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The Ethics of Genetically Modified Foods

An increasing population has invariably put pressure on the supply of food. This situation has only worsened by the reliance we have on unpredictable weather. Human activities such as industrialization and urbanization that cause immense environmental pollution are responsible for the unpredictable weather patterns. As a result, farmers who rely on favorable climatic conditions have suffered substantial losses. Hence, climate change has had disastrous effects on agricultural activities. Consequently, many nations have had to grapple with challenges such as shortage of food for their citizens.

To address the above challenge, scientists have employed the use of biotechnological and engineering techniques to modify crops and animals with a view to enhancing production. Genetically modified foods are those produced through a modification of the genetic make-up which is different from the indigenous one. Scientists extract genes from a desirable organism and crossbreed it with the organism that ought to receive the desirable traits. Genetically modified foods are being produced for nearly 20 years now. The activity has attracted debate concerning its ethical consideration. While there are those who argue in support of the undertaking, many others vehemently oppose any efforts to adopt and encourage the practice. Before delving into the ethical and legal issues involved, the pros and cons of GMO foods are to be considered. The discussion would then form the basis upon which an appropriate position is taken regarding the ethical, legal and social responsibility issues of technology.

Advantages Of GMOs

The reasoning behind the existing GMO technology is to attain desirable products with traits that enhance human life. Through genetic engineering, crops are crossbred, leading to increased resistance to diseases and infestation. Diseases of crops are extra costs to farmers. Where technology helps to attain a variety that is resistant, the ultimate winner is the farmer since fewer resources are spent as costs in the production process. The quality and quantity of the products are also enhanced when the crops are resistant to diseases. The quality of such products is better than one that is infested with insects and other pests. Likewise, the quantity would also be in plenty as compared to those affected. Therefore, genetic engineering aids in the production of high quality and more quantity.

Genetic engineering leads to a variety of crops that are drought-tolerant. As already observed, climate change has brought about harsh and unpredictable weather patterns. Prolonged droughts threaten the health of crops in the farms. It does not augur well for the welfare of the farmers and the economy. However, technological developments in biotechnology and genetic engineering have led to the development of crops that are tolerant to drought. The fact that the crops can withstand such effects presents a significant step in farming. Thereby, the technology cushions farmers against losses due to unfavorable weather.

The third advantage drawn from the technology is the production of crops that have a higher content of nutrition. For instance, scientists in the USA created golden rice that has a high nutritional value. The crops can afford to attain vitamins and minerals that they initially lacked. Such a practice ensures that all the required nutrients are available for consumption. Similarly, the taste can be improved with genetic engineering. Peppers can become better with spices added, while corn can become sweeter. Where such practices are undertaken appropriately, the appetite of those consuming food would be increased. The overall effect is to improve the livelihood of citizens of a country.

Disadvantages of Genetically Modified Foods

Concerns have been raised on the safety of the foods produced by genetic engineering. Studies have shown that the consumption of GMO foods leads to distortions in the internal cell structure by triggering an abnormal growth of tumors in animals and humans. Any technological advancement that leads to suffering in either human or animal life compromises the well-being of the society. Citizens who are unwell due to consumption of the foods would not engage in meaningful work since they would be nursing the ailments. Funds would be required to fight and control the diseases. Hence, development would be stunted where genetic engineering causes diseases and suffering to those who consume such products.

Consumption of genetically modified foods is also associated with the development of allergic conditions among humans and animals. Allergies in both cases hinder the well-being of the subject organisms. Such conditions affect the effective undertaking or engaging in constructive work. Similarly, they can also lead to diseases. Extra costs would be incurred to control the effects of any outbreak of diseases or infections. Such funds would be used elsewhere for the betterment of human life.

Environmental degradation is another shortcoming of genetically modified foods. Genetically engineered crops are supported to grow while animals reared in ecosystems that do not ordinarily support them face a danger of exploitation besides posing degradation to the environment. It is held in response to the idea that crops and animals are supported at the expense of the environment. The continued exercise of the practice would render the environment irrevocably damaged. The effects of environmental degradation are dire. Therefore, any continued exploitation of the ecosystem by human activities would only worsen matters. Human undertakings ought to have measures in place that ensure protection and conservation of the environment since sustainable activities would guarantee a safe environment and society for all generations.

Genetically modified crops also have the harmful effect of contaminating the other conventional crops. The development of ‘super’ weeds is another challenge. These are weeds that are resistant to pesticides. Farmers would be faced with difficult challenges given such developments. Research has shown that pesticides from GMOs like fungicides, herbicides, and insecticides cause infectious diseases and cancer. Developments of this nature curtail human efforts towards realizing a sustainable society. When the environment is polluted, farmers encounter a hard time in carrying out their activities. Efforts to use sophisticated pesticides in order to kill weeds would still contribute to environmental pollution. It indicates that reliance on chemicals would further deteriorate the practice and lead to more harmful effects.

Genetically Modified Papaya

Ethics And Genetically Modified Foods

Ethics concerns itself with activities or undertakings that border on morality. Any action undertaken should be assessed based on its likely effects or appropriateness. Thus, ethics partly focuses on commitments gravitating around the effects of decisions related to people’s lives. Biotechnology, just like any other technological advancement, has a role to play towards the improvement of human life. Through genetic engineering, crops that are resistant to diseases and infection are produced. Better quality and bumper harvests would be guaranteed when the technology is employed. As indicated earlier, such a perspective promises more and better food to farmers and communities. However, the shortcoming raised from the technology, which affects the life of man, necessitates a second thought before embracing it.

