Argument against patenting of GMOs
The argument against GMO patenting stems from the fact that genes exist in nature and within humans and so technically, scientists do not “discover” them (Lamb). Others argue that genetic modification only fast-tracks what would have ordinarily happened in nature via selective breeding (in perhaps a few hundred years). This can be countered with the argument that by the time nature catches on, it may be too late to help the people who could benefit now from the genetically modified food or drugs.
But the argument will remain that most tools used in genetic engineering processes are sourced from other living organisms. The “desired” gene to be inserted into an organism to create a modified organism was not manufactured by the scientist. Even the enzymes used in the processes were sourced from naturally occurring organisms, and so in effect, the scientist is not inventing anything.
However, most inventors do not make new products from thin air. Products are made from previously existing products, for example cars are made from steel, plastic and other raw materials found in nature. The only difference in the case of genetic engineering is that the tools of trade are alive. Which brings to me to the question, is the intellectual work of a genetic scientist less significant than that of other scientists simply because their tools of trade are living organisms? Is the impact of the discovery of the genetic scientist, say the creation of drought resistant or pest resistant species of a widely used crop, less felt than perhaps the invention of cars? Could we not argue that because of the more pressing nature of the problems of food security and health addressed by genetic scientists, their intellectual ability and skills are perhaps more useful. Of what use is a car to a sick and dying diabetic man if there is no supply of insulin and the organism that could have been modified to produce enough insulin was non-existent?
I may be partial, seeing that I am genetic scientist, but I do believe that despite the source of raw materials, the genetic scientist puts in as much, both intellectual and manual, in designing modified organisms as a step towards solving global problems. Their intellect should be rewarded, and their work should be patented both as a reward for labor and as an incentive for other upcoming scientists.
Lamb, J.S. (n.d.). Gene patenting: Ethical and legal issues. Science Policy for All. https://sciencepolicyforall.wordpress.com/2012/07/13/gene-patenting-ethical-and-legal-issues/
US Food and Drug Administration. Science and history of GMOs and food modification processes. Retrieved March 2, 2022 from Science and History of GMOs and Other Food Modification Processes | FDA
Zeljezic, D. (2004). Genetically modified organisms in food – production, detection, and risks. Arh. Hig. Rada Toksikol. 2004 Nov. 55 (4): 301-12