Could GM crops be the answer to a starving population?
Global population is still rising fast, and a rising global population means more mouths to feed. Unfortunately almost all of this increase will occur in developing countries, particularly Africa. These are the areas who not only can’t feed all the people they have at the moment but are also most likely to be affected by the consequences of climate change. Unreliable rains, flooding and rising temperatures are likely to make crops even more prone to failure. The only way to prevent this is through a new green revolution using GM crops.
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GM food could be developed to grow in poor soil areas
Rodomiro Ortiz, director of resource mobilisation at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre in Mexico, is currently conducting trials with GM crops to get them to grow is drought conditions. This would mean that foods could be cultured where organic foods would not be able to. This would mean those in third world countries could grow their own crops on their low nutrient content soil. This has the additional benefit of not impacting on the environment as no transport would be needed to take the food to the places where it is needed; this would have to occur with organic foods grown in areas of good soil and weather conditions.
GM foods could be manipulated to deal with global warming
The temperature of the earth is rising, and the rate of increase is itself increasing. As this continues, foods that grow now will not be acclimatised to the hotter conditions. Evolution takes many years and we simply do not have the time to starve while we wait for this to occur. Whilst there maybe a vast supply of food now, we need to look to the future and how our current crops will withstand our changing environment.
We can improve our food supply for the future if we invest in GM crops now. These crops can be made specifically to deal with the hotter conditions.
The problem is distribution not quantity
Bob Watson, the chief scientist at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), has stated that GM technology is over sold. The problem is not that there us not enough food, but that the food that is available is not being distributed. “Today the amount of food available per capita has never been higher, how costs are still low, and yet still around 900m people go to bed hungry every night” [[The Guardian, Science Blog, 23rd January 2009]]. Instead of money being invested into genetic modification, what needs to be looked at is which areas allow food to go to waste and which areas need food, then a redistribution needs to occur. Better transport and roads is where money should be invested. Not with potentially hazardous GM crops.
Common agricultural policy of Europe see many tones of food go to waste
The European Community set as one of its objectives ensuring that agricultural areas in Europe are not poor area. To increase the profitability of agricultural trade, Europe subsidises the costs of foods to European farmers by buying any surplus. Originally this was to encourage the agricultural markets in Europe so that the Community could become self sufficient. This plan worked, but perhaps all to well. Now, Europe owns a vast amount of surplus food which is either sold cheaply to third world markets, stored, or simply destroyed. The problem with dumping the food on third world markets is that then third world farmers make little or no profit from their crops, so they in turn have no incentive to become involved in agriculture. This distribution of food problem needs to be solved before GM crops are investigated as an option.
Whilst we may see food go to waste currently, in the future this may not be the case. The world’s population is increasing rapidly, and the predictions by the Royal Society show that the food supply we currently have cannot cater for the population boom that will occur in the future. By investing in GM crops research, something which there has not been enough of to say definitively whether GM foods are safe or not, we can hold the technology for future use. Whether we decide in the future that we need it, or that we do not need it is an issue for the future. The least we can do now is to invest in future technology so that a solution is there should we need it in the future. Leaving such research until there is not enough food everyone is not good enough; the research needs to be done before the problem occurs and the time is now.
Quality not quanitity.
These days we should look at the quality of food available not the quantity. GM crops have not been investigated thoroughly to asses whether they are safe for human consumption. The problem is not merely that ‘GM crops are not natural, and natural is best’ as some hard liners may argue. The problem is that Genetically Modified crops have their DNA taken from natural backgrounds and then are put in a completely new environment and it is hoped that they have similar effects. However, we cannot be one 100% cure that the DNA has not reacted with something in the new environment causing undesirable effects. It can be compared to a donkey and a horse cross breeding. Their DNA can produce a mule fawn, but mules are infertile and as such, they are not as productive as either the donkey or the horse. Similar problems in food can occur, and these risks should not be taken.
This argument asserts itself that the effects of GM foods are not investigated fully enough. Surely if GM crops can potentially save thousands of lives by providing themwith nutrition then we should not hault the progress of our investigation. The more we look into the technology the more we will discover. But this will not be done whilst Britain still has a ban on GM foods. Few research companies would be willing to invest capital into this area when such a ban is in place as it is an extra hurdle should the trials of GM foods be a success. If we perfected our techniques then the DNA would not change as a result of being in a different environment.
In addition, a mule may not be fertile, but it is still a living creature that has its uses. If GM foods were analogous to mules then I would consider them safe.
What do you think?