Threats to health due to distortions in internal cell structure, cancer in children caused by pesticides, effects of allergic reactions due to consumption of GMO products are valid reasons to call for the scrutiny of the technology. Technology that compromises the health of people in the name of feeding them does not meet the threshold required by ethical behavior. Effects to the environment are also another cause of concern. The support accorded to plants and animals through technology to exist in an ecosystem that does not ordinarily support them implies that the environment would be affected adversely. Any continued destruction of the environment would only serve to make life difficult. Various effects ranging from harsh and unpredictable weather, and the outbreak of resistant diseases, are some of the challenges. Despite the above concerns, the level of preparedness across the world for such uncertainties remains wanting. Therefore, activities, which promote environmental degradation no matter the benefits, should be controlled or shunned completely.

As noted, the other challenge is the emergence of weeds that are resistant to pesticides, besides the contamination of conventional crops. Such would make the activities of farmers difficult than they have been previously. It would require them to use improved and sophisticated methods to contain the challenges. Where the majority of farmers are peasants, it would increase the cost of farming. It would imply that only those endowed with resources would be in a position to undertake their activities effectively. As Stewart observed, ethics demands that all technological advancements promote the welfare of the society. Hence, any inventions that fail to take into consideration the safety and health of the society needs to be reassessed.

Legal Considerations And Genetically Modified Foods

Genetically modified foods are permitted by the relevant authorities in America. However, the law does not make it mandatory for corporations that process GMO foods to have them labeled as modified. Therefore, in the USA the practice has a legal effect. On the contrary, in many European countries such as Germany, Spain, and Netherlands, the practice is legal but with stringent regulations including labeling as GM food. In Europe, the authorities do not support the practice as much as those in the USA and Canada do.

The legality of these products is based on the area of jurisdiction. The authorities undertake their independent assessments and tests before resorting to either approval or disapproval. Since the exercise is permitted in the respective regions, it is considered that activities leading to processing and production of genetically modified foods are legal and effective provided that all the procedures and standards prescribed by law are observed.

Social Responsibility Issues in Genetically Modified Foods

The corporations or parties that engage in the processing, production, and supply of GMO foods owe the society a duty of care and responsibility. It entails carrying out certain actions that are good for the society. From the above discussion, it has been revealed that the products of genetic engineering cause environmental degradation and diseases to consumers.

The expected duty of corporations that process food is to promote good health across the society and sustainable production processes. For instance, they have to ensure their products are safe for use, minimize environmental degradation, and promote the economic well-being of the society. However, research indicates the opposite regarding the foods. Instead of promoting the welfare of the society, the effects are understood to cause more harm to the community. Notwithstanding the gains of resisting drought and better quality, the drawbacks of genetically modified foods far outweigh the benefits as noted by Platt.

Those parties concerned with the processes should remain aware of the duty they owe the society. They are called upon to promote sustainable ways that enhance health, safety and environmental conservation. Advanced research should be promoted on how to limit the harmful effects caused to the society and create the system modified in a manner that remedies the shortcomings. If it were enhanced, the corporations would be free to undertake their activities. Promotion of the good of the society is a responsibility of all who undertake any activity that would affect the society or any third parties.

The right to life is guaranteed under many constitutions of states across the globe. To sustain human life, wealth or resources are required. Exploitation of resources is a noble and worth cause since it leads to creation of wealth for states and nations. Such strategy enhances the welfare of the people since employment opportunities are created. However, throughout history, societies have faced challenges. Food security is one of the major issues facing many nations with the developing nations being the most affected.

 Advancements in technology have immensely changed the way a man lives since many technological applications have improved human life. In the field of food technology, genetic engineering is the most notable technique. As indicated, the practice involves the modification of the genetic setup of an organism with the aim of attaining desirable traits. The proponents of the technology have held an opinion that since new organisms become better adapted, then the technology should be adopted.

The major concern in relation to genetically modified foods lies in the effects the food causes to the health of consumers and to the environment. Studies have shown that consuming the foods has an effect of distorting the internal structure of cells. Cancer is also associated with pesticides from the crops. Other challenges border on the environmental effects. For such reasons, it would be prudent to formulate stringent guidelines to regulate the process. No approval should be granted to a corporation whose activities cause diseases, or environmental degradation. Therefore, stringent measures should be put in place to control unwarranted losses to consumers of genetically modified food.  

The assertion that genetically modified foods are better placed to withstand infections and drought, or that they contain more nutrients than the conventional ones, cannot be used as a reason to advance their production. Through research, better methods of production that guarantee the same qualities can be achieved without genetic engineering. Some of the challenges like drought can be remedied through the adoption of irrigation techniques. Better quality and quantity can also be attained with appropriate conventional farming techniques without any need of exploring genetic engineering. Conventional agricultural processes can be improved to attain better quality without triggering diseases and environmental degradation that may not be remedied. Therefore, it would be appropriate that genetically modified foods are banned since it is unethical to produce food that endangers human life.

The author is a freelance writer. She specialized in essay writing on different topics and likes to experiment with different styles and genres. What she likes the most about her work is that there is always something new to learn. 

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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