Gmo’s and the Hungry World Genetically Modified Foods and the Hungry World

Download 80.86 Kb.
Size80.86 Kb.

Genetically Modified Foods and the Hungry World:

A Solution With Problems

Rachel Lapidus

City College of New York


Genetically modified (GM) foods have become commonplace in our world. They are present in many foods in the first world, from High Fructose Corn Syrup to the feed given to livestock. They came into common usage, seemingly overnight, without satisfactory study or scientific understanding. Many bio-tech companies (the companies who develop and produce genetically modified foods) and the advertising agencies they’ve hired have taken advantage of the confusion to promote the use of GM foods for their own profit. Governments have taken actions for and against GMOs (genetically modified organisms), often with very little information to guide them. In the hope of fostering more reasoned discussion, this paper will provide some background about the process of genetic modification, the following examples will discuss the process of genetic modification, its potential benefits, its potential risks, and the global effects of their use.

Keywords: GMO, GM food, genetically modified, bio-tech, agriculture, Monsanto

Genetically modified organisms, sometimes known as GMO’s, are plants or animals that are created through the process of genetic engineering. Genetically modified (or GM) foods are commonly offered as a solution to world hunger, because they take less time to produce larger crops. They have gained increased use because they can grow bigger and faster than regular crops in more difficult environments. They seem to defeat pests that have plagued farmers for generations. But their common use has reshaped the entire farming industry. Small farms that cannot afford the cost of genetically modified seed are forced out of business by larger companies. As large agricultural corporations plant across their giant farms with genetically modified seed, the local environment adapts and changes creating large portions of land that can only grow crops from genetically modified seed. This will eventually restrict the amount and type of food that can be grown. GMO’s have become the main ingredient in a hungrier world.

The most attractive quality of genetically modified, or GM, foods is the claim that they can provide a solution to the global hunger crisis. With genetic engineering, it seems suddenly possible to solve many of the problems that plague food production worldwide. “Most GM crops are either insect-resistant (that is, produce their own pesticide), herbicide-tolerant or sometimes both” (Cotter, 2011).

This seems an easy way to make life better for farmers across the world. The larvae European Corn Borer Moth can devastate a farmer’s entire crop. But by genetically engineering the crops, suddenly this pest is no longer a problem. In Hawaii, the Ring Spot virus attacks papaya trees, leaving them unable to produce fruit, if not killing them entirely. In 1999, they implemented a genetically engineered strain of papaya that resists the virus. It has remained in heavy use ever since (Hartl, 2011).

The theoretical usefulness of GM crops extends beyond resolving production issues to potentially solving malnutrition problems. In 2000, a biologist named Potrykus released news of a potentially life-saving genetically modified crop called golden rice. This quickly caught the attention of large corporations such as Monsanto, a leading GMO seller. Monsanto prides itself on advanced plant breeding and biotechnology that uses chemicals and genetic engineering to “enhance” plants. Many critics of Monsanto claim they are trying to push the genetically modified processes on the world and have long been looking for a seemingly beneficial plant to help push their agenda. Despite its initial success, golden rice, the poster child for GMO’s across the world, has begun to garner criticism. After over a decade, now that the first long-term studies are nearing completion, some researchers have come to the conclusion that golden rice is a far-fetched, glamorized idea. Besides the environmental and economic impacts of the grain, malnourished people are not able to absorb Vitamin A in this form; a young boy would have to eat close to thirty bowls of golden rice a day in order to satisfy his minimum requirement for the vitamin (Taverne, 2007).

The marketing divisions of many biotech companies take advantage of the confusion about how GMO’s are made and limited studies. Confronting the major players of these groups will get unsure mixed answers as to the genetically modified organisms’ dangers, and that genetically modified organisms are the solution to world hunger, but very little information about the actual process (Vernon, 2007). It is therefore important to note that the process of genetic engineering is different from the more common practice of cross-breeding. The process of crossbreeding can only combine related organisms, has been used for centuries, and has few associated health risks. Genetic manipulation takes dominant genes from one organism to replace weaker, less-resistant genes in another and easily creates a genetic exchange that is completely impossible in nature. The purpose is to insert genes from a donor organism carrying a desired trait into an organism that does not have the trait (Hart, 2002).

Humans may make many improvements in the world through technology, but when humans start to tamper with the natural order of life and growth, such as changing and reconstructing the genetic layouts of plants and animals, it creates unpredictable chains of long and short term events. These events are potentially irreversible and are something not to be taken lightly when considering food is a major means to survival. “If Nature has spent millions of years building a structure with natural boundaries, it must be there on purpose. It is there to guide the evolution of life and to maintain its integrity. Using genetic engineering in agriculture is like trying to fix something that has nothing wrong with it in the first place,” said Dr. Antoniou of molecular genetics (Tyson, 2001).

