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Can Genetically Modified Food Feed the World: Agricultural and Biotechnological Perspective Research Paper


Introduction

Scientific innovations and modern technologies have continuously dominated global activities across all spheres of life. The unprecedented scientific knowledge is currently touching on human life coupled with influencing human lifestyle socially and economically and thus proving dilemmatic to both scientists and researchers.

Biotechnological advances have led to breakthroughs in progressing with new tools for crop improvements such as molecular Marker-Aided Selection (MAS) and the famous (GM), Genetic Modification (Khush, 2012). Genetically Modified Plants and animals have attracted endless public debates and excellent media attention since their emergence with individuals debating over GMOs’ impact on human health.

Developed nations have been at the forefront of generating and enforcing genetically modified corn, with their fellow counterparts in developing economies gradually espousing this technology. Due to the prevailing controversies, this paper investigates the global impact of Genetically Modified Food and answers the question: can genetically modified food feed the world.

Historical background

Historically, human scientific knowledge has evolved for several decades with the nineteenth and twentieth centuries experiencing surged scientific innovations touching on the entire human life. Conventionally, human beings have been experimenting with plants and animal for thousands of years.

Agricultural science and biotechnological knowledge existed a way back when common knowledge in science involved practices like tissue culture and grafting (O’Shea, 2011). The grafting technique has been quite popular in enhancing and modifying plants, especially those bearing fruits using scientific experiments.

Grafting became a contemporary issue globally, with several contests arising in countries like the US. The advent of grafting technique received oppositions from the public considering it unnatural. Tissue culture is also another technique that has consistently dominated biotechnology that produces large numbers of mutations (O’Shea, 2011). Just like other scientific methods, tissue culture has gradually become an acceptable way of crop production with regular adaption and undergoing numerous refinements.

After numerous substantial efforts by some scientists, judicial experts, philosophers, and even the entire public in both developed and developing economies against such scientific agricultural practices discounting the practice as unnatural, none seemed useful. Grafting and tissue culture continued dominating the farm sector and the biotechnological science. The tissue culture practice went on to dominate the animal breeding and animal feeding sector with several scientific foods emerging as animal feeds.

Currently, modernized biotechnology has allowed human beings to surpassingly exceed and ignore the psychological, reproductive blockades in the sense that “gene transfer among evolutionarily divergent organisms is now possible, and thus individual genes expressing certain traits in animals or microorganisms are compatible with the plant genome” (Maghari & Ardekani, 2011, p.114).

Therefore, all living things are currently capable of exchanging genetic materials scientifically amongst each other through biotechnology. For the accumulating evidence of over 20 years, the quest of biotechnology to provide sustainable global staple food remains controversially unclear.

Undoubtedly, the practice of tissue culture and grafting in plants is never enough to quench the scientific evidence on the power of biotechnology to improve breeding and feeding in living organisms. Biotechnology is currently the most debated scientific field that has generally remained dilemmatic, and thus scientists unable to distinguish whether it has shaped human life or proven dangerous to global health.

In this context, the latest Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are the debate to this study. Samples of tomato puree and other varieties become prominent with millions of GMO species and populace positively interacting with faith-based of verified branding from the UN.

Global perspective

As stated above, the GMO issue is no longer a regional, a border, or even a single nation issue, but a globally renowned matter. Nations are sharing at least similar meals under the biotechnological modified foods, with millions of consumers interactively engaging in either promoting or demoting products associated with GMOs. Genetically Modified Food (GMF) had never been a matter of serious concern until later after at least heavy consumption of the products in Europe and other western nations (Ekici & Sancak, 2011).

Different perceptions have emerged over the existence of GMF in the globe with some population receiving this scientific matter with mixed reactions in both developed and developing economies. According to Ekici and Sancak (2011), some believe that new “biotechnological methods improve the quality and quantity of foods to meet the demands of an increasing world population” (p. 1630). On the other hand, other people hold that GMOs result in health hazards.

