Genetic engineers have perfected techniques for altering the genetic biology of plants and organisms. The prospect of new foods, pharmaceuticals, vaccines, pesticides, anti-pollution agents and other "bioproducts" and "biotools" made in this way has attracted billions of dollars of investment. These manipulated organisms could have unintended but devastating side-effects upon the environmental and human health and upon other "natural species". Such unintended consequences are "unrecallable" and may be irreversible.
Genetic engineering in its simplest form is using techniques to modify genetic material—the DNA—of living organisms. Genetic modification is not new. Random mutations in genetic material occur spontaneously or under the influence of mutagenic substances. For centuries, selective breeding has been an indirect way of genetic engineering. These are not normally considered genetic engineering. Rather genetic engineering is genetic recombination under artificial circumstances under laboratory conditions. It consists of isolating and then splicing together DNA molecules in isolation from their cellular environment, although for certain species genetic material can be transferred between cells of the same type or different type.
Genetically engineered cotton, rice, corn, oilseed rape, sugarbeet, and alfalfa crops have entered the American market. Genetically modified soya is already widely used in processed foods, usually unlabelled as to its nature. In 1996 a genetically-altered maize began to be used for animal feed; it reputedly contains a gene which could make bacteria immune to commonly-used antibiotics. In the UK there were reports of a feral tomato, a genetically modified species which had gone wild and could no longer be contained.
Terminator technology, the genetic engineering of plants to produce sterile seeds, has been widely condemned as a dangerous and morally offensive application of agricultural biotechnology, because over 1.4 billion people depend on farm-saved seeds. During the UN Biodiversity Convention meetings in Nairobi in May 2000, the delegates agreed to a moratorium on all field testing and commercialization of Terminator and other similar technologies. Many countries requested an outright ban on Terminator, and others expressed the concern that Terminator could be used as a trade weapon to force them to obey US trade and patent laws. Some countries even see Terminator as a form of biological warfare since poor farmers could become dependent on seeds that they are prohibited from saving.