Genetic engineers can pull a desired gene from virtually any living organism and insert it into virtually any other organism. Many labs use animal genes to enhance agricultural crops against weather conditions and disease factors. Scientists can put a rat gene into lettuce to make a plant that produces vitamin C (Hart, 2002). However, the DNA code inside every plant and animal cell is controlled by a complex chemical network that regulates how the cell interprets the DNA. Exactly how this happens is currently unknown. Inserting DNA via the genetic engineering process can cause dramatic and unexpected reactions within the cell. Many times scientists and genetic engineers are unable to predict exactly what will happen when they insert a new gene. Sometimes adding one piece of DNA will result in a cell destroying large portions of it DNA. Sometimes it results in the creation of entirely new genetic code (Cotter, 2011):

“Unexpected and unknown fragments of genetic material have been found in commercial GM crops (P. Windels, et al. European Food Research Technology, 2001). Examples include: Roundup Ready soya (A. Rang, et al. European Food Research Technology, 2004) and insect resistant maize, MON810 (M. Hernandez, et al. Transgenic Research, 2003)” (Cotter, 2011).

In addition, genes can be suppressed or overexpressed, causing a wide variety of results. One such consequence of overexpression is cancer. Nutritional problems can also result from the transfer of genes. Genetically modified crops have been linked to health problems as diverse as reproductive damage, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes (Dach, n.d.).

Genetic disruption and instability is one of two major ways that genetic modification may affect our food supply. “[It] may lead to new toxins being produced; the new protein produced by the foreign gene may cause allergies or toxicity” (Cotter, 2011). Allergic reactions typically are caused by proteins which trigger an immune-response in the body. This is no small concern, as during the genetic modification process, nearly every transfer of genetic material from one host into a new one results in the creation of new proteins. This can increase the levels of a naturally occurring allergen already present in a food, or insert allergenic properties into a food that did not previously contain them, or even result in brand new allergens never before known (Vernon, 2007).

And the potential risks of GMO’s merely begin with allergens. The majority of genetically modified crops in cultivation are engineered to contain a gene for pesticide resistance. Most are “Roundup Ready,” meaning they can be sprayed with Monsanto’s glyphosate herbicide Roundup without being harmed. The idea is that if the crop itself is immune to Roundup, you can spray it to kill any weeds endangering the plant without worrying about harming your crop. But what about exposing the general population and the ecosystem to all of those chemicals? (Pringle, 2003).

Furthermore, genetic engineers rely heavily on the use of antibiotics during experiments. Not all host cells will take up foreign genes, so engineers attach a trait for a particular type of antibiotic resistance to the gene they introduce into host cells. After introducing the gene into the cells, the cells are then filled with the antibiotic to see which ones survive. The surviving cells are antibiotic-resistant, and therefore engineers know the seeds have taken up the foreign gene (Cotter, 2011). Although this may seem like a beneficial process that produces ideal genetically modified crops, one then has to think about the potentially fatal allergens and contaminants that consumers may now unknowingly consume to in their foods (Hart, 2002).

However, the overuse of antibiotics can potentially cause the development of antibiotic-resistant pathogens. Several health organizations, including the World Health Organization and the American Medical Association, have addressed the need for the use of these antibiotics to be discontinued as part of the process of making genetically modified foods. Preexisting germs or bacteria within the antibiotic-resistant test subject can create a “superbug”; meaning previously unknown strains of diseases or viruses that are resistant to antibiotic or anti-viral treatment (Cotter, 2011). Sometimes the dangers antibiotic resistance can be caused by things the GMO was designed to do. In the Philippines, many people eat GM corn designed to produce an insecticide called Bt toxin.

“[T]heir body processed engineered traits and reacted to them. The same consumers of the GMO corn in the Philippines developed a resistance to ampicillin [a commonly prescribed antibiotic]. Antibiotic resistance is something that science hadn’t counted on, which is indicative of questionable experimentation” (Group, 2006).

These unexpected dangers of GM foods are well-illustrated by the work of a Scottish scientist named Arpad Pusztai, who had previously been awarded a research grant to create a testing procedure for GMO’s (which unfortunately seems to have never been put into effect). Pusztai found disastrous results within just a few days of giving genetically altered potatoes to lab rats. The rats experienced severe health issues including the complete failure of the immune system as well as other vital organs. Pusztai discovered that it is not the actual additives within the potatoes that were damaging but rather something inherent in the gene splicing process itself. (Cummins, 2000). He also found that the nutrient value from potato to potato varied significantly, even among plants of the same generation (Smith, 2003). Many GM foods are vastly reduced in nutritional value as a result of the genetic modification process, as well as the processing of the food itself, creating the risk of malnutrition among first world populations (Roberts, 2008).

