The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN estimates that we need to grow 70 percent more food by 2050.
Population growth is widening the “yield gap,” or the difference between what we produce and what we need for sustenance. We’re faced with a dilemma, either increase yield on current agriculture land, or we expand, something which is not environmentally possible in many cases. On top of population growth, rising meat consumption, climate change, and crop diseases contribute to a dynamic where we are failing to catch up with demand. Are genetically modified organisms a tool that can help us bridge the “yield gap”?PromiseFood is without a doubt the most important product of consumption within our environments and economies.
It contributes to the continuous regeneration of our bodies and provides basic energy for living. Despite the green revolution introduced globally in the 1970’s, the exponential growth of human population, environmental degradation, and climate change create a significant challenge today and in the near future. Nearly 870 million people worldwide suffer from malnutrition today, mostly localized within developing countries in Africa, Asia, and South America.
Additionally, climate change and environmental degradation continue to reduce available agricultural land.Biotechnology techniques can modify the genome of plants and animals to make them more resistant to drought or pests, or enrich their production of specific nutrients, enzymes and vitamins. Genetic modification of plants and animals is nothing more than the latest in a long series of productivity enhancing technologies that have helped increase the world’s food supply. Biotechnology contributes to solving problems like food and water insecurity that impede national development and threaten peace in the developing world. It’s also a way to combat ecological disasters that would typically result in famines. All of these factors contribute to higher global yields. GMO’s are not a panacea, a “silver bullet”, but it is an imperfect tool that can improve the lives of millions and contribute to sustainability worldwide.
ScienceAs a science, biotechnology is as old as agriculture; human kind has been eating genetically modified organisms since ancient times. Selective breeding was extensively used since the dawn of agriculture to improve plants and animals. Our livestock, vegetables, fruits, and crops of today are all a result of these processes. But this technology is slow and not very accurate. Virtually all crops and livestock have been genetically engineered in the broadest sense.
Genetic engineering is merely another tool we can use to improve our food sources. Using genetic engineering, biotechnologists can introduce in the genome of a plant or animal, genetic material from completely different species in order to induce specific characteristics in the organism. Conventional plant and animal breeding is limited by transfer between closely related organisms, while genetic modification can take place between two entirely different organisms.The first genetically modified food approved for sail in the United States by the Federal Food and Drug Administration was the “Flavr Savr” tomato which enhanced flavor and shelf life. But the product turned out to be a commercial failure due to the high production costs. In 1996 two genetically engineered varieties of corn and soybeans were approved, followed by other varieties of corn, soybeans, sugar, beet, and papaya. These early crops were targeted towards farmers who needed higher yields with better resistance to pests and disease, and permitting the use of herbicides.
In spite of this, very few advantages were passed on to the consumer, creating a misconception that GMO’s are an imposition rather than a clear advantage. Scientific consensus is that gene editing in a laboratory is not more hazardous than traditional breeding.The World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, The National Academy of Sciences, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science all agree; there is no evidence that suggests any negative health or nutrition impacts of GMO food. Hundreds of studies support their conclusion.
As of yet, there is not a single peer reviewed study that proves any adverse effects in humans or livestock.Existing Advantages(a) pest and disease resistance; (b) herbicide tolerance; (c) tolerance to extreme climatic conditions (draught, cold, flood); (d) adaptability of various types of soil (excessive salinity or lack of fertilizers); (e) production of essential nutrients or therapeutic substances; (f) reduction or elimination of known allergens from plants or animals; (g) phytoremediation of polluted soils and/or enrichment in fertilizers.Existing Disadvantages(a) transgenic plants or animals could contaminate other organisms, destroying the environmental balance; (b) possible reduction in biodiversity; (c) introduction or development of new allergens; (d) reducing the therapeutic efficacy of the antibiotics used as gene markers; (e) creating a dependence of farmers on seeds produced by biotech corporations.Current Condition in Developing worldThe stakes with genetically modified organisms are much lower in prosperous countries. In the United States, we could go without them and still sustain food prices and supply. There may be environmental negatives as a result of their eradication here, but it wouldn’t exactly be catastrophic.The majority of the acres of GMO farmland in the world have been in rich nations.
