What Are the Ethical Issues for Recombinant DNA?

Ethical issues for recombinant DNA address concerns that organisms and food containing recombinant DNA are potentially dangerous. Most scientists consider recombinant DNA technology to be safe, while various advocacy and health groups claim that regulatory groups are biased and more research is needed to assess possible dangers.

After the first publications describing successful use of recombinant DNA technology in 1972 and 1973, the Asilomar Conference on Recombinant DNA convened in 1975 to discuss guidelines concerning its use. It came up with detailed recommendations and a moratorium on potentially dangerous experimentation. Later, the National Institutes of Health issued more formal guidelines. Government regulations are based on the NIH guidelines.

The Union of Concerned Scientists, the Organic Consumers Association, the World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace question the ethics of liberal use of recombinant DNA technology. The main objections to its use center around its long-term consequences when used in the modification of food. Considerations include the possibility of contamination of genetically unmodified food, mandatory labeling to identify products with genetically modified organisms, the efficacy of government regulations, long-term effects on the environment and health and sufficient oversight on companies that deal with recombinant DNA technology or products.

In the United States, critics question the objectivity of regulatory agencies overly sympathetic to corporations selling products that contain recombinant DNA. Critics also object to a double standard in the European Union between cultivation of food for use within the EU and for export.