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Genetically Engineered Seeds

One of the great debates in agriculture today is the use of genetically engineered seeds.  Let’s look at the pros and cons.

One of the great debates in agriculture today is the use of genetically engineered seeds.  Let’s look at the pros and cons.

On the positive side, the latest advances in molecular biology allow scientists to change the genetic structure of a plant to make it resistant to diseases and climate conditions or increase its yields. This process can happen naturally through evolution, but it takes hundreds of years for a plant to change that drastically. Science gets results faster. For example, scientists could take a gene from a naturally drought-resistant plant and insert it in something like corn, which usually can’t grow in very dry conditions. These new plants may also be able to produce their own pesticides. Supporters of genetic engineering claim that these modified seeds can help ensure the continuity of the food supply, considering the world population’s expected expansion in the next few decades. Modified seeds will be able to grow in locations where food wasn’t grown before. As for parts of the world suffering malnutrition and undernutrition, genetically modified seeds can produce plants that have higher nutrient contents, so even something like rice can contain iron and protein. In addition, some crops may be modified to contain edible vaccines against diseases that plague third world countries.

On the other hand, critics of genetically modified seeds have concerns on how these new crops will affect the environment, human health and the world economy. For plants that could potentially create pesticides, experts worry that pests will be able to become resistant to these “natural” pesticides, or that pesticides produced by one plant could be transferred to another and wipe out beneficial insects. Weeds are another concern. If genetically engineered plants crossbreed weeds, would it create a superspecies of weeds resistant to control? Risks to human health are uncertain at this point because genetically modified plants have not truly been introduced in every aspect of the world food supply, but concerns include allergies and other health issues. The economy could be affected mainly by costs involved with the research and creation of these new super seeds, which will be passed on to farmers by higher seed prices and to the consumers with higher food prices.

Some countries have banned use of genetically engineered seeds, while others are encouraging their research and development. What’s your take?

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