Genetically modified organisms, consumers, food safety and the environment
FAO Ethics Series, Vol. 2

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ISBN : 9789251045602 EAN : 9789251045602
FAO
People in most cultures have developed many biotechnologies, which they continue to use and adapt. Some biotechnologies, such as manipulating micro-organisms in fermentation to make bread, wine or fish paste, or applying rennin to make cheese, have been documented for millennia. A major subset of modern biotechnologies is genetic engineering, or the manipulation of an organism’s genetic endowment by introducing or eliminating specific genes through modern molecular biology techniques. A genetically modified organism (GMO), otherwise referred to as a living modified organism (LMO) or transgenic organism, means any living organism that possesses a novel combination of genetic material obtained through the use of modern biotechnology. Classical plant breeding and modern biotechnologies both comprise sets of tools that depend on naturally occurring genes as raw materials. For this reason, the maintenance of biodiversity is a global concern. No country today can do without resources from elsewhere. From this interdependence arise the ethical questions surrounding the rights of the poor and the powerless to equitable benefit sharing, equitable access to genetic resources and technologies and a voice in the debate on these resources. These questions and related issues requiring follow-up action are important and are dealt with in other fora and papers. The greatest agricultural genetic diversity is found in the tropical zones, yet the tools of modern biotechnology are largely owned by private sector concerns in the temperate zones. People and corporations use these tools to make products or commodities, including GMOs, for distribution. The tools used to produce GMOs hold the potential for more precise adaptation of genotypes to environmental conditions, nutritional and dietary needs and market preferences. But are GMOs increasing the amount of food available today, and do they make food more accessible and nutritious for the hungry? Or have they been limited so far to increasing profits on the farm and in corporate balance sheets? Ethical questions concerning the tools that researchers use to create GMOs could focus on how they might make a better contribution to food security, especially in food-deficit importing countries.