Researchers and doctors continue to gain reasons to believe that genetic modification of food also causes health problems among those who eat it (Australian Government, 2001). Numerous health problems increased after genetically modified organisms were introduced in 1996. The percentage of Americans with three or more chronic illnesses jumped from seven percent to thirteen percent in just nine years; food allergies skyrocketed, and disorders such as autism, reproductive disorders and digestive problems are on the rise (Dech, n.d.). And the linked percentage of obesity, diabetes and cancer has since increased by an amount that cannot be ignored (Australian Government, 2001).

Those against genetic modification often raise the issue that the industry is unable to, or rarely tries to prove that the new proteins in foods do not contain allergens, contaminants, or other dangerous health effects. The U. S. Government does not require biotechnology companies to test for allergens. Many new GMO’s are approved for public consumption without very much testing at all. For a company this makes sense. Reasons such as time, research expense, market control, and the fact that testing most often does not work in the companies favor provide them plenty of incentive to leave their products untested (Nestle, 2003). But for the world’s population, this is dangerous. When asked if genetically modified foods might pose health risks for certain people, Dr. Martha R. Herbert, a pediatric neurologist stated:

“Today the vast majority of foods in supermarkets contain genetically modified substances whose effects on our health are unknown. As a medical doctor, I can assure you that no one in the medical profession would attempt to perform experiments on human subjects without their consent. Such conduct is illegal and unethical. Yet manufactures of genetically altered foods are exposing us to one of the largest uncontrolled experiments in modern history” (Tyson, 2001).

Although there is not sufficient research to confirm that genetically modified organisms are a contributing factor, some medical groups, such as the American Academy of Doctors, state that if emergency medicine tells us not to wait before we start protecting ourselves, and especially our children who are most at risk, then we must begin immediately protecting ourselves from GMO’s. The potential hazards are too difficult to predict or identify immediately (Dech, n.d.).

Much of the current basis for labeling the use of GM crops as safe to use comes from an initial study done in 1975. The scientists reviewing potential risks of genetically modified foods considered their work to be of high importance and stated that if the foods did come with health risks, those risks would be small in comparison to the benefits of such crops. Their findings were especially valuable to the GMO industry, because at first glance, genetically modified crops seemed to pose no health risks at all. This initial study has many critics who disagree, stating genetic mutation and manipulations carried bacteria responsible for diseases in plants, antibiotic resistance, as well as a number of other factors unknown in the beginning of genetic transferring (Nestle, 2003).

In 1992, Calgene, Inc. introduced a new type of tomato called the Flavr Savr (pronounced “flavor saver”). The new tomato would be resistant to rotting and thus could be allowed to ripen naturally instead of being picked green and ripening during the shipping process. In 1994, the USFDA approved it for use with a glowing recommendation. It would require no label, and its test performance would be allowed to stand in for testing on other GM foods. Most disturbing of all: “The FDA suppressed reports describing deaths and stomach lesions in rats that had eaten the Flavr Savr®. The Flavr Savr failure has not been an isolated incident” (Group, 2006).

It was not until 1995 that Arpad Pusztai, along with other members of his team at the Rowett Institute in Scotland, was awarded the research grant in order to devise the first official standard of testing for genetically modified foods so that Britain and eventually the European Union could have a basis for determining the safety of the individual GMO's proposed by bio-tech companies. About two years into their research, Professor Philip James, the director of the Rowett Institute, brought the team about 700 pages of proposals for GMO's, and told them they had less than three hours to make recommendations for the British Ministry of Agriculture, who would be making decisions on them that afternoon. The team didn't actually need three hours, since not one of the reports contained enough data to support the safety of the genetically modified food. So, Pusztai called the minister to urge him to refuse the proposals (Smith, 2003).

"I told the minister, on the basis of what we had seen so far, even with just two and a half hours of review, I advised him to be extremely cautious and not accept it," said Pusztai. "And then he said something on the phone which I found really amazing: 'I don't know why you are telling me this, Professor James has already accepted it"' (Smith, 2003).

Not only had Professor James already made the decision to accept and approve these GMO's, so had the ministry, two years earlier, around the time that Pusztai's research grant had been awarded. The actual hope had been for Pusztai to provide the ministry with some comforting platitudes to pass along to the over 58 million people of Britain who had been unknowingly eating genetically modified produce for nearly two years (Smith, 2003).

“[I]t’s often not clear which consumables have been genetically manipulated. This is because currently, in the United States, food companies are not required to tell you if their products contain GMOs. The federal government has declared it’s their choice, not yours, to know what’s in the food you eat” (Group, 2006).

In the United States, GM crops are not required by law to be labeled as GMO’s not list warnings for the products used in their creation process. In fact, the United States regulatory system is equipped to deal with problems occurring with genetically modified foods only after they occur. (Dach, n.d). The government has yet to agree on what is meant by genetic modification, genetic modified organism, or even living modified organisms. And the definition is complicated further with the expansion on products that are part of the genetically modified process it is no longer as simple as dichotomy (safe vs. not safe) when looking at the amounts of arsenic in foods. Now one must question how much is safe and what, then, is the definition of safe (Mc Hughen, 2000). When more than sixty percent of all processed foods on U.S. supermarket shelves contain ingredients from engineered soybeans, corn, or canola, this is not an insignificant consideration (Hart, 2001).

