Got Gmo's?: Genetically Engineered Food and the Sustainability of Health and the Environment

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got gmo's?:
Genetically Engineered Food and the Sustainability of Health and the Environment Jennie Brooks
COR 3145
John F. Kennedy University
Fall 2006

People hold a very intimate relationship with food, whether it be for nourishment, a peace offering, trade, part of a religious practice, to provide a sense of community, or to satisfy a personal need. Its meanings are rooted deep within and are the foundations of many cultures. There was a time when humans were very connected to the food they ate. Not only did they know its origins, but they ate what was needed for survival. They were as much a part of earth as any other animal, although they had an intelligence to understand, appreciate, and respect all of nature's offerings. During the hunting and gathering era, fruits, vegetables, grains, and other food sources were abundant in nature. Humans had not only choices between types of food, but also thousands of varieties of one species. However, as human populations grew and more civilized societies formed, various farming techniques were created, and a vast majority of these species became extinct to make way for the harvesting of a select few (Pringle, 2003, p. 38). Over time, it appears people began perceiving nature as something to control rather than to live within harmoniously. The goal was to make their lives easier even if it was at the expense of the environment. Technology began to be the main focus of most western societies. People became more and more disconnected to their natural resources, taking for granted nature's sacrifices so they could thrive. Although technology has resulted in many profound benefits to humanity, such as breakthroughs in health care and prolonging the human lifespan, it has not come without a price. Perhaps one of the most notable areas is agriculture. As Pringle (2003) discussed, the dawn of the Green Revolution in the 1960s was a pivotal point in the history of agriculture as it marked the transcendence from traditional to monoculture methods of farming, and led to a vast increase in crop yields. To spawn these high yields, farmers began using fertilizers and pesticides containing chemicals, such as nitrogen which was left over from the making of World War II explosives. New irrigation systems were introduced and animals began replacing some of the human labor in order to handle the large crop fields (Pringle, 2003). The institution of monoculture agriculture provided significant food relief to starving nations after the war. However, not long after, farmers experienced a rude awakening when yields started to decline due to a number of unforeseen or unaddressed consequences. Although the salvation of millions of lives was a profound result of the dawn of the Green Revolution in the 1960s, little consideration was given to its future effects on the sustainability of the environment. The lack of food plant diversity eventually led to a number of problems, such as mass destruction of crops due to disease contraction and pesticide- resistant insects, chemically saturated and overly watered soils, and inevitably a decline in production yields (Pringle, 2003). Thus by the late 1900s, a new solution was being sought and for many scientists and people in the biotech industry, genetic engineering seemed like just the way to go. The idea was to create food plants that could grow and withstand harsh conditions, such as pesticides, infertile soil, unfavorable climates and geographical locations. This could be done by taking a gene from one completely different organism and inserting it into the plant in order to make it yield a desired outcome (Ticciati 1998). Despite reservations from skeptics, particularly environmentalists, about the unknown future effects of genetic food engineering, those who could gain profit and power from this new food technology proclaimed it to be the wave of the future. As Ticciati (1998)...
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