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Biotechnology

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Outline

Thesis statement: An international biosafety protocol should be created to establish and maintain control over the products designed with biotechnology.

I. The existing laws and regulations that govern the release of transgenic organisms are inadequate or nonexistent.

A. The developed nations of the world are using regulations that were designed to control and monitor crops created with traditional technologies.

B. Biotechnology is regulated by three different agencies.

C. The undeveloped nations have virtually no regulations governing transgenic organisms.

1. This indicates that biotechnological research can and is being conducted in these countries without regulation.

2. There are many biotech companies based in developed countries that have branches or joint ventures around the world.

II. The potential risks of transgenic organisms to the environment is still being determined.

A. Some experts warn that there is a danger that biotechnology can create mutant hybrids.

B. Biotechnology has the potential to harm the economies of some developing nations.

C. The last and possible the most important argument for an international biosafety protocol is in the name of ignorance and caution

III. The United States, Germany, Japan, and Australia are the only countries opposed to the biosafety protocol.

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IV. The need for a change in the world of agriculture is undeniable.

Biosafety Protocol:

Is there a need for one?

By

John M. Seguin

English 111-90B

Mrs. Brimmer

April 7, 1996

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As the world moves closer to the 21st century, research and development in the area of biotechnology has increased dramatically. According to Bette Hileman of Chemical and Engineering News, the world population will increase by 3 billion people in the next thirty years while the amount of land available for agriculture cannot be greatly expanded. "Biotechnology - specifically that aspect involved in transferring genes from one species into the [DNA] of another - has the potential to alleviate . . ." (8) this and many other problems facing the world in the near future. Even though biotechnology has already shown dramatic results in the creation of beneficial transgenic (genetically engineered) species, many countries and researchers are ". . . quite leery about the uses of biotechnology" (8). Therefore, an international biosafety protocol should be created to establish and maintain control over the products designed with biotechnology.

The existing laws and regulations that govern the release of transgenic organisms are inadequate or nonexistent. In general, the developed nations of the world are using regulations that were designed to control and monitor crops created with traditional technologies like hybridization and cross-breeding (Hileman 8). Pamela Weintraub, of the National Audubon Society, states that many expected problems with biotechnology can be kept under control with proper regulations, but the regulations (where there are any) governing biotechnology today are "tangled and obscure" (164).

In the United States for example, biotechnology is regulated by three different agencies: the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These three agencies regulate product research and commercialization of transgenic organisms depending upon their nature and intended use. The USDA regulates transgenic plants grown on a large scale. If a product of transgenic origin is to be used as a food, then it falls under FDA regulations. The EPA has jurisdiction over all transgenic organisms that express or function as a pesticide, and all genetically engineered microorganisms. Because Congress has elected not to instate a law specifically regulating transgenic organisms, all three of these agencies are using existing regulations designed for crops created by traditional methods. According to Bette Hileman of Chemical and Engineering News, "Under the existing legal framework, environmental releases of most genetically engineered animals are essentially unregulated" (9).

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The undeveloped nations on the other hand have virtually no regulations governing transgenic organisms. This means that research can and is being conducted in these countries without regulation to protect the ecology. A resolution passed by the European Parliament confirmed this when they stated, "Deliberate releases of genetically modified organisms are being carried out in many developing countries, which have no legislation or infrastructure to ensure their safe use. . . "(Hileman 8). Further proof that this is taking place is the speed with which transgenic crops are being commercially produced in these nations. China, for example, has transgenic vegetables engineered for resistance to viruses that have been on the market for about 18 months. Similar transgenic crops in the United States are still in the testing and approval stages at the USDA (Moffat186).

There are many biotech companies based in developed countries that have branches or joint ventures around the world, especially in undeveloped countries. One of the biggest, Pioneer Hi-Bred International based in Des Moines, Iowa, has branches in over thirty countries (Hileman 16). Many of these companies conduct enough research to adequately ensure that there are minimal environmental and ecological risks, but Rebecca Goldburg, chairman of the biotechnology program at the Environmental Defense Fund, ". . . warns that other companies may follow through only if adequate regulations are in place" (qtd. in Weintraub 163).

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The potential risks of transgenic organisms to the environment is still being determined. Some experts warn that there is a danger that biotechnology can create mutant hybrids that can seriously endanger the ecosystem (Dalglish 41). As stated by Heike Dornenburg, quoted in The Reference Shelf: Genetics and Society, "The number of genetically engineered products at the brink of commercialization is growing. A number of environmental and ecological risks remain unanswered" (152). One concern is that transgenic plants could either become weeds that could raise the cost of weed control, or could transfer genes into wild relatives that could then develop into weeds. Other risks include the inadvertent spread of new virus strains which could gain resistance to virus resistant plants, as well as possible detrimental effects on insects, birds, and other animals that feed on transgenic plants (Dornenburg 152-53).