Research estimates that until 2007, the US, Argentina, Canada, and China were still the leading producers and developers of GMTs and other related Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). Statistical data documented by Maghari and Ardekani (2011), reveals that under the compulsory labeling scheme on GMOs ingredients, American daily diet is now composing of over 92 percent of GMF components, in France GMF composes almost 93 percent of staple food, while in Canada is about 88 percent GMF components.

Being the producing and superpowers, and the state with most scientists and economists, the US is currently under pressure from both citizens and other organizations, which have noticed the zeal behind GMOs. Proponents of GMF technologies advocate that bioengineered food is safe, while social activists and other anti-GMF parties are condemning this science.

Seemingly, developing economies, including Sub Saharan Africa that composes the greatest number of developing countries are increasingly getting involved in the GMF matter. Prior studies have demonstrated an overwhelming aspect of GMF matter, whereby hungry and desperate developing economies are associating the science with the solutions towards alleviating hunger and poverty (Raney, 2006).

Pandey and Urquia (2007) posit, “Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for 13 percent of the population and 25 percent of the undernourished people in the developing world” (p.1843).

This assertion is a clear indication of the positive attitude towards the adoption of genetically modified food components. South Africa became one of the first African countries to adopt GMF, as several other nations gradually followed suit. Maghari and Ardekani (2011) postulate that agri-biotech investors and other affiliated scientists regard GMF as the solution to food shortage, but independent scientists, environmentalists, and some consumers have continuously warned people on the GMF products in food security.

Problem statement

Since the introduction of Genetically Modified products in the 1990s through scientific innovations of “Clive James who founded the International Service for the

Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), there has been endless debates over the impacts of these products” (Khush, 2012, p.2). Both developed and developing nations have witnessed augmented debates over the safety of GM products and the subsequent socio-economic importance, especially the most assumed significance of providing a solution to food shortage.

The US, Canada, Argentina, China, and Brazil were the first to adopt the technology and their production level has gone to unstoppable limits, with worries consuming the world on how to curb this menace (Ekici & Sancak, 2011).

The adoption and consumption of the GM food products are escalating with reality over its consequences remaining unclear, with evidence revealing that GMF is swiftly penetrating global markets targeting the overwhelmed users across nations. Developed nations have desperately demonstrated dire need to alleviate hunger and poverty.

The impacts brought by GMFs are two-fold, with different parties bearing dissimilar notions. According to Maghari and Ardekani (2011), two sides are contending on the controversial matter, viz. agri-biotech investors and their affiliated scientists, and some consumers, farmers, and policymakers who have come out to oppose GMF.

The proponents of GMF technologies have persistently claimed that genetically engineered foods have undergone scientific proof and are generally safe for human consumptions, citing possible evidence of economical and social importance such as bringing nutritional advantages for consumers and enhancing productivity in agriculture. Intellectuals in the field of traditional agricultural techniques have portrayed a negative approach towards GMFs, citing some scientific evidence on the possibilities of causing health-related problems.

According to Maghari and Ardekani (2012), scientific data provided by anti-GMF activists indicate that animals used in experimental research to feed on biotech corn demonstrated complications including early deliveries, infertility, abortions, and even fatalities.

Possible problems

Anti-GMF critics have argued on the possible discrepancies in the authorized trade involving GMF products across the world. Despite genetically modified foods proving to challenge to substantiate the measure of GMF materials contained in these products, substantial efforts by independent scientists have proved imperative.

Currently, it has become a norm that any decisions pertinent to labeling of GMF products result in endless controversies (Azadi & Ho, 2010). According to their research, “recent activities in the area of policy development have shown a growing recognition for the potential social and environmental costs imposed by GM crops” (Azadi & Ho, 2010, p.161).

Due to the potential threats and risks associated with GM crops, there has been a growing contest to sensitize farmers to retreat from GM technologies and revisit their traditional organic farming. All controversies possessing public literature on the release, adoption, and legalization of GM crops and related products entirely hinge on the dilemma over food security.

