Agricultural Genetic Engineering: What You Need to Know

Agricultural genetic engineering is a controversial topic that has brought a lot of discussion in Nicaragua and the rest of the world. The strategy of agricultural genetic engineering involves altering the genetic make-up of both animals and plants.  This process is done in order to increase productivity, and their tolerance to environmental challenges (natural and human caused). While some see it as a promising answer to the nation’s and world’s food supply problems, others have concerns about what the potential risks to human health, biodiversity, and local farming communities this technology can bring. 

Furthermore, more than half of the population of Nicaragua depends on agriculture and livestock production for the way of income. The country has become a fairly active agricultural nation over the years. Small-scale farmers raise a variety of traditional crops that include things like maize, beans, and coffee, which is adding to the country’s rich agricultural heritage. However, Nicaragua, like many other emerging countries, faces many challenges in meeting the growing demand for food from its rapidly expanding population. In this context, agricultural genetic engineering has demonstrated positive potential for improved nutrient quality, increasing crop yields, and increasing pest and disease resistance. This could solve a lot of problems for not only Nicaragua, but for countries all over the world that receive exports from this central american country.

Undoubtedly one of the most well-known applications of genetic engineering in Nicaraguan agriculture is the development of genetically modified (GM) maize. In 2014 we can see the approval for planting of two genetically modified maize varieties resistant to weeds and insects in Nicaragua. This new strategy has been adopted by large-scale farmers in the country for many different reasons. One of them is that these crops have an increased output and reduce the use of chemical pesticides. They also are more resistant to harsh weather. Agricultural innovation and genetically modified corn may sound ideal, but for many individuals, they bring about the reverse of comfort. For instance, small-scale farmers have been more hesitant to use GM maize due to possible health and environmental dangers.

Although genetic engineering has multiple advantages, there are still substantial risks that cannot be ignored. The number one rising concern with genetic engineering is its impact on human health. The dictionary definition of genetic engineering is, “the deliberate modification of the characteristics of an organism by manipulating its genetic material.” Many people feel highly uncomfortable consuming what they don’t know. Changing what is considered natural and healthy can have multiple consequences on the human body such as: Loss of nutrients, allergic reactions, toxicity and even cancer. Foods made using genetic engineering are fundamentally unstable. Each new gene insertion, along with the “cassette” of vectors, antibiotic marker systems, and promoters, happens at random.  Producers of GE food simply aren’t aware of the location of their genetic “cassette” in the food, nor are they knowledgeable enough about the genetic/chemical composition of foods to determine a “safe” location for such insertions. As a result, each time a gene is inserted into a meal, the corporations are essentially playing a game of “roulette” with food safety, hoping that the new genetic material won’t make a previously safe item unsafe. Every genetic insertion increases the chance that previously harmless food components could become harmful.

With numerous cases, we see that genetic engineering isn’t just used on plants, it also extends to altering of living, breathing animals. Livestock farming is another branch of Nicaraguan agriculture where genetic engineering has been used. Scientists at Nicaragua’s National Autonomous University have created a genetically modified chicken that can lay eggs with higher concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids than the normal chicken. Many people applaud this as it is said that these altercations add health advantages for the consumer. Despite this, many people would counter this, saying it’s morally wrong. The implementation of genetic engineering on animals has sparked questions about animal welfare and potential negative consequences on traditional agricultural practices. People question if in doing this we are exploiting animal’s practical autonomy, and if this can be considered animal abuse.

In conclusion, agricultural genetic engineering is a complex and divisive subject. One that cannot be solved without being talked about. Others have expressed worries about possible hazards to human health, biodiversity, and traditional agricultural communities, while others see it as an amazing solution to food security all over the world. All stakeholders must engage in an open, transparent dialogue in order to ensure that agricultural genetic engineering is handled ethically and sustainably as the country continues to deal with these issues. The only way we can hope to fully exploit this technology for the good of everybody is through thoughtful consideration and wise control.

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