Genetically engineered (GE) crops are the main product from advances in agricultural biotechnology over the past several decades. When an organism's genetic material (DNA) has been artificially altered, it is called genetically modified (GM), genetically engineered, or transgenic. Genetic engineering in agriculture initially focused on increasing production in widely planted crops through the insertion of genes with selected traits (Batista, 2009).
The exponential growth of GE foods into a dominant feature around the globe has created uncertainty surrounding the perceived benefits and costs to society. Some of the pros and cons of GE crops regarding human health include increased nutritional values, reduced chemical applications, possible allergenicity and toxicity, and inadequate regulation and product labeling.
Discussion and Analysis
However, like all new technologies, there are significant risks that have been associated with the production of genetically modified organisms, especially in the realm of food crop production. Controversies surrounding genetically modified foods and crops most commonly focus on the issue of human and environmental safety. Extensive use of genetically modified crops engineered against insect and herbicide damage has raised legitimate concerns about their prolonged impact on the natural environment and on the genetic health of naturally occurring organisms.
One of the biggest concerns is the unintended harm that genetically engineered crops could introduce to other organisms in the natural environment. Although the majority of research indicates little risk associated with genetic engineering, one concern involves the potential horizontal transfer of antibiotic genes to nontarget organisms. Horizontal gene transfer, also known as lateral gene transfer, is the process by which an organism transfers its genetic material to another organism other than its offspring. This genetic material is then incorporated into and expressed in the recipient organism. Gene transfer into nontarget species could result in the development of superweed varieties that are herbicide-resistant and difficult to control. Introduced genes also have the potential to cross over into natural organic crops through cross-pollination. Genes from engineered crops have been shown to be able to spread widely by pollen, even to other plants that are great distances away (Redenbaugh, 2007).
As of July 2008, the U.S. government had approved the production of 13 different strains of Bt corn (Zea mays), five strains of Bt cotton (Gossypium hirsutum), five strains of Bt potato (Solanum tuberosum), and one strain of Bt tomato (Lycopersicum esculentum).
While the use of Bt crops reduces the need for ...