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The Ethical Implications of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)

Updated: Dec 1, 2020

Tina Sindwani

The debate on Genetically Modified Organisms will continue for a long, long time. Until then, we can grab a bowl of popcorn and watch the scene play out.


Genetic modification is the manipulation, or changing, of an organism’s genetic pattern to fit our own needs through the process of bioengineering. In this process, more desirable traits are introduced into plants and animals such as resistance to pesticides or certain viral infections. These included traits often allow plants to thrive while killing the pests or weeds that surround them. However, this ability to change the original genetic making of an organism has become a heated topic of debate in recent years; people have begun to think of the moral implications of modifying nature’s organisms for our own benefit.

Genetically Modified Organisms, more commonly known as GMOs, have been around for quite a long time - around 30,000 years, actually. At that time, we did not know about the existence of genes. However, we did understand that we could change the appearance of a population of animals if we bred them in a certain way. Around that time, humans had begun to selectively breed wolves for desirable traits (a process through which we eventually acquired our best friend, the dog). Eventually, we learned the same about plants, and begun to use a similar process with them as well. Over the years, humans have learnt various new ways to artificially select traits in organisms, and one of them is through genetic engineering.

But enough history.

This is where the problem begins. When genetic engineering came along, people began to look at it in a different way from the traditional breeding practices. It was okay when the plants or animals breeded in their natural way, a process which always came with a degree of uncertainty about the inheritance, or passing on, of traits. It could not always be determined whether a certain characteristic or trait would arise in the offspring or not. However, through the process of bioengineering, this uncertainty was almost reduced to zero. We had the power to alter the genetic makeup of organisms and even plant desirable characteristics into their DNA. It was like making robots out of the delicate organisms of nature, something which people almost aggressively objected to. The manipulation of genes in this way went sharply against the morals of many people, especially when these beliefs were tied in with religion. These differences in thoughts led to the beginning of a heated debate on GMOs, which is still ongoing today.

It’s a well-known fact that we do not automatically believe everything we see or hear. Even when we accept something on the basis of facts or evidence, some small natural instinct continues to nab at us, telling us that something is amiss. The situation with GMOs is similar to this. While science provides the evidence that GMOs might not be as bad as they seem (and may even have health benefits), many people still choose to eat healthy and naturally by choosing organic foodstuffs over genetically modified ones. The reason being that people tend to trust their natural instincts more than just evidence and facts, which may be a good thing.

So, needless to say, this debate on Genetically Modified Organisms will continue for a long, long time. Until then, we can grab a bowl of popcorn and watch the scene play out - wait, was the corn organic?


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