The Ethics Surrounding the Use of Genetically Engineered and Cloned Food

The use of genetic engineering and cloning in food production has considerably augmented in the contemporary world. The potential of this type of products to enhance the efficacy of food manufacture, increase consumers’ satisfaction, and provide possible benefits for human health has enabled rapid incorporation of genetically modified and cloned food into the diets. However, the use of food biotechnology has brought certain ethical issues. In addition, situational judgment surrounds it. It primarily concerns the fact that food became a social, cultural, and extremely personal thing. Therefore, it is not surprising that the alterations in the manner, in which it is manufactured, distributed, and used often result in ethical debates.

The moral issues can arise at any stage of the generation and production of genetically modified and cloned food. All stakeholders must carefully analyze and comprehend each concern to be sure that all involved parties are mindful of the ethical matters at stake so that they can join to the ongoing debate concerning the production and consumption of cloned and genetically engineered food. Furthermore, it is necessary to attempt to dispute the values of the society, in which these scientific practices as well as technologies evolve, in particular the activities that get public funding aimed at offering benefits to people; however, the given actions may be considered ethically contentious. The essay, therefore, seeks to discuss the ethical questions of the use of the above-mentioned type of food. The utilization of genetic engineering and cloning in the process of food production poses many ethical issues, which must be addressed.

To comprehend a variety of prevailing ethical concerns about the use of food that is genetically modified and cloned, one should provide a clear and concise explanation of the term “ethics” first. It is worth noting that the word “ethics” has received a number of definitions from diverse groups, which base on specific views on its nature. Giving the definition of the analyzed term is quite challenging, and the opinions of individuals about it are not firm (Velasquez et al., 2015).

According to its simplest explanation, the term “ethics” refers to a structure of moral doctrines that affect the manner, in which the individuals make decisions that help them lead their lives (Dizon et al., 2015). It is further associated with what is beneficial for people and society in general and can be denoted as moral philosophy as well. In addition, ethics may refer to well-established principles of wrong and right that prescribe what people should do typically in terms of impartiality, societal benefits, responsibilities, rights or certain virtues (Velasquez et al., 2015). According to the information provided above, ethics can generally be determined as precise differentiation of wrong from right; this set of principles appeals to the values and beliefs of an individual (Dizon et al., 2015). In the food industry, ethics influence or govern the conduct of consumers and can face the impact of societal and food customs.

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One of the most significant ethical issues is the welfare of genetically modified and cloned organisms that are used in food. The techniques employed in food biotechnology have been proclaimed both inefficient and unpredictable (RSPCA, 2017). There were limitations in regulating the location of the introduced deoxyribonucleic acid integration. The generated organisms experienced unexpected outcomes, which were a result of unpredictable interaction between the host genes and foreign deoxyribonucleic acid. Besides, interfering with an organism’s genome through either removing or inserting deoxyribonucleic acid fragments may lead to the change of the organism’s typical genetic homeostasis that can reveal itself in the well-being and conduct of this organism in unforeseen ways. One can find the examples of these actions in early researches, which involve transgenic livestock that generated animals with an array of unpredictable side effects, for example, reduced fertility, lameness, and vulnerability to stress (Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare, 2012). Current studies also reveal that cloned and genetically modified organisms have the potential to suffer such developmental aberrations as dysfunctional placenta formation, increased birth weight, extended gestation, and histological changes in tissues and organs (RSPCA, 2017). It is possible to conclude that the welfare of living organisms involved in genetic engineering or cloning as well as those generated due to biotechnology must always get special attention for preventing adverse outcomes.

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Another serious ethical issue that concerns the use of genetically modified and cloned food is the destruction of the environment. It is worth noting that unfortunately, the process of food biotechnology development continues so far; therefore, people have not managed to receive necessary knowledge about all the effects that the produced food has on the environment (Murnaghan, 2017). The long-term researches normally take years; hence, already completed studies of the impact of genetically modified and cloned foods on nature have established only their short-term effects.

One peculiarity that has been ascertained so far was the inability to contain these products in a specific environment. Since the given food products have negative impact on the environment, they may rapidly spread in an uncontrollable manner in the near future, and it will not be possible to stop their detrimental influence; this hypothesis provokes people’s concern (Murnaghan, 2017). A bright example of the above-mentioned issue is a type of sugar beet, which had been produced through biotechnology; the latter made it resistant to the certain herbicide (Murnaghan, 2017). However, it was found that the given sugar beet had an ability to resist an unalike herbicide. After the realization of this fact, the farmers had eliminated the crop but later, they discovered that a small part of it survived (Murnaghan, 2017). It implies that before releasing transgenic and cloned food for use, thorough investigation of its impact on the environment should be conducted. It will help to avoid possible harmful effects.

