pandey, G., Pandey, J., Paul, D., & Jain, R., 2010).
Bt crops are one of the predominantly used areas of exploration. The Bt bacterium is a
naturally occurring pesticide endotoxin. (Kumar, Chandra, & Pandey, 2
008). The principal is that
select proteins are removed from the
bacteria that are toxic for selected
insects, but not to humans. (
With the addition of the genes into the host crop, the
end result is that the pest that
ingests the crop and dies, while the crop remains viable for
mammal consumption. (
The benefit for this is that the farmer will simply
purchase the GM seed and not have to spray his crops with this pesticide. The
insertions of the
Bt genes ha
ve taken place in several crops and is
a growing industry for the future. What is left
now is the legal battle that has begun over the ethics of these new crops.
As the research into crop seeds and plant development moved forward into the 20
consensus emerged as to what to do with their research. The discussion became
what is known as intellectual property rights (IPR).
Once thought of as
philosophical ideals, gave way to ownership. In the 1920s agriculture had come to an
understanding of protection of scientific research that was given as respect to other work but
was short of a patent. The
results of this understanding were
Varieties of Plants (UPOV) of 1961 and subseq
uent revisions until 1991.
Viewed as more of a framework to facilitate the Plants Variety Rights (PVR)
system to which governmental agencies can discern laws to applicable systems of public
interest. The UPOV convention and its
tended to ensure science integrity and
allow research to move forward while
still allowing agriculture to provide its service to the
As this new research and framework emerged it left the ideological dilemma of
bioethics for the newl
y discovered techniques.
To be able to establish such bold new
techniques as recombinant DNA
, boundaries to its ethical practices also followed.
ethical implications of their research led to wonder as to whether r
DNA itself is “playing god”
or pushing nature beyond its
Yann et al.
In the 1970s
thru the international
the scientific progress formed a fo
rmal set of recommendations and
addressed the core concerns as laid out in the NIH “Guidelines for Research Involving r
Molecules” in 1976. These guidelines allowed for the voluntary moratorium on research to be
lifted and persuaded the US Congress to
hold off restrictions. With the moratorium lifted and
the threat of US Congress intervention subdued,
the techniques for r
were able to move ahead.
Yann et al.
Through the commercialization of r
DNA techniques the technology
became part of
As originally written by Thomas Jefferson with the Patent Act of 1793, patents are
the representation of an inventor’s rights as a new composition on a particular matter, and
further clarified by the Patent Act of 1836 that a pa
for its novelty, its
utility and uniqueness.
As patent law became further reviewed its implications
for biotechnology have become a fiercely contentious grey area to which the idea that an
organism itself can by patented and a commodity to be owned. Court rulings have since further
reduced what can b
e considered to be natural life and what is
viewed as biologically created
products of ownership.
With the advent of these new processes and the stretching of what is life and what is
property began with a landmark case
College. The oncomouse is a genetically eng
ineered mouse to contract cancer, and Harvard
College was applying for a patent for “transgenic animals”. Transgenic animal is such to be
known as experimental models for biomedical research. What
followed was with the patent
being awarded and then Harvard licensing the patent for commercialization. And the effects of
that led to
a patent covering any non
human mammal to be
in the US.
But as later rebuked by the Supreme Court
of Canada (SCC),
it was viewed
that whole organisms were outside the realm of invention. And later rebuked by the US
Act and US Plant Variety
Congress intended to keep
outside the scope of US patents.
And the SCC later upheld this reasoning as the mouse is
a higher life form and not the “composition of matter” or “manufacture” as Canadian Patent
Although the patent of so called high
er life forms was proven
unfounded the next frontier was GM foods.
Within the last 20 years the growing business of biotechnology patents has risen by
leaps and bounds. These patents range from “genetic inventions” such
as gene fragments
The patents for GM products are increasing
rapidly and are a wide assortment of scientific products.