Most of the health and environmental risks of genetically modified organism are ignored by the few superficial regulations and safety assessments in place. The reason for this tragedy is largely political. The United States Food and Drug Administration does not require a single safety study, does not mandate labeling of genetically modified organism and allows companies to put their genetically modified foods onto the market without even notifying the agency. Secret agency memos, made public by a lawsuit, show that the overwhelming consensus even among the Food and Drug Administration's’ own scientists was that genetically modified organisms can create unpredictable, hard-to-detect side effects. They urged long-term safety studies. However, the White House had instructed the FDA to promote biotechnology. The agency official in charge of policy was Michael Taylor, Monsanto’s former attorney, later their vice president. He’s now the United States Food Safety Czar. (Richards, 2010).

Many citizens and scientists alike are concerned about the amount of secrecy this lack of regulation permits companies to maintain (Dach, n.d.). With genetically modified foods being able to pass over the labeling process the consumer does not know what they are eating and has no option of choosing not to buy foods with genetically modified ingredients. If the consumer does get sick from a genetically modified food, with fewer ingredients and components tracked, it will be more difficult to trace the illness back to its source (Vernon, 2007).

The confusion even extends to the international scale. Because of international negotiations and mass confusion about official definitions there is much debate regarding what should be allowed into countries that do not support genetically modified crops (McHughen, 2000). “In 2006, Japan suspended long grain rice imports from the US after tests revealed that the rice contained trace amounts of GMO that were not approved for human consumption” (Group, 2006).

Many countries attempting to ban genetically modified organism fall foul of free trade laws. Europe banned the import of United States beef treated with growth and other hormones, and the United States lodged a formal world trade organization complaint. Europe had based their ban on a scientific report showing that the hormones added to United States beef were cancer-causing, yet another health risk of genetically modified products. However, the World Trade Organization ruled that Europe did not present a valid scientific case to refuse import, and Europe was forced to pay $150 million annually for lost United States profits (Victor, 2001).

The expressed will of the majority of countries in Europe and much of the rest of the world has been trampled upon for the gain of private genetic companies. No international legal framework exists to deal with these new technologies, and developing countries in particular are calling for a fair liability and compensation system. The differences in forging policies concerning genetically engineered foods are causes of many protests and create a large amount of propaganda for both sides of the issue (Cummings, 2010).

Theoretically, by creating labels for genetically-modified crops and requiring their use in supermarkets, GMO and non-GMO foods can co-exist in the free market. Monsanto themselves work hard to convince food distributors and merchants that genetically modified organisms, non- genetically modified organisms, and organic crops can co-exist, hoping to leave the issue to “consumer choice.” Relegating the issue to “consumer choice” keeps the challenge fair only if people are really concerned and educated about what they are consuming (Vernon, 2007). The segregation of genetically modified organisms and non- genetically modified organisms is such a complicated process that it would require doubling the work and expense for the FDA approval process (McHughen, 2000).

For genetically modified foods to be used safely, total reform is needed from the state level to the international level. An effective protocol must give states and countries the right to individually apply the precautionary principle when deciding whether or not to allow the import, introduction, transfer, handling or use of genetically modified foods or their products within their territory. Similarly all states should be able to take full account of socio-economic impact within their territory when taking decisions on genetically modified foods and their products (Cummings, 2010).

But better testing protocol and application procedures first must be approved and put into effect. The story of Dr. Pusztai’s research grant is altogether too common. Genetically modified foods are approved for public use on the basis of insufficient and incomplete research. Recently in Australia, an audit was conducted of Food Standards Australia New Zealand (also known as FSANZ) to determine the effectiveness of their process for reviewing GM foods. “The Auditor found that FSANZ has no procedure for ensuring the data provided by corporate applicants is actually correct and complete. They found gaps in supporting data and evidence that some applications were approved (ANAO, Food Standards Australia New Zealand, 2010), despite these gaps” (Cotter, 2011).

These things might seem obvious, but they are directly opposed by the biotech industries. Monsanto and other sponsors of biotechnology continually tell the public that genetic engineering is necessary for the world’s food supply is to keep up with population growth. But even with nearly one hundred million acres planted, their products have yet to do anything to reverse the spread of hunger. There is no more food available for the world's’ less fortunate. In fact, most of their testing fields grow transgenic soybeans and corn that are destined for livestock feed. Neither Monsanto nor any of the other genetic engineering companies appear to be developing genetically engineered crops that may solve global food shortages.

