Biological functions and processes of genetically modified organisms are protected under the U.S. Patent Act and the Biotech directive. The definition of intellectual property in the United States was intentionally made to be broad in order to protect patent rights in private industries. This ultimately led to the promotion of international business interests. One industry that has been heavily influenced by the presence of genetically modified organisms is the business of agriculture, which is termed agribusiness. This field of business has played a huge role in molding intellectual property policies regarding biotechnology and its international trading potential. Many plants and seeds are modified by using genetic engineering in agricultural biotechnology. Genetically modified organisms have the potential to play a tremendous role in economics and humanitarian aid, especially in third world countries where food is scarce. GMOs are claimed to be environmentally friendly because they reduce pesticide use, and they lead to greater harvests with better quality food. Despite the many advantages of genetically engineering organisms, “there is no scientific confirmation that these foods are safe” for people and animals to consume, or for general environmental use (Stein 160, 161). Genetically engineering organisms may lead to increased pesticide resistance, alteration of plant and insect DNA, and unknown environmental repercussions (Stein 161).
Before the creation of all of this advanced technology, farmers used to store and collect seeds that produced crops with favorable traits and germinate them with other seeds that produced crops with favorable traits. This technique is called “seed saving,” and many agriculturalists in other countries currently depend on this process to produce a good harvest in order to provide enough food for the population. The USDA (The United States Department of Agriculture) circulated seeds to farmers all across America and persuaded the continuation of seed saving until very recently (Stein 162). The agricultural industry is dependent on gaining seeds from countries all over the world through a practice termed “seed sharing.” In the 1850s, during the rise and production of the very first genetically modified organisms, the federal government promoted the sharing of the seeds’ genetic material in which scientists combined the DNA of different seeds that coded for desirable traits (Carman 82). Within the next fifty years, seed hybridization came to the forefront of agricultural biotechnology. Farmers bought seeds that were combined using genetic technology which led to a greater return on investment because the yield was so large. For example, the harvest for hybridized corn seed resulted in a 700% increase (Stein 164). However, these seeds would not produce a good crop in the second or third generation. Seed lobbying groups advocated for genetically engineered seeds and these GMOs soon became a commodity. This led to the amalgamation of companies in the biotechnology industry which continues to this day. A majority of the agriculture industry is owned by a select few companies (Stein 164). These companies control nearly all of the consumption of soy, corn, and wheat, which are some of the most lucrative crops in the United States. These companies plant genetically modified seeds which ultimately leads to the consumption of genetically modified food being imposed on the general public. The increasing number of GMOs has been shown to have caused an increase in the prevalence of celiac disease and non-celiac gluten intolerance in the United States. Large companies, like Monsanto’s, use a herbicide, Roundup ®, in the process of “crop desiccation” (Samsel & Seneff). In crop desiccation, chemicals are sprayed all over crops prior to harvest to that harvesting is more convenient (Roseboro). However, these chemicals contaminate food products, and these then enter produce stores and manufacturing industries. Glyphosate is one of those chemicals; it is the main active ingredient in Roundup ®. Glyphosate’s influence on bacteria in the digestive system is very similar to the impairments of digestion that come with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten intolerance. Through research, glyphosate’s causal effect on the health of the nation is clearly seen (Samsel & Seneff). It is unethical for researchers to know that patenting genetically modified organisms causes dietary intolerances in the public, and continue doing it. Their ignorance is physically impacting millions of people. If patent laws were stricter, researchers would not be able to take advantage of the patentability of genetically modified organisms.
There are also many benefits of patenting genetically modified organisms. In agricultural biotechnology, they can lead to a larger and better harvest. This can immensely help to provide food in countries where people are dying of starvation. Genetically modified organisms can also benefit the sustainability of pharmaceuticals so that they can be more easily transported to developing countries. This can especially help in places where medicine is not easily accessible. Genetically modified organisms can also benefit the environment by the production of polymers that reduce pollution around the world. These humanitarian aid efforts involving genetically modified organisms, if extended to the countries that need them, have the possibility to save millions of lives and impact many aspects of the environment (Hughes 87).
Carman J. Is GM Food Safe to Eat? In: Hindmarsh R, Lawrence G, editors. Recoding Nature Critical Perspectives on Genetic Engineering. Sydney: UNSW Press; 2004. p. 82-93.
Hughes, J. (1988). The philosophy of intellectual property. Georgetown Law Journal 77(2), 287-366.
Roseboro, Ken (2016, March 5) Why is Glyphosate sprayed on crops right before harvest? Retrieved from https://www.ecowatch.com/why-is-glyphosate-sprayed-on-crops-right-before-harvest-1882187755.html
Samsel, A., & Seneff, S. (2013). Glyphosate, Pathways to Modern Diseases II: Celiac sprue and gluten intolerance. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 6(4), 159-284.
Stein, H. (2005). Intellectual property and genetically modified seeds: The united states, trade, and the developing world. Northwestern Journal of Technology and Intellectual Property 3(2), 160-178.