CIE A Level Biology (9700) 2019-2021

Revision Notes

19.3.2 Using GMOs in Agriculture

GMOs in Food: Social & Ethical Implications

  • The genetic modification of microorganisms for the production of medicines, antibiotics and enzymes raises little debate compared to the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) for food production
  • The use of GMOs in food production has been proposed as a solution to feeding the increasing world population, the decreasing arable land and decreasing the impact on the environment, however concerns such as the development of resistance in insects and weeds and costs of seeds have meant that countries are not allowing GMOs to be grown
  • The solution could be integrated pest-management systems that could help avoid the development of resistance and increased population of secondary pests

Ethical implications

  • The ethical implications of using GMOs in food production are:
    • The lack of long-term research on the effects on human health – should GM food be consumed if it is unknown whether it will cause allergies or be toxic over time (although there has been no evidence to suggest this would occur to date)
    • Making choices for others:
      • That without appropriate labelling the consumer cannot make an informed decision about the consumption of GM foods
      • As the pollen from the GM crop may contaminate nearby non-GM crops that have been certified as organic
      • By reducing the biodiversity for future generations

Social implications

  • The social implications of growing GMOs for food evolve around whether the crops are safe for human consumption and for the surrounding environment
  • The possible implications are:
    • The GM crops may become weeds or invade the natural habitats bordering the farmland
    • The development of resistance for the introduced genes in the wild relative populations
    • Potential ecological effects (e.g. harm to non-targeted species like the Monarch butterflies)
    • Cost to farmers (new seed needs to purchase each year)
    • Could cause allergic reactions
    • The ability to provide enriched foods to those suffering from deficiencies (eg. Golden Rice) and therefore decrease in diseases
    • Reduced impact on the environment due to there being less need to spray pesticides (eg. less beneficial insects being harmed)
    • Reduction in biodiversity which could affect food webs
    • The herbicides that are used on the GM crops could leave toxic residues

Author: Catherine

Cate has over 20 years’ experience teaching Biology to IGCSE, IB and A-level students in seven different countries across Asia, Europe, North America and the Middle East. This has given her a fine appreciation of different cultures, places and teaching methods. Cate has a keen interest in producing Biology revision resources that will help students engage with the subject.

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