The first GM food to be commercially
sold was the FlavrSavr tomato by Calgene. Although not rampantly successful commercial
product opened the door to others to attempt GM foods, and the company Calgene later
became a subsidiary of Monsanto.
The Monsanto Company is a multinational corporation based in the United States in the
field of agricultural biote
chnology. Holding patents in a wide variety of genetically modified
crops, this corporation is the microcosm to which the current ethical ramifications stand as it is
The advancements and creations Monsanto has created have yielded many changes to
rops from soybeans to rice. The potential for these crops to alter the world food supply have
given much promise to the GMO field. It is overshadowed by the fierce legal battles that ensued
over its products.
Monsanto had created
insecticide that was o
riginally designed to spray on the crop
and make it able to grow while destroying unwanted weeds around it.
While Roundup did have
success it led to insecticide resistance. Monsanto then created GM crops that were designed to
be “ready” for the Roundup an
d curb the resistance.
Rashmi, Fuchs, & Schuette, 2002).
Roundup Ready products such as its soybeans were met in the market with fervor about the
bioethics it implicates. The agricultural community saw it as a way to eliminate their ability to
their own seed
force them to replace it with Monsanto products
An early example of its GM products was
Roundup Ready wheat
here was a
firestorm as to
its yield was actual
studies showed they had not
its yield in question
by 2004 research
had shut down. In this example the science was not
advanced to benefit change.
In its GM alfalfa, the backlash was taken up to the US Supreme Court.
In the case Monsanto v. Geerston Seed it was debated that if non commercial product
(Geerston) were to be tainted by the Monsanto seed, even if by accident, would the
noncommercial product by held liable for the tainted product.
In the court case M
discovered that some of its own product had blown
of its transport trucks and sprouted its
crops on Geerston Seed’s land.
contention then was its growing
product on Geerston’s land was then property of Monsanto
due to its product growing on
Geerston farm’s position was that the land was owned by
them, and the product was removed from their land so that their own seed can be planted.
anto et al v. Geerston Seed Farm,
In the decision it was ruled that in fact the
Monsanto product Roundup Ready Alfalfa (RRA) did contaminate the public domain,
but due to
Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) ha
limited ability to monitor or
enforce the progress
Monsanto is not at fault. In addition the court lifted the temporary
injunction on RRA.
Burrell & Hubicki, 2005).
Monsanto can use this to their advantage to pressure the public domain seeders to fall
to the imminent domain of the commercial product.
With just the threat of a lawsuit,
Monsanto can drag any farmer it thinks has the Roundup Ready product into a long and costly
process that many cannot afford and effectively force them to settle or go out of business.
Roundup Ready products then have
a patent liability that it holds to others
Monsanto v. Schmeiser.
Burrell & Hubicki, 2005).
seen by the SCC
relates to the
question of if a GMO crop contains its GM plant cells is the whole organism a patented
product? The SCC ruled
that in fact the entire organism can be seen as a patented product.
Burrell & Hubicki
So the discussion going forward is to whether the ethics of
biotechnology corporations is for the good of society? Or are they attempting to push the
ide in the name of corporate
profit margins and increased market share
As we look through the entire idea of what GMOs are for society, the world can seem to
benefit from the concepts that GM foods can offer.
The emerging technology of GMOs has
entire industry that can be used as a vehicle to advance the world of agriculture the
The world forward shall always be progress. And as the progress develops there
must be boundaries.
he legal and ethical ramifications they lay forth, the fi
has a tremendous amount of legal clarification as
to what life is and
what can be owned in this world.
The advancements GMOs provide can be the catalyst of food
needs for the 21
century. In contrast these biotechnology corpo
rations must also decide which
their intention is ethically. Is it their intention to monopolize agriculture and create a profit
driven monoculture? Or are they on the side of scientific progress and solving the world’s food
Going forward w
e must de
the line shall be drawn
for the needs of society as
a whole and who gets to own it.
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