Consequences on human health

Principally, according to prior studies, GMFs products come with several consequences, especially on human health. Maghari and Ardekani (2011) posit, “GMF may cause the reduction of the effectiveness of antibiotics and thus increasing the risk of antibiotic-resistant diseases” (p.111).

Evidence drawn from scientific research to examine the negative impact of GMF on human health by anti-GMF members reveal that what happened on the experimental rat when they fed on transgenic potatoes and soya beans might happen on human beings after feeding on GMOs for a long time.

For instance, these rats had abnormalities, including abortions and early deliveries. Research has reported an increase in dangerous antibiotic-resistant diseases across Europe, including foodborne illnesses such as soya allergies, Morgellons diseases, and skin complications. Disease issues associated with GMF started a way back before its introduction when scientists reported some traces of spongiform encephalopathy or mad cow disease on human beings in Europe.

GMF and its consequences associated, though with minimal and controversial evidence, with anonymous diseases, which have been a challenging issue for centuries, especially to the younger and future generation. Matters pertaining to GMF and human health are generally the essential issues on regular scientific debates on the GM crops.

Assessment of the GMF products conducted across Europe as early as 1990 according to historical problems associated with GMF provided by O’Shea (2011) revealed, “mad cow disease and a number of other health scares had left Europeans feeling cautious about their food supply, distrustful of regulators, and wary of any new risks real or imagined” (p.19).

These diseases, which associate with genetically transferred components, have brought great worries on the abnormalities expected in human beings and nature as well. This aspect holds because transgenic DNA components are capable of breaking up and rejoining resulting in chromosomal rearrangement in successive generations in a process that associates with production of allergic proteins.

Environmental hazards

In the context of advance production of transgenic crops, there is a high risk that may occur in the natural interaction between crops and soil. Adverse impacts on large-scale production of GMF may likely hit the global environment, thus resulting in an indirect effect on human health.

Anti- GMF scientists argue that with the increasing trend in the spread to transgenic plants, there are possibilities of GM plants sexually hybridizing with organic plants, and thus GMFs may become invasive weeds. Also, the approaches used in growing GM plants may distress local flora and fauna population (Key, Ma, & Drake, 2008).

In a bid to provide empirical evidence to this argument, a case study conducted in some nations especially Mexico revealed that GM genes from GM maize had, through cross-pollination, resulted into contamination of wild maize in Mexico, which is the global center of various important organic maize species. In the US, similar occasions happened when maize engineered produced insecticidal toxins that affected butterflies.

Possible benefits

Despite Anti-GMF, proponents providing scientific evidence towards GM crops, opponents of the same have proven tactical and retreated with similar evidence that portrays possible significances of GM crops. According to Weiswasser (2001), the proponents of GM technologies argue that the powerful technique in genetic engineering of foods, if applied responsibly, holds potential for significant advancements in both human and animal health.

According to Key, Ma, and Drake (2008), proponents of GM crops have provided substantial evidence on the importance of transgenic plants on human health, especially on vaccine-preventable diseases. In the year 2004, through a telephone survey, “Rutgers University’s Food Policy Institute found that 43 percent of Americans believed that non-GM tomatoes do not contain genes” (O’Shea, 2011, p.26). However, since consumers have no knowledge of how to detect GM components in food, the case remains controversial.

Improved pest and herb control

Studies investigating the impact of transgenic plants on environment, human health, and potential benefits reveal a different thing contrary to anti-GMF allegations. According to studies conducted by Brookes and Barfoot (2009), transgenic plants have demonstrated great significance on the long disturbing problem associated with pests that affect agricultural productivity.

According to their investigation, since the year 1992, the use of pesticides to control pests on biotech crop gradually reduced 359 million kg of active ingredient (8.8% reduction), reducing insecticide and herbicide use by 17.2 percent.

Makki, Somwaru, and Harwood (2001) affirm, “Certain biotech crops are associated with higher expected mean yields, through improved resistance to pests and diseases” (p.61). In the US, China, and other major adopters of GMF technologies, GM crops like Bt. coffee and Bt. corn have demonstrated significant resistance to pests and herbs, leading to great financial savings in the agricultural sector. GMF farmers have thus advocated of expansion of GM technologies globally.