Monsanto knew the risks and costs of producing golden rice, as well as the ineffectiveness of its vitamin A compound. Yet Monsanto and their cohorts still spent fifty million dollars on the golden rice ad campaign. That’s more than the company spent on developing the rice in the first place. Imagine if that money had been spent on irrigation projects in sub-Saharan Africa, or given as microloans to start-up farmers in Southeast Asia. Monsanto and the other biotech companies aren't developing these seeds with the intention of giving them away in efforts to benefit the world (Taverne, 2007).

These are for-profit companies creating these seeds with the intent of licensing them for a profit. At the end of the day, for Monsanto along with all the other major corporations, the main objective isn’t solving world hunger. It’s making money. The companies invest millions of dollars in developing genetic crops so they can patent them and recoup their investment. (Taverne, 2007). The companies that create GMO’s work hard to maintain control of them, vastly limiting who has the ability to benefit from them. Genetic modification technology permits companies to ensure that everything America eats is owned by them. These companies can patent the seeds and the processes which give rise to them. The companies can make sure that crops can't be grown without patented chemicals, prevent seeds from reproducing themselves, and buy up competing seed companies to close them down. In this way, just one or two companies can capture the entire food market, the biggest and most diverse market of all (Hart, 2001).

In January of 1999, an employee of Arthur Anderson Consulting Group, the marketing firm which had been representing Monsanto for some time, came forward and explained how his company had helped Monsanto to create and carry out a plan to do just that:

“First, they asked Monsanto what their ideal future looked like in fifteen to twenty years. Monsanto executives described a world with 100 percent of all commercial seeds genetically modified and patented. Anderson Consulting then worked backward from that goal, and developed the strategy and tactics to achieve it. They presented Monsanto with the steps and procedures needed to obtain a place of industry dominance in a world in which natural seeds were virtually extinct" (Smith, 2003).

The first action was for Monsanto to buy up as many other bio-tech companies and seed patents as they could. The purchase of about twenty-three percent of the world’s seed companies, including the company that produced the Flavr Savr tomato, left Monsanto the global leader in patents on genetically modified foods. They hold roughly ninety-one percent of the world GM food market (Smith, 2003).

The ownership by large companies of biotechnology genetic information is crippling public-sector efforts to use this technology to address the needs of subsistence farmers. The large companies that control the industry are not devoting significant resources to developing seed technology for subsistence farmers because the investment offers minimal returns. Genetic modification has created a surplus of first generation crops, also referred to as staple crops. The major first generation crops are corn, soybean and cotton. These are not the primary crops of human food production.

These companies are also cheating the free exchange of seeds and techniques vital to public agricultural research programs, which are already under severe financial constraints. The majority of production comes from the support of the following companies, Monsanto, DuPont, AgEvo, Zeneca, Pioneer, and Novartis (Ackerman). Genetic Use Restriction Technology (also known as T-GURT) is utilized by both Monsanto and AstroZeneca to create sterile plants that cannot produce their own seed. Even companies that do not utilize T-GURT may require a farmer to sign an agreement that forbids them from re-planting GM seed. Instead of utilizing the age-old practice of saving some of the harvest to seed the next year’s crops, farmers must buy new seed from these companies each year (Group, 2006).

Furthermore, GM crops often require the use of specialized chemicals, equipment, and additional water. This mono-crop model is potentially devastating to the smaller, independent farms who don’t have an enormous corporate backing to support themselves with. With everything invested in hundreds of acres of a single crop a tiny shift of the market could destroy a self-reliant farmer (Pawlick, 2006).

The GMO’s themselves are capable of great adaptation. Genetically modified organisms can cross pollinate, allowing the seeds to travel and interbreed with unmodified species. It may be impossible to fully clean up our contaminated gene pool. Self-propagating GMO pollution could easily outlast the effects of global warming and nuclear waste. The potential impact is huge, threatening the health of future generations. Genetically modified organism contamination has also caused economic losses for organic and non-genetically modified organism farmers who often struggle to keep their crops pure.

Because of this, it is nearly impossible for a farmer to produce both GMO and non-GMO crops separately, even with so-called buffer zones, (an area between the two crop fields), which are useless against the wind and drift seeds (Vernon, 2007). It is also common for a farmer to blend genetically modified seed with regular seed in order to keep their planting costs down. Even Monsanto has been accused multiple times of refusing to segregate many of their major genetically modified crops from those untouched by the process (McHughen, 2000). So, while the market may be open to GMO and non-GMO products, a farmer must make the choice one way or the other where it is not legislated for him (Vernon, 2007).

While a farmer may make the decision to raise non-GMO produce, if a neighbor plants genetically modified seed upwind of his crops, his crop may be contaminated with the GMO’s. And the farmer may have the further misfortune to be sued by Monsanto or whatever company owns the seed for using their product without paying the license fee. One such company buried a poor man, who makes a living off cleaning other farmers' seeds, in lawsuits, claiming that he encouraged farmers to break the patent law.

