Biotech Industry Truth: Genetic Engineering Is Not So Precise

The reality surrounding the broadly acknowledged uncertainty inherent within definitions of the gene and outdated interpretations of molecular biology stand in stark contrast to the language that continues to flow from industry. For example, Croplife International, the global federation representing the plant science [including genetic engineering] industry, defines biotechnology in simplistic and misleading terms. This is the first paragraph taken from the biotechnology section of the Croplife International website –

“For thousands of years, farmers have been using breeding techniques to “genetically modify” crops to improve quality and yield.  Modern biotechnology allows plants breeders to select genes that produce beneficial traits and move them from one organism to another.  Plant biotechnology is far more precise and selective than crossbreeding in producing desired agronomic traits.” 

Firstly, the assertion that farmers have been using “genetic modification” for thousands of years is, at best confusing and at worst, purposely misleading. The term genetic modification (or genetically modified organisms – GMO), is routinely used throughout the world to describe genetic engineering, by suggesting farmers having been doing this for thousands of years Croplife is blurring the lines between natural breeding and genetic engineering. This line of argument doesn’t foster debate, it appears little more than a simplistic attempt at shutting it down.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the language used only highlights the outdated simplistic interpretation of genes held by the industry. It is quite extraordinary that, given the scientific reality now commonly accepted in relation to molecular biology, the genetic engineering industry is still allowed to get away with using terms like precise. They are using language that is directly contradicted by the current scientific data. Again, this is more than reductionism, it’s bordering on outright deception that serves only to create a false sense of security and prevent discussion in the first place.

This is an excerpt from Richard’s article entitled “The Complexity of Reductionism: A Case Study of Genetic Engineering.”  The full version of the article can be found here. Richard is an agricultural scientist with ten years professional experience in the agricultural sector, with a particular focus in agricultural policy. He has recently completed a Masters in Holistic Science at Schumacher College in the UK. Richard is currently working as an independent digital strategy consultant whilst exploring agroecological food stories in the UK and Europe. - 

  • Elizabeth

    The line between selective breeding and genetic modification definitely needs to be made clear. Humans have been selectively breeding animals and plants for thousands of years to produce higher quality. However this has always kept the same genes. However genetic modification allows changes and additions to the genes of animals and plants. We are currently running a campaign to educate young people on GMOs.

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