Recent technological advancements have led to many changes not only to people’s lifestyles but also to commodities. Of major concern in the field of agriculture is the development of Genetically Modified (GM) products/organisms.
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Scientifically, biotechnologists remove a desired gene from an organism and transfer it to a different organism (Carpenter 219). According to Sargent and Shea, the United States of America introduced GM maize around 1996 (2). In USA, both humans and animals use maize as a source of food.
Currently, research has shown that genetically modified crops cover over 300 million acres of land worldwide, which translates to nearly 3% of the world’s cultivated land (Lynch and Vogel par.2). Although GM maize assists in curbing food shortage in the ever-growing population, its production has received worldwide opposition.
This paper does not only asses the impact of GM maize to the agricultural sector but also highlights the risk and beneficial factors the technology has caused to both environment and the public health sector (social lives) in the United States of America.
The extend of Consumption of GM corn
As aforementioned, GM crops occupy a significant part of the world’s cultivated crops. Many people across the globe, either knowingly or unknowingly, have consumed foods containing genetically modified ingredients. For instance, researchers have reported that nearly 250 million people in the US have consumed GM products over a period of seven years (Office of Science and Technology Policy 2010).
Secondly, 80% of the maize produced in occurs through genetically modified mechanisms (OSTP 2101). Americans use maize not only as a source of starch but also for the production of popcorns, cornflakes and corn oil among others.
Additionally, research has shown that in the United States about 70-75% of all the processed foods in the United States contain ingredients from Genetically Modified plants (Lynch and Vogel par.10). Therefore, besides wheat, maize is also a main source of food thus, the need for surplus production using GM technology.
Due to high production of GM corn (60% of the total production) in the US, the rate of consumption is relatively high.
Production of GM corn
Scientifically, GM corn production starts in a laboratory environment. This is through gene transfer of the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) into the seeds (Carpenter 320). Consequently, the plants become resistant to both pests and herbs.
Intuitively, According to Gewin, Bt treated maize has reduced the application of both pesticide and herbicides on farms, which is beneficial to both agricultural policy makers and farmers (4). Biotechnologists modify the natural crops to enable them to produce one or more pesticide proteins that act as pest resistance agents.
This cuts the cost of production since producers require little or no application of the pesticides to achieve high yields. In addition, biotechnologists help in enhancing maximum production in arid and semi-arid regions. They develop varieties that can do well in such regions-drought resistant crops.
Other desirable attributes of GM maize are herbicide tolerance, cold tolerance, disease resistance and salinity tolerance. Such crops help in enhancing food security in such regions especially in drought-stricken. However, scientists argue that GM maize species have not produced any significant increase in yields over the counterparts-the non-GM species.
Economic impact of GMO corn (products)
Economically, at the agricultural level, the use of GMO technology has seen the reduction of the farm in put significantly. Economists cite that the use of pesticides has reduced by 172 million kilograms, which is equivalent to 27 million dollars (Vandana 40).
Secondly, the widespread use of Bt treated corn leads to a decrease in the number of European corn borers through death. Consequently, the pests rarely attack even the corns, which are organically grown. Eventually, the production of the GM corn and non-GM corn is higher.
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The U.S government put the profits at 4.3 billion dollars (Reilly 2). Thirdly, the use of herbicide tolerant corn has reduced the level of tilling, which is an environmental hazard (Brookes and Barfoot 195). Eventually, soil erosion is a major environmental hazard, which the technology has reduced.
Therefore, due to the economical benefits of GM corn the increased production has also increased the income levels of the farmers. Finally, companies like Monsanto, which specialize in the use and promotion of genetically modified crops is a source of employment for many citizens of United States of America.
Environmental benefits of GM corn (products)
According to environmentalists like Brookes and Barfoot, the GM technology has cut down environmental footprint, which arises from agricultural use of pesticides at approximately 14% (187).
Secondly, organic farming releases various green house gases like Carbon dioxide but the GM technology has cut down the green house emissions at a tremendous rate of 10 billion kilograms (Brookes and Barfoot 189).
Nevertheless, although GM crops prevent environmental pollution, there is the risk of evolution of pests, which are Bt tolerant or herbicide tolerant (Pollack A9). Consequently, the agriculture sector will fall in havoc.
Environmental risks of GM corn
GM products and more so, maize have both ecological/environmental impacts, which subsequently affect agriculture. There are concerns about the effect of GM products on the environment.
The Ecological society of America argues that increased release of GM organisms in the environment may lead to the development of new or even more vigorous pests, which may cause harm to the non-target group of organisms (Dogra 10).
This may lead to the destruction of useful birds, insects and beneficial soil organisms among others. Another negative effect of the release of GM products is that it may cause the generation of new plant viruses and spread undesirable genes to non-crop species leading to the production of virulent weed species (Dogra 11).
