Modified Transgenic Plants

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This contribution to the debate on genetically modified foods focuses on genetic manipulations of flowering plants aimed at improving crops and manufacturing medical products; it does not describe methodologies or progress toward producing such transgenic crops. Two books have been published that provide information on those topics (1, 2).

This essay discusses some of the ethical-religious issues surrounding transgenic plants. The ethical consequences of genetic engineering are the subject of a book by Russo and Cove (3). This essay is not comprehensive but is intended to serve as a basis for further detailed discussions. ... is [it] ethical for humans to [engage in] manipulations that lead to production of transgenic plants, and [is it] ethical for humans to consume transgenic plants....

The ethical-philosophical-religious issue may be separated into two components: (i) whether it is ethical for humans to be engaged in manipulations that lead to production of transgenic plants, and (ii) whether it is ethical for humans to consume transgenic plants (or the products derived from them). It can be argued that genetic manipulation performed for research purposes (the majority) should be considered separately from genetic manipulation to produce plants for human consumption, because research activity does not impose a threat to the human diet or to the environment. But for people of certain faiths, such as the Jewish religion, the question of whether humans are permitted to interfere with God's creation is a legitimate one that extends to transgenic plants used for biological research. I will return to the question of production and focus first on the question of consumption that is relevant to all potential users.
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