These countries have much higher per acreage yield due to their use of GMO’s and more advanced farming equipment. Farmers in the United States grow up to twice as much food per acre as the world overall, largely because they can afford farm equipment, fuel, fertilizer, and pesticides that many farmers in the developing world can’t. GMO’s may not be as consequential to U.S. yield, as they get modest benefits from their use of GMO’s.
Ultimately, Biotechnology has the ability to even the playing field, enriching developing nations the most. Genetically modified organisms are much more effective in the developing world. In reality, most developing countries are barred from GM food or feed crop due to economic reasons. Government authorities are afraid that consumers in high-income importing regions, such as Europe, and Japan, will shun imports from any country that begins planting GM varieties. By planting GMO’s, these nations would have to segregate their farm products between GM and non-GM which is difficult, costly, and in some cases impossible. The cheapest way to compete for the business of anti-GM food and feed customers in rich nations is to remain entirely GM-free. Regulations in rich nations, especially the European Union and the United States, to trace GM derived foods further discourages the planting of GM crops in poor countries.The war Greenpeace is waging against GMO’s in the developing world is going their way.
India and the Philippines, which don’t allow any GM food crop, have approved the planting of sale of GMO’s only to be rescinded by Greenpeace instigated protests. On top of this, the biosafety approval process has been slowed down in poor countries: not by any scientific evidence of added risks from GM crop, but by weak scientific and administrative organizations who can’t afford to wage a battle to defeat environmental groups. In many cases the approval process is blocked or slowed by lawsuits, media campaigns, and direct political actions undertaken by anti-GMO activist groups.India’s CottonCurrently, only one genetically modified crop is lawful in India, cotton that is naturally resistant to insects and reduces the need to spray pesticides.
In the United States, scientists generally agree that genetically modified corn has reduced insecticide spraying but there’s little evidence that shows a positive effect on yield.In India the context is much different; a large number of farmers can’t afford pesticides and lack farming equipment which limits the effectivity of pesticides. Until the introduction of GM cotton, Indian cotton yields were flat.
Though when GM cotton was introduced in 2002 the yield soared by two thirds in just a few years. While cotton isn’t a food source, it still has massive implication on local and global economies which contribute to third world development. Farm profits went up by as much as 50%, lifting them out of poverty.
Insecticide use dropped too, massively reducing insecticide poisoning by millions of cases per year.Golden RiceGolden rice, as it is called, is a genetically modified form of rice that provides vitamin A, which can counter severe malnutrition in developing countries that results in blindness and other diseases. Vitamin A deficiency is estimated to kill 670,000 children under the age of five each year. As rice is a staple crop for over half the world population, sometimes making up to 70% of energy intake, it is a great way to target vitamin deficiencies. The crop is free for subsistence farmers and those producing less than $10,000 a year in the Philippines, Bangladesh and India.
By waiving their fees in order to speed up the cultivation process, the companies who have developed it recognized the opportunity to make an impact. “If we could get more of this Golden Rice … out to the developing world,” said President Clinton, “it could save 40,000 lives a day.” Greenpeace has effectively spearheaded the opposition to Golden Rice, regardless of extensive tests proving its safety and no evidence of the contrary. Their fears of non-GM rice contamination have shown to have no basis, and their belief that it doesn’t pose a solution to Vitamin A deficiency has been discredited by an overwhelming majority of scientists.
Transgenic SalmonThis species of salmon, developed by Aqua Bounty, represents the first genetically modified animal destine for human consumption. The genetic modification makes the salmon growth cycle continuous rather than seasonal so that the fish reaches a marketable size in half the time required for natural species. This can provide a lower price alternative, while also reducing the environmental pressure exerted by the intensive exploitation of the natural salmon by the fishing industry.
Despite the farmers attempts to make the food not only safe to consume, but safe for the environment, there is still backlash. All transgenic salmon will be sterile and single sex, and the growth of the salmon eggs and juvenile salmon will be realized in land based facilities and physical confinement barriers ensuring they don’t impact natural populations. While several food outlets in the United States have publicly announced that they would not offer this salmon, regardless of its efforts to reduce the carbon footprint associated with importing/transporting natural salmon. PropagandaThe implementation of biotechnology around the world has been hindered by a wave of protest citing health, social, economic, and environmental fears. We look at some of the political and social issues surrounding GMO’s to understand their impact.