Improved Food Supply

The greatest positive impact that resulted from production of GM crops associated with the enhancement of global food supply strategies. According to several agri-biotech investors and manufacturers of GM products, GM technologies have enhanced food production to anticipated thresholds.

Their research established that the GM technology yielded great crop production results and provided nutrient-fortified staple food to satisfy the dire needs of malnourished and poor economies across the globe. Brookes and Barfoot (2009) evaluated how, in a global perspective, GM technologies have improved food supply and nutrition and revealed that these technologies have improved food production and supply to about 35 percent growth in the global food production.

Coupled with great nutritional merits of GM technologies over organic food products, research conducted by Key, Ma, and Drake (2008) revealed that GM technologies potentially produced golden rice with improved taste and strangely high content of beta-carotene (vitamin A). This aspect has really overwhelmed consumers.

Global general impacts

As stated at the beginning of this paper, GM pioneered in the European nations and later a group of four agriculturally updated countries including the US, Canada, Argentina, and China yearning for increased agricultural productivity.

GM technologies gradually received substantial achievement in the subsequent years after its innovation, something that enhanced global acceptance and adoption of the GM technology and its related products (Morin, 2008). Serious investments into the GM technologies consumed the entire Europe, successively achieving international fame across the globe.

Perceptions and impacts of GM technologies across the globe vary from region to region, country to country, and from continent to another, with great differences existing between two distinctive economies, viz. developed and developing economies. Azadi and Ho (2010) state, “while organic crops are promoted as environmentally-friendly products in developed countries, they have provoked great controversy in developing countries facing food security and a low agricultural productivity” (p.160).

Impacts on developed economies

In a bid to examine the impact of GM technologies across the globe, this paper begins with developed economies who were absolute developers of these technologies. The introduction of GM technologies resulted in substantive political, social, and economic debates across Europe.

In developed nations, there is a possibility of co-existence of two approaches revealing adverse negative impacts and considerable significances of GMF. One of the renowned importance of GM technologies in developed economies is economic benefits attached to production of transgenic food crops for commercial purposes.

Due to increased food production in the past two decades of the existence of the technology, research has revealed a significant increase in the export of transgenic food crop from the European continent to other nations. For instance, research conducted by Brookes and Barfoot (2009) revealed that some economies especially first adopters of GM technologies including the US, Australia, India, and Brazil had exported over 63 percent of GM crops.

Government agricultural sectors and private investors that are interestingly adapting and enhancing GM technologies have engineered millions of tonnes of GM crops, thus leading to commendable agricultural boost. Historically, European countries felt disappointed by organic farming, which they regarded as unproductive due to low yields, which probably positioned them into enhancing biotechnological innovation (Khush, 2012).

Within a margin of two decades, the conventional market for GM soybeans and maize in developed countries has improved with the US, China, Argentina, Japan, Korea, and Canada alleviating the initial 1996 production of 5.9 million ha of soybeans to about 16.6 million ha of GM soybeans production.

This aspect demonstrates about 180 percent increase in the production of GM crops. On the production cost, research estimates that GM technologies have reduced the production cost incurred from the expenses of herbicides and pesticide control by over 35 percent improvement through cost-benefit analysis. However, many studies by Anti-GMF has demonstrated increased food insecurity by a great margin due to the contribution made by GM crops.

Impacts on developing economies

The controversial and accidental release of GM engineered food products into the human food chain especially the GM soybeans and genetically modified maize, as demonstrated by Weiswasser (2001), remains a problem to the developing economies.

Sub-Saharan Africa, being the worst hit by the unintended economic crisis that results in several cases of munitions and hunger, has been the target for trade deals associated with the production of transgenic foods. Millions of tonnes of corned maize, cotton, canola, potatoes, papayas, melons, squash tomatoes, and soybeans that involve genetically modified components have penetrated the African market with consumers of these products gradually becoming overwhelmed.

