Social Implications

Ethical Issues: Unethical Practices

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There are many practices related to genetic engineering that pose serious ethical problems.


Biowarfare is a current threat, which many believe is practiced secretly in many countries of the world. Biowarfare develops genetically engineered bacteria and viruses for conflict situations. These methods employ the same technology and equipment as those that are used commercially for agricultural biotechnology. This equipment is easily accessible and can quickly be transformed for military purposes. By increasing biotechnology practices, we are also increasing the risk of biological warfare. In the former Soviet Union, there were 32,000 scientists developing biowarfare techniques, and now there is little information as to where they are. The threat of engineered viruses such as smallpox, encephalitis and the ebola virus exist due to biotechnology (Epstein, 1999).

Human Genes

There is an increasing amount of human genes that are being used to create new forms of life. These organisms are partly human. In China, tomatoes and peppers are being engineered with human genes to increase the speed of growth (Epstein, 1999). What does this mean for vegetarians? Is something with a quantity of human genes meat or vegetable? How many human genes need to be included in something before we feel guilty eating it? As Epstein phrases it, "You can now be a vegetarian and a cannibal at the same time! (Epstein, 1999:4)".

Plastic Plants

Some scientists, as an alternative to petroleum-based plastics, are genetically engineering plants to produce plastic stems. Although this may seem logical to cut down petroleum use, it has the potential to disrupt entire ecosystems. Plastic genes have the potential to be released into the ecosystem, and through cross-pollination there is the possibility that plastic may spread throughout the ecosystem and cause great destruction (Epstein, 1999). Do humans have the right to alter plants to provide for our material needs, like plastic? Will we have aluminum and styrofoam plants next?

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