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The third ethical issue of major concern about the use of genetically engineered and cloned food is that there is the likelihood that it can trigger allergies in human beings. It is worth noting that food biotechnology may involve the extraction of genes from certain organism and their insertion into another one. It is possible that a gene obtained from an allergenic living thing will be put into an organism that does not cause allergies typically (Murnaghan, 2017). In this sense, therefore, the consumption of food produced in this manner may unknowingly expose the consumers to an allergen. As a result, it can lead to a severe allergic reaction. Besides, cloning and genetic engineering may create new allergies that are detrimental for human health (Murnaghan, 2017). For example, in Brazil, the researchers successfully removed a gene from the Brazil nuts and put it into the soybeans with the intention of enhancing the nutritional quality of the grain (Bhuiya, 2012). Nevertheless, later, the experiments revealed that people who were allergic to the nuts were allergic to the genetically modified soybeans as well. This fact supported the findings of the study printed in the New England Journal of Medicine that postulated that genetic engineering had the potential to transmit an allergen from a particular known allergenic food product to another product, which did not contain an allergen itself (Bhuiya, 2012). This issue is quite disturbing and ought to be solved at all costs.

The fourth ethical issue and crucial health concern, which is tightly connected with the analyzed topic, is sickness that food produced through biotechnology may provoke. In certain cases, one uses deoxyribonucleic acid from either viruses or bacteria in the procedures involved in cloning and genetic engineering. Therefore, the fear that the deoxyribonucleic acid may cause new illnesses in people who eat these food products arises (Murnaghan, 2017). There are also cloned and genetically modified foods, for the creation of which antibiotic-resistant marker genes were used. Such products raise worries because their genes may be transmitted to microbes that have the potential to cause illnesses and other health issues in human beings (Murnaghan, 2017). The research, which the scientists conducted at the University of Sherbrooke Hospital Centre located in Quebec clearly illustrates this process. This study showed that the intake of crops that contained the pesticide-resistant genes obtained from the Bt bacteria resulted in the manifestation of Bt toxin in the blood of human beings, which could further be transferred to the blood of a fetus (Bhuiya, 2012). It implied that the toxin could be transmitted to the subsequent generations. This finding was contrary to the previous reports that suggested that Bt toxin did not pose any threat to the health of human beings since the protein disintegrated in the human gut. However, the long-term impact of this toxin on human health remains mostly unidentified (Bhuiya, 2012).

Other examples, which demonstrate the fact mentioned above, are animal researches that have revealed that the consumption of genetically engineered corn might prompt the growth of extensively scattered somatic tumors. One can see it after comparing the given procedure and the control that the traditional corn experienced (Bhuiya, 2012). It is important to stress that presently, the ability of organisms to resist antibiotics is already highly developed, and, therefore, further enhancement of this ability may lead to catastrophic results.

The next ethical issue pertaining to the use of genetically modified and cloned food is outcrossing. It refers to the relocation of genes from the organisms produced through biotechnology to the related ones or conventional crops. Outcrossing also involves the mixing of genetically engineered crops with ones obtained from traditional seeds (World Health Organization, 2014). This issue is disturbing because it can impact on both food security and food safety in an indirect way. It happens, for instance, when a desirable trait of one crop – the tolerance to a certain herbicide or drought resistance – migrates to its wild relative through pollination. The regulation of life of the obtained offspring in the environment may be increasingly problematic.

The research by Sánchez et al. (2015) revealed that for rice, the pollen-mediated gene flow from genetically modified plants to their weedy and wild relatives was probable. It provokes certain fears. This process is possible because rice is an autogamous plant, which is self-compatible; hence, if the flowering periods of the involved plants overlap or the short distance cultivation tactic is applied for rice cultivars, pollen-mediated outcrosses may emerge. Outcrossing of conventional and genetically modified rice cultivars was reported; the magnitudes ranged from less than 0.2 percent for mixed or immediately adjacent plants in a field to less than one percent for fields where people maintained longer distance between plants (Sánchez et al., 2015). In addition, Sánchez et al. (2015) claim that the use of diverse experimental techniques, for example, dissimilar pollen donor ecotypes demonstrates the same rate of cross-pollination at less than one percent was concluded, and the outcomes lay emphasis on the influence of the cultivar or ecotype involved. There have been cases of finding small amount of transgenic crops ratified for industrial use and animal feeding in the food products for human consumption (World Health Organization, 2014). Cases of outcrossing forced several nations around the world to create the strategies aimed at reducing mixing. One of them is clear separation of the farms, on which conventional crops and genetically modified, from the ones where people grow them in a natural way (World Health Organization, 2014).

The food chain risks are another factual ethical dilemma that the use of cloned and genetically modified food brings. Any herbicide or pesticide from products generated through biotechnology has the potential to harm the consumers including animals and other living organisms in the surroundings (Murnaghan, 2017). The case of the sugar beet, which was generated through biotechnology and made a herbicide-resistant crop, can demonstrate it. The plant efficiently eliminated weeds. Nevertheless, the birds that ate the seeds of the weeds being eradicated, for example, the skylarks, were then forced to find another source of food; it put their existence in danger (Murnaghan, 2017). Besides, an organism may consume the genetically engineered plant by itself. Thus, since the crop has been generated to yield a pesticide, the creatures that eat it may become sick and eventually die. The research conducted in North America focuses on the similar case; the caterpillars of the monarch butterfly died after consuming the pollen, which genetically modified corn crops produced (Murnaghan, 2017).

