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Genetically Modified Organisms, also known as GMOs, refers to any living organism whose genetic makeup has been modified by scientists under laboratory conditions and isn’t produced naturally. Nowadays, they are found in almost everything, with the most common types of GMOs crops being, corn, papaya, and canola. GMOs were originally introduced in 1973 by Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen. They were the first to implant genes from one organism into another successfully. GMOs have numerous benefits such as being able to last longer, taste better, and the ability to make them healthier than conventional crops. With these benefits, GMOs will likely help in reducing the number of starving people and help combat World Hunger.
World hunger is one of the biggest challenges of today’s time. According to www.worldhunger.org, “The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that about 815 million people of the 7.6 billion people in the world, or 10.7%, were suffering from chronic undernourishment in 2016.” On average, there are 11 million people who don’t receive enough nutrients and are malnourished in developing countries. The two main causes of this are food insecurity and malnutrition. Due to the shortage of food in rural areas, and the decrease in access to proper food; people end up starving, which results in people living an unhealthy and proper lifestyle. People suffering from malnutrition, do not meet the daily nutrition requirement, resulting in weak immune systems, and the likeliness of getting sick easily. Malnutrition also takes a huge toll on children’s health. By being malnourished, they would have growth stunts and become underweight. They are also more likely to get diseases like Kwashiorkor, which is the swelling of the face, limbs, and feet due to the deficiency in dietary protein.
GM crops have benefited the economy in many ways. In 2014, Brookes and Barfoot (two directors at PG Economics), predicted that one of the global economic benefits of GM crops would surpass US$17 billion, collectively achieving US$150 billion, between 1996 and 2014. Brookes and Barfoot also estimated that around 158 million tonnes of soybeans and 322 million tonnes of corn have yielded. These production rates helped increase food security. According to an analysis of multiple studies regarding GM crop impacts conducted by Klümper and Qaim, it was discovered that the use of pesticide had reduced by 37%, production increased by 22%, and the farmers had an increase of 68% in revenue. A survey conducted by Subramaniam and Qaim showed that the vulnerable households, i.e. those who earn less than $2/day, had an increase in income by 134% by growing Bt cotton crops. These are examples of some of the many benefits of GM crops, which have helped boost the economy internationally, and help farmers earn a more steady income, providing them with a better livelihood.
The seed industry has cemented pretty quickly, since the commercialization of GMOs. 60% of the seed market is owned by just 4 companies, with the seeds for specific crops being dominated by Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta, and Dow; who own 80% of the corn and 70% of the soybean market.
Due to the market becoming more fixed, farmers have suffered huge losses. According to the USDA’s data, the cost of soybean and corn seeds by the acre has increased dramatically between 1995 and 2014, by 351% and 321%, respectively.
The International Journal of Food Contamination stated, that a little less than 400 cases of GMO contamination took place in 63 nations. Crops get contaminated when pollen from GMO crops, advance into neighboring fields via insects, bird, or wind; creating “genetic drifts”. These “genetic drifts”, create changes in the gene pool of the crops. It is hard to avert these drifts, and due to the lack of rules and regulations; it prevents seed companies from being liable for damages caused due to the seeds and puts the burden on the farmers who end up paying the price.
The consequences of contamination include drastic economic losses as GMO farmers face rejection from export companies that don’t accept GMO crops. While the organic farmers who suffer from crop contamination, risk losing their organic certification and the additional money they earn from their products being organic. As people start buying non-GMO produce, farmers start looking into organic or non-GMO markets that are cost more than others. Although, the difficulty in segregating the different types of crops, by the companies, risks the farmers losing these alternatives.
GM crops could increase food production and the availability of the higher quality of food, as well as have an effect on food quality and the amount of nutrients present. This could help make food more secure while slowly reducing food insecurity. GM crops could provide farmers’ with economic benefits; positively influencing their accessibility to food. A huge number of the undernourished, consist of farmers whose crops are commercialized to a smaller range. Ever since insect-resistant GM cotton was adopted in India, the calories consumed and the quality of the diets of the farming households, have increased due to an increase in family incomes. This also reduced food security among cotton-producing households by 15-20%.
One of the benefits of GM crops is that they can be modified into being healthier. One example of this is Golden Rice. Golden rice is a rich source of Vitamin A, as it contains a high level of Beta-carotene. Several people in LEDCs have vitamin A deficiency (VAD); which is a serious public health issue in many places in Asia, as it could cause child mortality and blindness in people of all ages worldwide. Many scientists and humanitarians believe that this could be the solution to VAD, as rice is a huge part of the Asian diet, with over 4 million people consuming it in places with high rates of VAD. Farmers who grow rice have been trying to include the characteristics in varieties from these places. The Philippines is looking to include the types of rice that are similar to the Golden Rice to produce; while Bangladesh is likely to sanction the production in 2019.
Social and political issues seem to be a bigger reason in GMOs being unable to provide relief to the LEDCs, than the technology itself. Many burdensome regulations that have been established in countries that frequently suffer from famines, especially many African nations; reduce the growth and import of GM produce. A cause for the regulations is the opposition by groups such as the African Center for Biosafety and SAFeAGE, and also the stiff restrictions on GM foods from international partnerships with Europe. Another factor would be the political and social situations, and groups, such as HarvestPlus, that conducts research on how to improve crops and methods of farming to help solve World Hunger in developing countries; without modifying the genes of the plants, or conducting DNA transplants.
Since GMOs are a fairly new practice, there is a negative stigma around it as not a lot is known about its effect; making people skeptical about using it. Some believe that GM products contain genes from allergens, causing allergic reactions. Some researchers also believe that they might be cancer-causing since the genetic mutations might be harmful to the body if consumed. The increase in antibacterial resistance makes people question the reliability of GMOs. There are also concerns related to whether the crop’s resistance to diseases and tolerance towards herbicides, could affect people’s immune system. This is because there is a possibility of the genes of the crop mix in with the cells or bacteria of the gut, making the body more antibiotic-resistant; which reduces the chances of people having a healthy recovery, and the situation to worsen.
In conclusion, GM crops and products have the ability to decrease world hunger; but not completely solve it. As mentioned earlier, GM crops provide farmers with socio-economic benefits, by increasing their productivity rates and incomes, while also securing their access to proper food; letting them consume the required amounts of nutrients and calories, and a more stable revenue. This as a result helps in supporting many farmers, in turn helping out a huge proportion of starving people, and provide them with a healthier life. Despite their benefits, their reliability is questionable, as they may contain genes from allergens, possibly carry genetic mutations that could be harmful to the health if consumed, and be antibacterial-resistant; potentially creating unwanted risks for those who consume them. They also created a huge hike in the cost of seeds, resulting in challenges for farmers, as they now have a tighter budget to supply for huge demands. Growing GM crops, creates more challenges for both conventional farmers and GMO farmers, as “genetic drifts” causes huge changes to plants, and also risks non-GMO farmers to lose their organic certification. In return, it ends up burdening these farmers as the seed companies can’t be held responsible due to weak regulations, and causes economic losses. Apart from these disadvantages, GM crops could be modified into being healthier and more nutritious, which could provide people with a better diet, and help the millions of starving people, especially in Africa and Asia; where a lot of them live in poverty and don’t have access to proper food.
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