And the companies aren’t just taking money out of the pockets of small farms. For years the U. S. government has been subsidizing staple crops in America and abroad. This expense, especially given the slow recovery of the global economy, is completely unsustainable. “Where protection against imports can no longer be provided at will and export subsidies will have to be cut back, there is the danger that domestic subsidies will be used instead” (Pawlick,2006). These companies have a gained a monopoly over America's food industry.

All magic comes with a price, if people can't afford to buy genetically modified seeds, or if they can't afford the fertilizers, pesticides and water the seeds require, they will not benefit from the qualities of the foods. Instead the starving will continue to be used as the poster child for companies to gain the support of the real people who will be consuming these foods, the overly fed and the wealthy; people forget that hunger and poverty go hand in hand (Taverne, 2007). Large companies own the farms, and by extension, the farmers, who often earn less than the cost of production for the crops and animals that they bring to the market (Weber, 2009).

Much of this is the imposition of agricultural and bio-tech corporations: the global industrialization of food. And genetically modified foods continue to be its largest contributing factor. The globalization of agriculture means the rapid transport of food over long distances and across national borders. This increases the risk of diseases traveling to different parts of the world where plants, animals and humans may be more susceptible. The global industrialization of food production pushes small, self-reliant farmers away and replaces them with corporate chemically-enhanced farms in order to encourage exports in a monoculture crop. It causes many under-developed countries to rely on other countries: the developed countries with large companies that have the means to produce the crop. The net effect has been to allow the powerful monopoly of five grain trading giants to dramatically increase the volume of food commodities globally, ruining millions of family farmers worldwide in the process, while maximizing their private corporate profits.

In addition to having massive health and economic effects, the use of GMO’s has an environmental impact. Poor farming practices, deforestation, over cropping and overgrazing are exhausting the Earth's fertility and spreading the roots of hunger. Increasingly, the world's fertile farmland is under threat from erosion, salination and desertification. (Christopher, 1988). These, along with soil pollution and soil degradation ruin land for future generations of farm use. For example, the “miracle crop” golden rice cannot grow in the arid soil found in many of the parts of the world that are facing drastic hunger. To grow properly, it requires heavy use of fertilizers and pesticides, expensive inputs unaffordable to the very people that the variety is supposed to help. Golden rice also requires large amounts of water (Taverne, 2007).

The act of “watering plants”, when performed on an industrial scale, can bring difficulties and cause a great deal of damage to a region, from the increased spread of desert drought to severe flooding. Genetically modified crops need a large amount of water, water that cannot always be supplied reliably to farms. At least twenty percent of the world’s yearly renewable water supply is too remote from population to be of use. Many farmers can neither afford costly irrigation projects, nor have the education or access to be aware of them. Furthermore, when plants are watered, a large proportion of the water used is lost as run-off, which can suddenly flood in an area that, because of more arid natural conditions, has inadequate drainage for so much water. The run-off carries chemicals used on the crops into the surrounding environment where it contaminates the natural ecosystem. Thus, the creation of heavy monoculture crops has also affected the biodiversity of traditional agriculture. (Pawlick, 2007).

Herbicide tolerant crops, like those in Monsanto’s “Round-Up Ready” line, actively encourage the over-use of herbicides, and it is easy to contaminate the environment with them. The environmental impact of the use of glyphosate (Monsanto’s Round-Up) and glufosinate (Liberty Link’s competing herbicide) has been vastly understated until recent years. Not only has Round-Up shown itself to be toxic to tadpoles and other amphibious larvae, but its effects on soil microbes can cause nutrient deficiency in the plants it is meant to help. Furthermore the weeds themselves are adapting and becoming resistant to these chemicals and surviving herbicidal treatments. When a farmer reacts by spraying again, he not only increases the toxic load to the environment, he encourages the adaptation of the weeds (Cotter, 2011).

Insects, too, will eventually adapt to our chemical techniques and evolve in order to continue feasting. Crops are generally engineered to produce a bacterial toxin by the name of Bacillus thuringiensis (or Bt).These crops are based on modifications of single genes that theoretically allow the amount of pesticides to be reduced, as this toxin is commonly sprayed as an effective and natural pesticide (Taverne, 2007). However, when produced by the crop itself, the toxin is much stronger and kills far more insects than a single spray application would (Cotter, 2011). These crops that continuously make Bt toxins may hasten the evolution of insects impervious to the pesticide (Pawlick, 2006). Furthermore, new pest insects are coming to fill the niche left by Bt sensitive pests. Such a breed of insect, by becoming resistant to Bt toxins, would rob many farmers of one of their safest, most environmentally friendly tools for fighting the pests. For this reason, many farmers like to use beneficial insects instead of or as a supplement to insecticides. But crops that produce Bt can damage many of these such as green lacewings, butterflies, ladybugs, and bees (Cotter, 2011).