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Genetic engineering and cloning have raised the ethical issues pertaining to patenting and intellectual property of produced food and the techniques used in its creation. The preservation of intellectual property may build the culture of discretion within the scientific society, which eventually restricts the sharing of data. The limits may cause unnecessary duplication of food produced through biotechnology; thus, it will curtail the principle of reduction (World Health Organization, 2014). It is worth noting that irrespective of the application of genetically engineered and cloned food, there exist the constraints on the ways and means of its disposal. The motive for it is the need to control the entry of unnecessary food into the natural ecological system up until the provision of understanding and explanation of all long-term effects and threats that concern genetically engineered and cloned food.

It is important to mention that the definition of the moral status of the living things that undergo cloning and genetic engineering to become food rises ethical questions as well. There have been worries concerning the following thing: whether the instruments of food biotechnology disrupt the integrity or dignity of the organisms involved (Mayes, 2014). This ethical concern bases on the statement that nature has interests and dignity that are beyond those of Earth inhabitants, particularly human beings. People pay special attention not to genetically modified crops like wheat or rice but to animals, which suffer from the changes in their organisms that genetic engineering causes; for example, there are featherless chickens, cows that give human milk, and pigs that glow in the darkness; furthermore, the integrity of the ecosystem has raised substantial worries as well (Mayes, 2014). A British philosopher G.E. Moore supported this claim and stated that people could derive moral statements from the facts of nature; thus, the use of cloned or genetically engineered food is wrong because it is unnatural (Mayes, 2014). It implies that the utilization of food produced through biotechnology undermines nature dignity and integrity.

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Finally, yet importantly, from the religious perspective, the fact that food that is cloned and genetically modified also rises ethical issues. Church questions food biotechnology and considers the latter interfering with God’s realm and crossing the area that only God can enter. Some people believe that mixing genes of living things in order to produce food equals to playing with God’s creation (Gordijn & Cutter, 2013). Besides, both genetic engineering and cloning undermine the balance, beauty, and integrity of nature; it might result in harming the original life, which God has created. In addition, food biotechnology is considered the formation of new forms of life as well as the invention of a novel world, which is different from the one that God gave to people. According to church, the creation is the sole responsibility of God and it is, therefore, wrong for human beings to take the responsibility for generating living organisms (Gordijn & Cutter, 2013).

After the discussion of ethics of the use of analyzed type of food, one must highlight a few strategies of addressing the raised issues. First, it is important to note that the fears and controversies surrounding the question of cloned and genetically modified food continue to persist. The reason for it is that more people in the world gain knowledge and read about these food products (Murnaghan, 2017). It can, however, be perceived as a positive thing, which continues to challenge food biotechnology; hence, in the future, it will assist in making the technology safer and regulated. New studies on the various ethical fears surrounding the use of genetically modified and cloned foods appear. However, they are not conclusive and exhibit mixed results so far. In addition, it is quite challenging to assess the long-term effects of the above-mentioned technology; it results in increased public fear regarding the safety of the environment and human beings in the future (Murnaghan, 2017). Presently, however, a few strategies of managing the concerns can be adopted. One of them is making the testing of food generated through biotechnology compulsory. These products ought to undergo obligatory laboratory testing, which will help to evaluate the hazards. This step should include toxicological and nutritional tests for assessing the trans-generational impact of the food consumption (Bhuiya, 2012). Another step involves clinical trials. Health safety assessment should be conducted during this phase; it can include such diagnostic techniques as secondary metabolite profiling, proteomics, and messenger ribonucleic acid identification (Bhuiya, 2012). It will assist in identifying even marginally hazardous characteristics as well as determining the risks before letting the food produced through biotechnology join the food chain. Another strategy is based on the opinion of public, which gives the impression that there is a need for appropriate labeling. It would enable every individual to make a decision about whether to use food that is cloned and genetically modified (Murnaghan, 2017). This procedure would prevent unintentional consequences emergence. The future researches must effectively address the ethical concerns.

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In conclusion, the use of cloned and genetically modified food has raised numerous ethical concerns that required responsiveness. One must not approve these fears to establish that food biotechnology infringes procedural security of the end user’s sovereignty and spiritual liberty. The essay highlights a range of ethical concerns about the use of genetically engineered and cloned food that exist today. There are few strategies, which can assist in addressing these problems, for example, adequate laboratory testing and labeling of transgenic food products. The information about the use of cloning or genetic engineering techniques in the food production should be available so that every single person or group could make right decisions that base on their principles. New researches on the ethics of cloning and genetic engineering use must also be conducted. They will make these technologies more acceptable and resolve some of the questions that they put.

 

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