LabelingLabelling has become a way of fueling unfounded fears concerning genetically modified organisms and projecting the voice of science deniers. Misinformed health minded customers and new regulations in markets like North America and Europe are forcing food producers and vendors to transition to non-GMO sources to remain competitive. Since 2013, Vermont, Maine, and Connecticut have given into this trend by stipulating that food producers must clearly label their products should they contain any bioengineered ingredients. Organizations like the ‘Non-GMO’ project successfully lobby public opinion, legislation, and corporations to abandon sustainable practices. While there is an argument to be made for consumer knowledge and choice, labelling creates a false sense of risk and quality in the market that drives demand of GMO food down. EnvironmentHumans have eaten hundreds of billions of GM based meals in the past 20 years without a single bad case. More than a hundred billion livestock animals ate GM feed from 1996 through 2011, during which the average health of livestock animals improved.
GMO’s are extensively tested subjected to a higher degree of regulatory review than an other crops and food.Liberal environmental groups funded by prosperous countries lead campaigns in developing countries that spread misinformation regarding the technology – affecting dangerous local policies. This trend is very visible in Africa.In Nairobi, 2012, activists brandishes photographs of rats with tumors claiming that GMO’s cause cancer, leading to an import ban. GMO bans have caused food trade bottlenecks that raise prices, worsen malnutrition, and increase poverty for millions.
In Uganda, the valuable banana crop is being destroyed by a disease called bacterial wilt. A genetically modified solution is already on the market, yet foreign anti-G.M.O.
groups have successfully petitioned the Ugandan parliament from passing legislation allowing their release.Social + EconomicOpponents of GMOs have also pointed to economic and social repercussions of the introduction of GM crop. Greenpeace has warned of the corporate domination of the food supply, arguing that small farmers will suffer. But they lack an understanding of how technology innovations function, and the motivations behind researching new ones. Firms invest capital into the research and development of new products. Shouldn’t they be rewarded in order to incentivize further investment and innovation? Without a fiscal incentive, the market would never innovate.
Despite this dynamic, there are several cases where these firms chose to make their patented products open source for subsistence farmers. The issue of genetically modified organisms have exposed both the hypocrisy and efficacy of environmental groups. They have misrepresented the risks, benefits, and impacts of GMO’s and supported the criminal destruction of approved field trials and research projects. These organizations are pro science when it comes to climate change, but anti-science when it comes to GMO’s, and are willing to undermine public understanding of science and environmentalism. Anti-GMO propaganda has yielded a huge disparity in terms of the scientific community and the public when it comes to GMO’s.? 88% of scientists in the field have no reservations concerning the safety of G.M.O.
s while that can be said about only 37% of the public.More than 100 Nobel laureates have signed an open letter urging Greenpeace to end their opposition to genetically modified organisms. “We urge Greenpeace and its supporters to re-examine the experience of farmers and consumers worldwide with crops and foods improved through biotechnology, recognize the findings of authoritative scientific bodies and regulatory agencies, and abandon their campaign against ‘GMOs’ in general and Golden Rice in particular,” the letter states.Most of the perceived ills of genetically modified foods are either illusory or far smaller than believed. And what the data suggests is that the benefits, while modest in the rich world today, might be quite substantial in the future, and are already much larger in the parts of the world where the battle over GMO approval is most actively raging.
GMOs are neither poison nor panacea. What they are is a toolkit, a varied one, with real benefits to the environment and millions of people today; with the real potential to have a larger positive impact immediately if they’re allowed to; and with the possibility of a dramatically larger benefit down the road as the science behind them improves.Works Cited”107 Nobel Laureates Sign Letter Blasting Greenpeace over Gmos.” Washington Post, 1 July 2016.Brush, Stephen B. “Genetically Modified Organisms in Peasant Farming: Social Impact and Equity.” Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies, Vol. 9, No.
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