GE Crops Essay
ARGUMENT FOR THE STATEMENT.
World population is projected to reach 7.7 billion by the year 2020. As a result there is constant pressure to produce enough food for all. The advancement of agriculture is a moral imperative for reducing poverty and hunger, and promoting equity in poorer countries. The United Nations mandate on food is as follows:
However, it is not so straightforward. The grain demand is expected to double in the next 20 years, and the global demand for cereals is expected to increase from 0.3% to 1.4%. Total arable land currently stands at only 300 million hectares. If the population grows by 2% per year, food production must increase by 3.2% per year. Traditional farming methods simply cannot keep up with this. As one scientist has put it, “The myth that agriculture is practised in a rural Garden of Eden needs to be dispelled and replaced with the reality of it being a struggle to produce food for an ever increasing population against natural forces.” GM crops can be seen as one of the rescue-robots’ of hunger, and a way of fighting against human suffering. Much higher yields of staple foods are produced through GM without enlarging the land space.
Almost half a million children are affected by lack of Vitamin A, but with the sale of GM golden rice’ which contains high Vitamin A from a daffodil gene , this problem can be resolved. Conversely, the potential of developing transgenic crops enriched with iron could provide the solution to the problem of anaemia which claims nearly 20% of maternal deaths in Asia and Africa. A large proportion of medicines used today contain plant extracts, which aid in curing major diseases like Hodgkin’s lymphoma, AIDS, and carcinoma. GM technology can help to advance these cures and even create vaccines.
One further advantage of GE technology is that it may actually be good for the environment and ecosystems. Plants can be bioengineered to absorb toxic metals from the soil, enabling land tainted by mercury or lead to be usable again. The amount of damaging herbicides used to kill off weeds will also be reduced. Herbicide- resistant crops can be created so that farmers spray less often and later in the season so weeds can provide cover for insects and an increased food supply for small mammals and birds. Many chemicals currently used in farming have unwelcome environmental effects, but GM can help alleviate these by allowing us to produce more efficient, renewable sources of biodegradable fuel, such as Bio-diesel. GM plants can even be used as bio-factories to yield raw materials for industrial uses, and in removal of toxic industrial wastes.
The advent of this new technology has been likened to the so-called Green Revolution’ involving the introduction of high yielding varieties of wheat and rice produced by conventional breeding after 1960. While this played a strong part in increasing food availability, GM has the ability to drastically exceed this, and to limitlessly benefit human endeavours.
ARGUMENT AGAINST THE STATEMENT.
Another issue relates to the mechanisms of producing GM food – just how controlled are they and what is the nature of this control? So far, GM research has been conducted mainly by chemical companies and is directed toward chemically dependent crop varieties rather than staple foods.
Will GM actually alleviate hunger? This presupposes that food shortage is the principal cause of hunger, rather than other reasons including poverty, inequitable distribution of food, poor health, poor education and political instability. The famines in India in 1943 and in Africa, the Sahel and Bangladesh in 1974 were not due to market failures or lack of food but rather to poor peoples’ inability to buy food. Hunger can only be reduced in less developed societies either by increasing the wages of the poor, or by fundamentally improving the productivity of staple foods, which GM will play no part in.
The implementation of GE technologies may have a detrimental effect on the environment, organisms, and human health. It is possible that engineered virus resistance could result in the evolution of new, harmful viruses, or crops engineered to produce Bt toxins might poison non-target hosts. There is also a fear that antibiotic resistant genes will accumulate and present themselves in food, rendering antibiotics ineffective in humans. It is difficult to test food for toxicity as ordinary non-GM food has never itself been tested. Another potential hazard is allergenicity. If an apple, for example, is embedded with part of the genetic code of a peanut, people with severe peanut allergies might be adversely affected. How do scientists actually know how a gene will be expressed in a different organism?
There is a possibility herbicide resistant plants will have their genes placed into non-target, wild species, leading to invasive, herbicide-resistant weeds. This can be done simply by pollen dispersal, so the risks are high.
It is strongly feared that the introduction of GM technology will lead to a market dominated by GM food, and forcing non-GM farmers out of business. In this sense it can be argued that the mechanisms are not in fact controlled, as they undermine central values in society – automatism, justice, and consumer choice. This new technology, by its very nature, represents a challenge to existing values and systems, including traditional concepts of nature and human identity.
Finally there is the question of where will all this GM farming take place? Intensification of agriculture in areas already farmed will result in deterioration of environments, while expansion will result in a loss of ecosystems.
A huge amount of research has been done into GE and it is simply time to move forward, and stop asking what if?’ The British Royal Society has concluded that there seems to be no evidence that current GM crops are more likely to be harmful to human health or cause allergic reactions than conventional crops. It describes the possible health risks as “negligible”. Insulin, synthesized from a human-like gene inserted into bacteria and yeast for diabetics and vegetarian cheese have both been engineered and used for years with no adverse consequences. It is unlikely that GM foods will trigger allergies in unsuspecting consumers. This is because the new technology allows more precise manipulation of genes that does conventional plant breeding, and so can be used to turn previously allergenic crops non-allergenic.
MY VIEW ON THE FACTS.
“It is obviously too late to keep the genie in its bottle.” – GM crops have been produced in abundance already, and research into it will continue despite any policy regulations put in place on the issue. Previous research demonstrates 70% of the processed foods that US citizens consume have been bioengineered in some way, so far with no negative impact on health. A key factor influencing my opinion is that GE is not being put in place to replace natural plant breeding, but instead to act as a tool for farmers to help produce improved crops – something that has happened naturally for years. I believe that it is the manner in which GE is implemented and integrated into society that will impact on its success. The “precautionary principle” has been modelled as a way of evaluating GM food.
(1) Who are the consumers and what is the purpose of this product?
(2) Do the plants contain detrimental selectable markers for the environment or for health?
(3) What is the capacity of the engineered plants to cross pollinate with wild relatives and become detrimental to the environment?
Food production will need to be increased in the future, and regardless of whether GE is used or not, an increased number of chemicals and pollutants will be used, and an increased amount of space will be required, contributing to environmental degradation and a loss of ecosystems. In this respect, any positive steps GE can make in limiting that pollution and limiting the amount of rainforests required to be cut down, without causing additional problems, should be seen as technologically and ethically advantageous. Public involvement should be welcomed, and knowledge of GE should be available and accessible to all to instil trust in the regulatory system. An undesirable outcome is for GE to be controlled by purely commercial interests as the ideas of beneficence, autonomy and justice must remain at the forefront of GE’s integration.
Human beings have been selective breeding plants in order to improve them for hundreds of years, a factor which is very relevant in the debate about using GM to alter food quality and quantity. Science has had an enormous impact on human existence, providing numerous innovations to improve our lives, and therefore the use of GE technologies, if carefully tested and properly implemented, can change the nature of food as we know it. But, as Dr George Wald of Harvard University puts it, Recombinant DNA technology [genetic engineering] faces our society with problems unprecedented not only in the history of science, but of life on the Earth. It places in human hands the capacity to redesign living organismsUp to now, living organisms have evolved very slowly, and new forms have had plenty of time to settle in. Now whole proteins will be transposed overnight into wholly new associations, with consequences no one can foretell Once created, they cannot be recalled.
We must proceed cautiously into the issue, setting up safeguards and adhering to a liberal version of the precautionary principle. The development of GM technology holds out such valuable, indispensable, prospects for the future of humanity that any other approach would be indefensible.
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