People are understandably reluctant to the practicality of solving world hunger by creating a surplus of food merely because the food can potentially shorten the lifespans of the people who consume it or destroy the land where it is grown. We could always find a way to make things less dangerous. It would all be worthwhile if we could just solve the global hunger crisis. At the surface, as many bio-tech companies present it, it seems a simple problem with a simple solution: If people are hungry, there must not be enough food to eat. By growing more food, we can be sure that people will have enough to eat. Bio-tech companies often tout the increased production as a sign of success of the genetic modification industry. If this were true, if genetic engineering companies were actually creating a surplus of food in order to end, or even decrease, the hunger crisis, one could then consider the pros and cons of what genetically modified foods are all about (Australian Government, 2001).

But this is the simple logic of a small village, not of a global society. The evidence that this is wrong is in the statistics. “The World Health Organization estimates that over a billion people suffer from hunger worldwide. That's despite the fact that more food is being produced than ever before “(Hartl, 2011).

The first thing to take into account is that much of the “food” that makes up that statistic is never intended to go to any person’s plate. More than thirty percent “of the world's arable land is used to grow animal feed - corn, grain and soy beans” (Hartl, 2011). GMOs are desirable as animal feed because it has components to increase the growth rate and the ability to gain fat quickly (Smith, 2003).

Our land is also being increasingly devoted to gasoline alternatives. In Brazil, Bayer Crop Science is using sugar cane to produce one such fuel."’Sugarcane is the most productive cultivated plant for cost-efficient renewable energy with the best CO2 balance,’ says Joachim Schneider, head of the BioScience department” (Hartl, 2011). The genetically modified version they are working on is expected to contain around forty percent more sugar than traditional sugar cane (Hartl, 2011).

But even taking into account all of the production devoted to indirect consumption, there is still an enormous amount of food being produced in the world every year. We must come to realize that food is distributed across the globe evenly. It’s a little easier to notice when you realize that more than two-thirds of the world adheres to a vegetarian diet, and we spend almost half of our food production resources producing meat.

Many do not think about their food security, meaning the balance of what and how food gets delivered from the producer to the grocery store to your home. Roberts explains that while we have become accustomed to a food industry which efficiently delivers food, we have chosen this with a cost that is not sustainable. The current food distribution systems are causing more problems with food delivery as well as potentially destroying farmers’ lifestyles when they miss a deadline or lose their crop to natural causes (Roberts, 2008). Industrial farming traps people in the web of food insecurity where they are forced to play endless catch-up through years of bad harvests due to global warming, the market effects of futures speculation for both agricultural commodities and biofuels, random changes in public consumption, and the unjust and unequal way that food is distributed. “This problem is not restricted to the Global South. In 2005, one in 20 Victorians [residents of Victoria, Australia] experienced food insecurity” (Cotter, 2011).

Even the increase in production is uneven. Global acreage planted in genetically engineered foods grew nearly 25-fold in the three years after 1996, the first year of large-scale commercialization. Yet this enormous growth took place almost entirely in only three countries. In 1999, the United States by itself accounted for seventy-two percent of the growth. Argentina was responsible for another twenty-seven percent and Canada weighed in with another ten percent. These three countries together accounted for ninety-nine percent of the entire world’s genetically modified foods. This revolution left places such as Africa out of food due to the natural staple crops of their regions being given less priority, and less land (Pringle, 2003). The GMO revolution has increased food-production worldwide, but the increase was limited to areas that already had some success in food production. Staple crops only succeed readily in regions where the crops were able to be grown previously without genetic modification. There is little help from GMO’s where crops are already difficult to grow (Pringle, 2003).

In the starving parts of the world, very little food is delivered to the people from the Agro-Industrial Complex. Many developing countries lack key agricultural infrastructure, roads, warehouses and irrigation. The results are high transport costs, lack of storage facilities and unreliable water supplies. All conspire to limit agricultural yields and access to food. Although the majority of developing countries depend on agriculture, their governments’ economic planning often emphasizes urban development (Christopher, 1988). According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, the countries that are on track to reach the first Millennium Development Goal have something in common: significantly better than average agricultural growth (Pringle, 2003).

In the developing world, many small farms can do nothing against the large corporations that have overtaken the land and destroyed their livelihood. Farmers often cannot afford seeds to plant the crops that would provide for their people. Some lack the land, or water or education to lay the foundations for a secure future. The people in poverty do not have enough money to buy or to produce enough food for themselves and their people. These lands tend to be weaker and cannot produce enough crops to sell to buy more food. The poor are hungry and their hunger becomes a method of trapping them them in poverty.

Meanwhile, in the first world, food has turned from a necessity to a commodity: a social event of feasting that has created a demand for foods that thrive on the genetically modified process. The change in this attitude toward food opens first-world nations up to increased rates of heart-disease, obesity, diabetes, and more (Australian Government, 2001).

