Human history shows that people used conventional modification techniques, including selective breeding and crossbreeding of animals and plants, to obtain desired traits long ago. For instance, farmers used natural modification methods to grow various corns based on size, color, and use. Nowadays, the technological progress of humanity allows us to conduct such modifications of plants and animals in a shorter time and more precise way.
Genetic modification is known as the technology that changes the genetic machinery of living things, including animals, microorganisms, and plants. “Genetically modified,” “Genetically engineered,” or “transgenic” organisms are the result of recombinant DNA technology, which includes a combination of genes from various organisms. The evolution of genetic modification started in 1946 when people discovered DNA transfer between different organisms. The first production of the genetically modified plant was antibiotic-resistant tobacco, which was produced in 1983. Even though genetically modified foods have several advantages such as rich nutrients, less pesticide use, and cheaper production, they also have various disadvantages, including environmental impact.
There is a potential environmental hazard of natural plant contamination by genetically modified materials. Once a new genetically modified plant was produced, there is a chance that this new type of plant will naturally start spreading. For example, in the USA, genetically modified maize called “Starlink” was not approved for food. However, the maize continued appearing in the production of maize (WHO 19).
This case highlights the problem of potential contamination of natural plants, which can cause unintended influence on the health and safety of people. The worst-case scenario is if a new genetically modified plant that can cause severe human health impacts, or other negative consequences, is unintentionally spread into the environment, resulting in accidental consumption of that product. In addition, there is the same environmental concern regarding genetically modified animals and fish. Genetically modified fish spread in the environment has a chance to enter the human food supply, potentially causing a health impact. Hence, uncontrolled production of genetically modified plants and animals can cause contamination of natural genetic materials, potentially influencing human health.
Other than the health-related risks of genetically modified foods, there are other environmental concerns, such as the consequences of artificial resistance. The two primary goals of genetically modified plants are to make pest-resistant and herbicide-resistant plants. Even though it brings great opportunities to reduce the cost of fighting against weeds and insects, there is a potential threat in the long-term use of that strategy. In a few years, weeds and insects can evolve into more substantial and more dangerous types, which will cancel all our attempts to battle them (Zhang et al. 122). Thus, the artificial nature of genetically modified foods has the potential to influence the environment significantly.
Moreover, interference in the food web is a severe environmental threat. Disruption of the natural food chain can lead to negative consequences of unbalancing the whole biosystem. For instance, the production of pest-resistant plants might result in the extinction of significant pests and the survival of some minor pests. Such interference into natural balance can cause considerable disruption in the food chain, leading to inevitable changes at the top of the food chain (Zhang et al. 122). Therefore, genetically modified food production might disrupt the food chain along with the creation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
There is a possibility to develop antibiotic resistance in living organisms. Antibiotics are used to distinguish a successful modification from a failed one. When consumed by a human or an animal, there is a chance that antibiotic-resistant genes might transfer to gastro-intestinal bacteria (Zhang et al. 122). In case of bacteria that are dangerous to human or animal health gain antibiotic resistance, treatment by antibiotics will no longer be effective. Thus, the possibility of bacteria gaining antibiotic resistivity causes a great danger for humans and animals.
The invasive property of genetically modified plants carries a risk of degradation of a natural ecosystem. When artificial plants are integrated into the ecosystem, the long-term effect is difficult to predict. Even though some genetically modified nonnative species are harmless and even beneficial, other produced species, also known as invasive species, widely spread in the ecosystem, causing unintentional disruption of their structure and functions.
In addition, transgenic plants can hybridize with their close natural relative species. Considering the large cultivation area of genetically modified crops, their ability to naturally hybridize with other species increases the potential impact on the ecosystem. In addition, genetically modified crops might affect the soil properties, decreasing their ability to decompose the plants and lower soil fertility. Moreover, genetically modified crops might result in viruses with newly transformed characteristics (Wolfenbarger and Phifer 2088). The results of such ecosystem interventions are unexpected, carrying a high risk of negative consequences.
To sum up, the technological development of humanity resulted in the ability of a human to genetically modify plants, adjusting the properties of the plants based on agricultural needs. Genetically modified materials could spread and contaminate natural plants. Contamination of genetic material can lead to uncontrolled spread and potential consumption of that plant as food, endangering human health and safety. Also, the resistance to pests and herbicides increases the chances of the evolution of insects into new species that would be able to fight genetically modified crops. It will consequently lead to the extinction of major species, unbalancing the whole ecosystem.
The invasive feature of genetically modified foods also brings significant concern regarding its uncontrolled spread, resulting in the degradation of the natural ecosystem. The potential creation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria or organisms is another threat that genetically modified plants can bring to our world. Thus, the environmental impact of genetically modified organisms is a serious and significant issue, which should be considered together with its benefits when producing new plant types.