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Why the GMO (Genetic Modified Organism) is so controversial in Australia Report

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Updated: Aug 8th, 2019

Introduction

The increased global population is one of the main contributing factors to the insufficiency of food for consumption. For a long time now scientist have been altering different types of crops and animals through selective breeding in a bid to improve their production. Although selective breeding is one of the common methods of gene transfer, genetic engineering outdoes it because of its wider scope (Butcher, 2009, p.1).

This has therefore led to the development of genetically modified organisms. The technology of genetic engineering though common in animals and crops it has been used in other life forms for example the bacteria modified to block HIV transmission. GMOs are now in high production globally as a way of increasing the food production.

Though in high demand, there have been controversies on policies governing the production of genetically modified foods in most countries (Butcher, 2009, p.1). Australia is no exception, since its scientists have had several discussions on the issue majorly arguing about its impact of the environment. This paper is therefore an in-depth analysis of how the different value systems and ideologies influence this environmental issue in terms of their management and the public agenda.

Genetically Modified Foods

Genetically modified foods are foods whose genetic make-up and or constitution have been altered so as to influence their productivity as well as the end product (Butcher, 2009, p.1). The genetically modified organisms known by the acronym (GMOs) are the host species of a genetically modified food.

This technology involves the removal of the desired characteristic from one organism then introducing it into another species. This technology is widely used globally to produce the highly demanded commodities whose supply is minimal (Engdahl, 2007, p.360). Today many varieties of crops and animals have come up as a result of this technology.

However, the question which many people ask themselves is whether these foods are safe for consumption and whether they could pose any harm to the environment. This question is difficult to answer at the moment since the little research done on GMOs has not shown any negative impacts. However, this is not to mean that they have no risk since there are definitely long-term effects of these modified foods on human beings, animals and the environment (Engdahl, 2007, p.360).

The issue of GMOs has been of political and social concern since time immemorial because even the first food alteration was authorized by a Supreme Court ruling. Environmental organizations, governments as well the public interest groups have been the major protestors of genetically modified foods.

A list of perceived Benefits and Risks of GMOs

  • The crops have high yields yet with low cost of production
  • Development of drought resistance crop and animal types
  • Increased nutrition in the low nutrient types of foods
  • Increased supply of foods thus low prices to the consumers

Risks

  • Creation of herbicide resistant weeds as well insecticide resistant insects
  • The organisms could harm the soil fertility
  • Possible effects on organism not targeted
  • May have toxic implications and allergens on human beings and the environment (NRC, 2004, p.34)
  • Emergence of volunteer crops

Why the GMO is so controversial in Australia

Most people have argued that genetic modification leads to resistant strains of crops and animals that pose a great threat to the environment. Australia is one of the continents that are concerned about the impacts of genetically modified organisms on health and environment because of their image in economy and marketing. It is because of this that Australia has a moratorium on GMOs in a bid to preserve their marketing image.

However, in order to sufficiently debate on the GMOs issue, political activists ought to outweigh the balance between the comparative advantage and benefits of the genetically modified foods in comparison to the long term effects on health and environment in collaboration with the negative image in marketing.

The controversy of the GMOs issue as mentioned above is as a result of the clash between the benefits and negative impacts where some people the anti-GMOs believe that the risks despite the number are not worth the benefits. The pro-GMOs on the other hand believe that the benefits outweigh the risks.

In the year 2000, Australia established a national regulatory scheme through the Commonwealth Gene Technology Act 2000 (Royster, 2009, p.14). This scheme was developed to control and regulate the genetic technology in Australia by the Australian parliament. In other words it intended to “protect and safeguard the health of the people as well as the environment”. This would be done through identification of the gene technology caused risks and then managing them to reduce their effects.

In Australia, it is against the law to deal with GMOs either through research, production, and manufacture among other possible channels. This will only be allowed if one is in the GMO register, licensed or dealing with low risk quantities. This regulation goes further such that there are the genetically modified varieties that are acceptable and approved by the OGTR (Office of the Gene Technology Regulatory).Some examples approved include the GM Canola and GM Carnations which are cotton breeds (Royster, 2009, p.27).

Additionally, the national regulatory scheme for GMOs approved about thirty-five genetically modified foods and ingredients from 7 crop types in the year 2008 July. These crops include; maize, cotton, soya, sugar beet, canola and potato crop. To show how serious Australia is when it comes to GMOs, any scientist coming up with a new type of genetically modified food should be in a position to provide scientific evidence to the Food Standards of Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ).

The FSANZ thereafter perform a safety assessment test n the food with regard to its toxicological, nutritional, molecular as well as compositional characteristics before approval. This is done to ensure that the food is not a potential hazard to the people and environment before release to the market. Another requirement governing the genetically modified foods in Australia is that they should be well labelled before being taken to the market for sale (Royster, 2009, p.19).

This is done to ensure that everyone who consumes the genetically modified foods is aware. Australia has gain gone further to designate areas where the genetically modified crops and animals would be bred. Thus, it is against the law to intermingle the GM breeds with the normal ones. Nevertheless, Australia still remains a great antagonist on the GMOs issue basing it argument on the environmental risks as well as the marketing economic impact resulting from production of genetically modified commodities.

