What is biotechnology? Some may think that biotechnology is the latest science to manipulate Mother Nature for our selfish purposes because it does not take into account any outcomes that our future generation may encounter, such as side effects of taking in Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). Potential side effects of GMOs are “increase[ing] resistance to pesticides, allergenic effects, cross contamination” and so on. Others may think that biotechnology is a salvation for us to solve many global problems, such as incurable diseases, the decreasing amount of fossil fuels, environmental pollution, food scarcity and so on.
In my opinion, both perspectives have their clear points. Biotechnology really is the latest science that can suggest some solutions for the current issues that affect our lives in many different ways. However, the former perspective does not guarantee that there will be no negative outcomes for our future. In particular, cross contamination, which is mentioned earlier, is a terrifying negative outcome that biotechnology could cause. Perkins (2015) noted that cross contamination results from “pollens from genetically modified crops [that] could transfer certain genes from one plant type to another.” What makes it a dangerous risk for us is that we don’t know the exact result of what the other plant might become when their pollens are combined with genetically modified pollens. It is literally “not specific, precise or predictable,” and there is no qualified solution for preventing it yet (GMO Awareness, date unknown). As we can see with the case of GMOs, the existing studies don’t provide sufficient evidence to assure the safety of biotechnology. Wendel & Entine (2013) said that even if there are “1783 [preexisting] studies [for researching the safety of GMOs], the researchers couldn’t find a single credible example demonstrating that GM foods pose any harm to humans or animals.” In spite of the lack of a safety guarantee, biotechnology could be a brilliant solution to global problems which have not been solved for a long time, by fair means or foul; it indeed can be seen as a way to manipulate Mother Nature as the former perspective asserts.
When considering both perspectives on biotechnology, I will ask the same question one more time. What is biotechnology? Biotechnology Industry Organization (date unknown) defines biotechnology as the technology for using “the biological processes of microorganisms” to “Heal the World, Fuel the World [and] Feed the World.” And based on this definition, I will ask another question. Do we need it or not, even if we know that this is the way we could change things that Mother Nature intended? I will explore this question based on the perspective of agricultural biotechnology.
Biotechnology: Is It Good or Bad?
Biotechnology has violated God’s territory, which men of old times had not even considered invading before, such as changing genes. The reason that men of old times were afraid of “playing God” had originated from a fear of the unknown. This fear of the unknown led to the conventional notion of science that “ is based on a solid foundation of verifiable facts concerning what material objects are present in nature, and the measurable properties of those objects” (Conventional Science, date unknown). In other words, men of old times believed that what they don’t understand or they couldn’t measure belong to God and God only, and that violating what belong to God is a serious crime. Those beliefs had hindered scientific revolution, which “would be a thousand year more advanced [without it],” that both scientists and society as a whole could take advantage of (The Renaissance Mathematicus, 2014). The representative example of bad effects of this conventional notion is a famous controversy between Galileo Galilei and the Roman Catholic Church. Scientists like Galileo were punished only by the fact that they have different perspectives from that of religion.
As time goes on, the era of religion has faded, and things have changed. Albert Einstein (date unknown) even said, “I want to know God’s thoughts; the rest are details.” This arrogant and confident statement indicates that scientists will be no more hesitant to invade the limitation that the conventional notion defines. This tendency clears the track of testing infinite scientific exploration without external pressure. However, the thought that the conventional notion has always blocked the infinite possibility of science is flawed.
As a matter of fact, modifying genes, producing new spices, animal testing and many other areas derived from biotechnology cause people anxiety because they give a feeling that we are doing what we are not supposed to do. It is not surprising that Dr. Thornbury (date unknown) poses the question, “With these new biotechnologies being developed [by means that might seem to do playing God (e.g. changing genes, cloning research, etc.) for those who advocate the conventional notion], who controls the power over them?” The answer is the conventional notion, which suggests that morals and ethics of science could serve as standards and regulations to keep a balance between freedom and license. We should not overlook the importance of the role that the conventional notion plays because there are many pieces of evidence about the outcome of the license of biotechnology: “unexpected interactions,” such as “Health risks from Antibiotic exposure” and “unpredictable effects,” such as “deterioration of the nutrition value of food.”
While we never forget the foul means that biotechnology uses, we should remember positive outcomes of freedom of biotechnology as well. In particular, agricultural biotechnology “reduce[s] their annual production costs by $1.4 billion, contributing to an increase in net profits of $2 billion” (Food Insight, 2013). Moreover, the increasing trend of food productivity rate—which “cover[s] a total of 220 million acres” (Food Insight, date unknown)—could become a key solution for the food scarcity in the world. “High reliable, consistent and rapid enzymes” made by biotechnology also contribute to developing the safer “food processing”; it could be another solution for hunger in the world. Biotechnology is literally a solution to “Feed the World!”
Biotechnology: A Salvation That Comes From Foul Means
From all of these considerations, there is no doubt on that biotechnology is needed for our current and future agricultural fields. It helps us to grow our crops or livestock at a low cost and in limited space. It helps us to prevent numerous foodborne illnesses that “cause 200 diseases.” It reduces “allergens and toxins” in foods. It is indeed a salvation for our food safety, food scarcity and our overall agricultural production of both the present and the future generation. If we do our best to remain vigilant on the negative possibilities of biotechnology with “[letting] human being always tak[ing] priorities over other purposes,” as Pope Benedict XVI (2010) advised, biotechnology would be devoted to its role as a salvation for us to solve many agricultural-related global problems.
(Reference that Hyperlink doesn’t work)
Wendel, J., & Entine, Jon. (2013, October 8). With 2000+ global studies affirming safety, GM foods among most analyzed subjects in science. Genetic Literacy Project. Retrieved from https://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/2013/10/08/with-2000-global-studies-confirming-safety-gm-foods-among-most-analyzed-subject-in-science/.