Research also confirms, “In terms of the division of the economic benefits obtained by farmers in developing countries relative to farmers in developed countries, 58 percent of the farm income benefits have been earned by developing country farmers” (Brookes & Barfoot, 2009, p.10). However, Africa is still in its early stage of embracing GMFs, especially the production part of it.

Due to the increasing efforts in integrating biotechnological production of food through GM technologies, research has revealed that developing countries might not have options than to embrace this technology due to little scientific knowledge. Pandey and Urquia (2007) posit, “Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for 13 percent of the population and 25 percent of the undernourished people in the developing world” (p.1843). Hence possibilities of suffering the consequences of GM products are considerably high.

As their fellow counterparts in developed countries view GM technologies as a source of economic boost as well as improvement of living standards through increased food supply, Sub-Saharan Africa and other developing countries may entirely depend on GM crops to counter the vagaries of hunger.

Proponents of GM crops view this technology as the only way to halt socio-economic challenges, but opponents view it as a gradually growing curse. Cost-effectiveness quality and safety in food are major concerns across developed and developing economies.

Conclusion

Based on the findings of this study, biotechnologically developed food products is and may remain, a controversial matter throughout successive years. Objections on artificially produced foods began decades ago when biotechnology mainly involved simple grafting and tissue culture techniques.

However, on the prevailing situation and the current stage at which biotechnology has grown, neither individual perceptions nor scientific research seems enough to solve the growing debate over Genetically Modified Foods (GMF), which are expanding their uptake globally.

Independent scientists, environmentalists, farmers, and consumers continue to raise debate on the safety of food produced genetically in a bid to protect the welfare of human health; however, GM proponents have provided scientific evidence to prove the worth of this technology (Makki, Somwaru, & Harwood, 2011).

Agri-biotech investors possessed with GM technology prove that GM products are cost-effective, nutritious, productive and of great socio-economic significance. Therefore, based on arguments and counter-arguments on the issue of GMOs, it is clear that GMFs can feed the world.

References

Azadi, H., & Ho, P. 2010. Genetically modified and organic crops in developing countries: A review of options for food security. Biotechnology Advances, 28(1), 160–168.

Brookes, G., & Barfoot, B. (2009). GM crops: global socio-economic and environmental impacts 1996-2007. Web.

Ekici, K., & Sancak, Y.C. (2011). A perspective on genetically modified food crops. African Journal of Agricultural Research, 6(7), 1639-1642.

Key, S., Ma, C, & Drake, P. (2008). Genetically modified plants and human health. Journal of Royal Society of Medicine, 101(6), 290–298.

Khush, G.S. (2012). Genetically modified crops: the fastest adopted crop technology in the history of modern agriculture. Khush Agriculture & Food Security, 1(14), 1-2.

Maghari, M., & Ardekani, A.M. (2011). Genetically Modified Foods and Social Concerns. Iranian Research for Science and Technology, 3(3), 109-117.

Makki, S., Somwaru, A., & Harwood. (2001) Biotechnology in Agriculture: Implications for Farm-Level Risk Management. Journal of Agribusiness, 19(1), 51-67.

Morin, X. (2008). Genetically modified food from crops: progress, pawns, and possibilities. Anal Bioanal Chem., 392(2), 333–340.

O’Shea, G. (2011). The History and Future of Genetically Modified Crops: Franken foods, Super weeds, and the Developing World. Journal of food law & policy, 7, 1-31.

Pandey, S., & Urquia, N. (2007). Alleviating hunger and poverty in Africa- Role of agricultural research and development. African Crop Science Conference Proceedings, 8, 1843-1854.

Raney, T. (2006). Economic impact of transgenic crops in developing countries. Current Opinion in Biotechnology, 17(2), 1-15.

Weiswasser, S., Egan, K., & Calia, G. (2001). Genetically modified foods raise new legal issues. The National Law Journal, 22(44), 1-2.

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