People do not starve because there isn’t enough food to go around. There is an incredible amount of food that is wasted in the United States every day. Go to any local grocery store or restaurant and look behind the building. Grocery stores and restaurants always have large dumpsters. They need them because they throw away a lot of food. In nearby New York City, large black trash bags full of food often sit on sidewalks, left there by delis or restaurants after closing. Sometimes people will scavenge the food. More often, it ends up in a landfill. In our society, ss the amount of food increases, so does the amount of waste, and so does the population of people who are starving.

Why are tomatoes from Mexico and quinoa from Bolivia are being shipped to the US when those nations cannot feed their own people? Why thousands of acres of farmland here in the US are devoted to huge amounts of corn and soy beyond our nation’s consumption, rather than growing our own domestic tomatoes and quinoa? And as first world consumers grow larger from the surplus of food, starving nations are still facing the same problems as they were before (Australian Government, 2001). To solve this, we must not only ask some hard questions, but also be willing to make some difficult changes.

“While nearly one billion people worldwide are overweight or obese, the same number of people-one in seven of us- can’t get enough food to eat. Food is cheaper and easier to get now than at any time in history, offers the most dramatic proof that the modern food economy is failing catastrophically” (Roberts, 2008).

The way we bring food to our tables has changed drastically in the past fifty years. America is no longer a nation of farmers. When most areas had many local farms, a farm’s annual yield could support about six people. Now, one single farm feeds around 125 people. People have become removed from the farming process; instead we've become strictly consumers, the places in which the food being grown are highly mechanized factories. Today, farmers grow one crop of staple foods such as soybeans, corns, cows, chickens, pigs, etc. in mass quantities (Weber, 2009).

Food, Inc. stated that there is a "veil" between the consumer and the story behind the products we see on our supermarket shelves. The companies don't want us to know about their poor business practices, as it may provoke us to boycott their food. Genetically modified crops are not only ineffective at fighting world hunger, but are a genuine threat to public health. Even if they became effective at feeding more individuals than traditional farming practices, one would then have to choose to suffer from disease or starvation (Weber, 2009).

Such statements about the use of GMO’s have led to a change in public opinion about their use over time. Increased attention and concern has led to the funding of new research. A team of nine hundred scientists and researchers were funded by the World Bank and United Nations, to create an organization known as the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development. This group was tasked with examining the complex issue of world hunger, specifically to analyze if world hunger could be ended with a modified seed. Although the issue of world hunger has a lot of aspects to account for, the group found that genetically modified crops are not a meaningful solution to the problem (Weber, 2009).


Christopher, J. (1988). The Hunger Road. New York: Mac Millan Publishing.
Cotter, J. (2011). Busting the Myths. The Conversation Media Group, Retrieved from
Cummins, R. (2000). Genetically Engineered Food. New York: Marlowe & Compa
Dach, J. (n.d.). Gmo Food Scandal. Natural Solutions with Bio Identical Hormones,

Retrieved from

Fedoroff, N. (1999). Mendel in the Kitchen. Washington DC: Joseph Henry Press.
Group, F. E. (2006). Genetically Modified Foods. Global Healing Center, Retrieved from
(2011). Genetcally Modified Food Explained. Australian Government, Retrieved from
Hart, K. (2002). Eating in the Dark. New York: Pantheon Books.
Hartl, J. (2001). Genetically Modified Food to Fight Hunger. The Hungry World, Retrieved from
Herda, D. J. (1990). Land and Abuse. New York, London, Sydney: Library of Congress.
Lappe, A. (2010). Diet for a Hot Planet. New York: Bloomsbury.
Mc Gonvern, G. (2001). The Third Freedom. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Mc Hughen, A. (2000). Pandora's Picnic Basket. New York: Oxford Press.
Nestle, M. (2003). Safe Food. California: California Press.
Pringle, P. (2003). Food inc.. New York: Simon&Schuster.
Pawlikc, T. (2006). The End of Food. New Jersey: Barricade Books Inc.
Richards, B. (2010). Health Scandal. News With Views, Retrieved from
Roberts, P. (2008). The End of Food. Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Smith, Jeffery M. (2003). Seeds of Deception. Fairfield, Iowa: Yes! Books.
Taverne, D. (2007). The Great GM Food Scandal. Prospect, Retrieved from
Tyson, P. (2001). Should We Grow GM Crops. Harvest of Fear, doi: Should we grow them
Vernon, J. (2007). Hunger; A Modern History. London, Massachusetts: Belknap Press.
Victor, D. (2001). Trade, Science, and Genetically Modified Foods. Council Foreign Relations, Retrieved from
Weber, K. (2009). Food inc.. New York: Participation Media.

Download 80.86 Kb.

Share with your friends:

The database is protected by copyright © 2023
send message

    Main page