Transgenic Foods: Promise or Peril?

By Acosta, Anne | Americas (English Edition), May 2000 | Go to article overview

Transgenic Foods: Promise or Peril?


Acosta, Anne, Americas (English Edition)


The topic of transgenic food may be the most controversial area of scientific research since the advent of nuclear power. Like nuclear power, transgenic food offers great promise to address one of humankind's basic needs, in this case by potentially increasing the world's food supply. But also like nuclear power, transgenic food raises fears in many people's minds--about safety, about monopoly control over something as important as our daily bread, and about where all these scientific possibilities are taking the human race. There are a number of scientific-technical issues that "experts" argue about, but there are also emotional debates that circle around whether the public can trust science and business to behave with the world's best interests in mind. And the issues are also different if you're a farmer in Guatemala or Cuzco, or a consumer in Buenos Aires or Montreal.

What exactly is everyone so excited about, or so afraid of?. It helps to start with a quick history of mankind's tinkering with biology (actually, it has been "woman"kind at least as much as "man"-kind, since throughout history women have often been the seed-savers). Farmers have been changing the genetic composition of plants for more than ten thousand years, most often by choosing the seed from theft best plants to grow again the following year, and sometimes by choosing to cultivate naturally occurring mutations of theft normal crops. In this way, all the world's major cultivated species, including maize, have become significantly "genetically modified" from their prehistoric form.

In the last one hundred years or so, the science of plant breeding has sped up the process of improving plants for human purposes, usually to achieve higher yields, and often also to increase plants' tolerance to insects, diseases, drought, and poor soil conditions. But this "conventional" approach to plant breeding can still be very time consuming. The desirable trait first has to be found in a related plant type, then bred over a number of years so that only that trait is passed on in a variety that farmers prefer. For example, a kind of maize may be identified in Mexico that is resistant to a disease common in Brazil, but the Mexican maize is also very different in taste and other qualities from that grown by Brazilian farmers. It may take six to ten crop cycles to breed in and fix the new trait in the Brazilian maize, screening out the other unwanted new characteristics and protecting what was best about the original Brazilian variety. Doing plant breeding like this is like trying to color in a fine etching with a paint roller, and with only a few colors since one can't always find the desired trait in the palette of known related varieties.

Keeping the same analogy, biotechnology offers the possibility of a much larger range of hues, which can be applied with increasingly pinpointed accuracy. Advances over the last twenty years in our understanding of genetics are allowing scientists to find specific genes that can be moved from one species to another and between viruses, bacteria, plants, and animals to produce significant changes in the host species. This is a major change from conventional breeding in three ways: It allows the transfer of genes between organisms that would never cross-breed; it allows the transfer of only those genes that produce the desired outcome; and it takes plant breeding out of the field and puts it into a laboratory. And in each of these dimensions lies promise and peril.

On the positive side, one can imagine (and in fact, scientists are already on the path to creating) plants that have genetic resistance to insect pests and diseases--thus greatly reducing the need for chemical means to control these plagues ("Bt" maize is one of the first successful efforts in this regard). Under conditions of "modern" agriculture, this holds out the benefit of less environmental contamination. Of equal importance, for resource-poor farmers in developing countries unable to buy inputs to protect their crops, genetic resistance represents a low-cost way to ensure stable harvests to feed their families and generate income. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Transgenic Foods: Promise or Peril?
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.