How different value systems and ideologies influence this environmental issue

Sustainable development is a theme that ought to be adopted by every person, government, companies and institutions just to mention but a few. Sustainable development entails taking care of the environment we live in for the future generations (Wickson, 2004, p.40). For example, a textile manufacturing company that has adopted sustainable development in its policy will not dispose its effluents in the water bodies before proper treatment.

This is to avoid pollution which poses health hazards to the community as well as slowly clearing the water body such that the future generation finds a ‘sewage pool’ instead of a lake. In the same way, GMOs could have an impact on the environment such that some of the indigenous crop and animal breed become extinct while at the same time posing resistance and toxicological threats to the environment. Research has shown that modernity posses a great risk to the environment (Irwin, 1995, p.45)).

GMO is a modern technology which is a big threat to the environment as well. It is argued that the indigenous commodities and lifestyles have had less impact on the environment but the current trend results to global warming as a result of the depletion of the ozone layer hence posing a big risk to the global environment (Dryzek, 1987, p.4).

As a matter of fact, environmental concerns have been of political interest with several political leaders going to the extent of using environmental reclamation as part of their campaign slogans.

Nonetheless, democratic governments seem to be in the lime light of preserving the environment by making it a requirement to put tags on all environmental harms and benefits as well incorporating expertise in the procedures of environmental administration (Dryzek, 1987, p.16). At the same time, political influences are also the contributing factors to environmental degradation.

Taking the case of the United States of America where the country is split into two sides of the democrats and republicans who have different ideologies on environmental conservation, it can be seen that the resulting environment after the conflict is one that has been neglected (Jacques et al, 2008, p.350). A good example was evidenced in the year 1994 when the government was led by a republican (Bill Clinton) who initiated the nations retreat from the International environmental agreements.

This is just but an example of the many national differences on environmental policies that have faced many nations. This conflict results into neglect of the environment as mentioned previously. It is because of this that a nation like the United States of America is not environmentally the same as it was in the 1970s.

As mentioned before, the issue of GMOs is a controversy that ought to be analysed using any of the four main approaches of studying controversies (Martin and Richards, 1995, p.509). These procedures include; the positivist approach, group politics approach, the sociology of scientific knowledge (SSK) and the social structural approach.

All the aforementioned approaches depend on the nature of the controversy to be settled. In the case of the genetically modified organisms, the sociology of scientific knowledge approach is best suited. The reason behind this is because the nature of this controversy is one that affects the society at large and is of scientific nature (Martin and Richards, 1995, p. 513).

Many scholars have argued that the disputes on environmental conservation are not only politically based but the religious organisations among other institutions and the general public are involved (Nelkin, 1995, p.447).

Some institutions, especially the high profile ones could decide to have a positive or negative impact on the environment depending on the course of action they take. For example, an organisation that decides to campaign for environmental conservation through the ‘go campaign’ will have had positive impact on the environment as compared to one that carelessly pollutes the environment.

On the other hand, the general public are part of the stakeholders in environmental conservation. They can do this willingly depending on how much they care about the environment. However, in some instances the law comes in to prosecute those that fail to comply with the environmental legislations that have been put in place.

Conclusion

From the above discussion it can be clearly seen that the issue of genetically modified foods is a controversial one. This is because depending on how you view the whole issue it could have negative or positive impacts. The pro-GMOs look at the increased productivity accompanied by new varieties all at decreased production costs.

The anti-GMOs look at the health risks and environmental hazards associated with the GMOs thus campaigning for their elimination (NRC, 2004, p. 67). The confusion has also been depicted in countries with a nation like Australia which has resorted to putting in place stringent rules to govern GMOs (Wickson, 2004, p.36).

I would give thumbs up for Australia because of not completely banning GMOs production but putting in place measure to control productivity hence less impact on the environment. As for the case of health risks, all consumers of GMOs in Australia are aware of their consumption since they have all been tagged for notification. All in all the decision on this controversy lies on the individuals themselves.

Reference List

Butcher, M. (2009). . Web.

Dryzek, M (1987). ‘Making sense of the earth politics: A discourse approach’, Environmental Discourse, vol. 1, pp. 1-20.

Engdahl, F. (2007). Seeds of Destruction: The Hidden Agenda of Genetic Manipulation. Montreal: Global Research. pp. 360.

Irwin, A. (1995). ‘A study of people, expertise and sustainability development: Science, Citizen and Environmental Threat’, Citizen Science, vol. 2, pp .40 – 59. Jacques, J., Dunlap, E. and Freeman, M. (2008).

‘The organisation of denial: Conservative think tanks and environmental scepticism’, Environmental Politics, 17:3, 349 — 385.

Martin, B and Richards, E (1995). ‘Scientific knowledge, controversy, and public decision-making’, Handbook of Science and Technology Studies, pp. 506-526.

Nelkin, D (1995). ‘Science controversies: The dynamic of public dispute in the United States’, Handbooks of Science and Technology Studies, vol.19 .pp. 444-456.

NRC. (2004). Safety of Genetically Engineered Foods: Approaches to Assessing Unintended Health Effects. National Academies Press.

Royster, B. (2009). Australia’s Governance of Genetically Modified Organisms: The Political Forces behind Tasmania’s and South Australia’s GMO Regulations. Web.

Wickson, F. (2004). ‘Australia’s Regulation of Genetically Modified Crops: Are We Risking Sustainability?’ Australian Journal of Emerging Technologies and Society Vol. 2, No. 1. Pp. 36-47.

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