Biotechnology also has the potential to harm the economies of some developing nations. According to Lawrence Busch, a Michigan State University sociologist, if it becomes feasible ". . . to use plant cell culture techniques to make high-value materials, such as vanilla and cocoa butter . . . " (qtd in Moffat 187) then these products can be made in the laboratory, instead of having to extract them from tropical plants. The economies of the nations that have traditionally produced these materials rely heavily on them for income. If these materials can now be produced cheaper and easier in a laboratory, then the developing country will lose one of its major exports (Moffat 187).

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The last and possibly the most important argument for an international biosafety protocol is in the name of ignorance and caution. Burke K. Zimmerman, author of the book Biofuture: Confronting the Genetic Era, expounds on the uncertainties of biotechnology:

Perhaps we all have a need for certainty in our lives, or the assurance of knowing the limits to our lives or the fates that could befall us. Here, however, we cannot allow ourselves that comfort. The knowledge we have gained about living cells in recent years has been vast, but it has also showed us how much more we have yet to learn. We will simply have to accept the fact that there are uncertainties in our lives with which we will have to contend for some time to come. One of those uncertainties is the absolute assurance that there can never be a biological disaster (150)

Many researchers argue that there hasn't been enough testing and virtually no working experience in this field. Referring to the detrimental effects modern agriculture has already had on the environment, Jack Brown, a plant breeder geneticist at the University of Idaho, states, "Modern agriculture has happened at a price. We should learn from our experiences what disasters could befall us before we jump into large-scale production of gene-modified plants" (qtd in Hileman 15). Jeremy Rifkin, president of the Washington-based Foundation on Economic Trends, sums up the sentiment on the release of transgenic organisms by stating, "Every introduction is a hit-or-miss ecological roulette" (qtd. in Weintraub 160).

The United States, Germany, Japan, and Australia are the only countries opposed to the biosafety protocol. They maintain that voluntary guidelines are all that is needed to regulate international biotechnology. The opponents of a biosafety protocol also argue that it will harm international trade and corporate profits ( Hileman 8). A few researchers, typically in the private sector, maintain that "Biotechnology is simply an extension of traditional agricultural practices like hybridization and cross-breeding" (Mather 18). According to John C. Sorenson, general manager of Asgrow, ". . . bioengineering does not threaten plant or animal diversity, any more than conventional seed and animal breeding programs do" (qtd. in Mather 162).

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The need for a change in the world of agriculture is undeniable. The world population is expected to approximately double in the next thirty years. To feed this many new mouths with the same agricultural practices, the amount of land available for agriculture must approximately double in size. The only available land that is not being used for agriculture already is the endangered and protected natural areas (Hileman 8). When the amount of land used for food production increases, then so does the amount of chemicals used in today's agricultural processes increase. These chemicals are vital because they offset or prevent the losses from weeds, pests, and diseases. Hopefully with new technologies, biotechnology being one of them, plants will be created that can grow and survive without the use of these environmentally harmful chemicals (Hileman 14). While many people agree that biotechnology will be at least part of the solution, they are also concerned about the safety of transgenic organisms that are released into the environment (Barker 126).

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Works Cited

Barker, Penelope, ed. The Reference Shelf: Genetics and Society. New York: H.W. Wilson Company, 1995.

Dalglish, Brenda. "Changing the face of the farm." Macleans 06 March 1995: 41-42.

Dornenburg, Heike, and Christine Lang-Hinrichs. "Genetic Engineering in Food Biotechnology." The Reference Shelf: Genetics and Society. Ed. Penelope Barker. New York: H.W. Wilson Company, 1995. 145-153.

Hileman, Bette. "Views differ sharply over benefits, risks of agricultural biotechnology." Chemical and Engineering News 73 (1995): 8-17.

Mather, Robin. A Garden of Unearthly Delights: Bioengineering and the Future of Food. New York: Penguin Group, 1995.

Moffat, Ann S. "Developing Nations Adapt Biotech for own needs." Science 08 July 1994: 186-187.

Weintraub, Pamela. "The Coming of the High-Tech Harvest." The Reference Shelf: Genetics and Society. Ed. Penelope Barker, New York: H.W. Wilson Company, 1995. 155-167

Zimmerman, Burke K. Biofuture: Confronting the Genetic Era. New York: Plenum Press, 1984.



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