Thirdly, the transgenes introduced into the crop may unintentionally alter or delete other genes, which are vital in other functions like production of industrial oil (Dogra 12). Through the continued alteration of the genome of natural organisms, some crop species may become extinct.
This poses a challenge in the maintenance of the ecological biodiversity of not only crops but also to other organisms such as honeybees.
Other than the pests like stalk borer, some GM crops are toxic to animals. The toxicity can work up the food chain affecting many other organisms like birds, spiders and human beings (Dogra 10).
The effects of the toxic compounds in animals include an undesirable rate of growth; changes in the pancreas, blood and liver; necrosis as well as erosion of the gastrointestinal tract and alterations in reproductive system (Dogra 11).
However, most scientists argue that there has not been a concrete evidence to prove most of the negative impacts of genetically modified products on the environment (Dogra 10). Therefore, the GM crops are still under close study or observation.
Public health risks/benefits associated with GM corn
Health wise, the process may lead to an interruption of the products genome, which subsequently reaches the humans (Kilman and Cooper A10). Consequently, the new introduced genes may initiate silencing of genes or even alter their level of expression (Reilly 1).
Additionally, it might activate certain dormant genes that present undesirable attributes to a given product (Reilly 3). Such changes may cause disruption of the metabolic processes in an unpredictable way.
In some instances, the changes may lead to the development of certain toxic compounds or even increase the level of the already existing toxic compounds presenting a health risk to the consumers.
In addition, the changes might lead to an increase in the levels of the existing anti-nutrients in a given product. This significantly reduces the bioavailability of nutrients to the body.
Once absorbed in the body, some compounds may affect the normal functioning of the various components of the human body. Some antibiotic resistant genes that biotechnologists use, markers, in genetically engineered crops might find their way into the bacteria within the gastrointestinal tract.
This might lead to a reduction in the effectiveness of antibiotic therapy. Some of the genes used in genetic engineering of crops might find their way into the cells of the human body and this may significantly alter their functioning in an undesirable manner.
In addition, some of the new proteins introduced into natural foods may cause allergic responses to the consumer.
On the other hand, according to International Council for Science the GM corn decreases occurrence of carcinogenic compounds in the plant (OSTP 2010).
Carcinogenic compounds like mycotoxins decrease in level when the corns are insect tolerance thus, decreasing the chance of invasion from fungi. Consequently, unlike the organic grown corns, the GM corn shields the consumer from taking in carcinogenic compounds.
Corporate government relations associated with GM corn and Regulations related to the production and consumption of GM crops (corn)
Due to the aforementioned environmental and health risks associated with GM crops, the U.S government has faced numerous legal concerning the impact of the new technology especially to the consumer (Reilly 3).
For instance, France has banned the consumption of MON 810 corn, which is a product of the U.S company (Monsanto) (Kilman and Cooper A1). Due to the incorporation of a bacterial gene in the MON 810 corns, the France agricultural sectors cites it as a risk to both animal and human health.
However, the U.S government challenged the France government to give tangible evidence rather than acting from hearsay (Kilman and Cooper A10). Besides, France banning the use of MON 810 corns in 2008, Zambia also imposed strict rules against the use of GM corn from world food program.
In addition, Hungarian and Venezuela governments banned the importation of GM corn 2005 and 2004 respectively (Kilman and Cooper A10).
On the other hand, in comparison to other EU countries, the U.S has loosened the rules and regulations concerning the planting and consumption of GM crops (Lynch and Vogel par.3). Furthermore, Lynch and Vogel cite the politics involved in GM products as highly contentious due to the lack of trust from stakeholders (Par.4).
Nevertheless, in the U.S political regulators readily cooperate with the production industries and the agricultural sector to support the new technology (par.6). Sadly, most non-government organizations rarely contribute to the policy-making procedure (Lynch and Vogel par.10).
For instance, initially, in the 1980s the government through the department of Office of science and technology policy (OSTP), US department of agriculture (USDA) and Food and Drug Agency (FDA) was in a tussle with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The issue was whether the agricultural sector should embrace biotechnology for economical purposes or not (OSTP 2010).
Consequently, according to the OSTP report, the white house gave the cabinet council on economic affairs to head the biotechnology leading to the establishment of biotechnology science coordinating community and USDA, FDA, EPA and OSTP were among the regulators (2010).
Therefore, USDA heads the production of transgenic plants and that is where the GM products like corns fall under.
In the late 20th century, the USDA and the animal and plant health inspection service (APHIS), released various restrictions concerning the production and importation of GMOs in the United States of America (Lynch and Vogel par.8).
However, in 1991 when Cornell university researchers highlighted the Bt as an environmental hazard to insects like the monarch butterfly, the American consumer organizations opposed the use of GMOs products (Alex 10).
Lynch and Vogel cite organizations like the Ralpher Nader’s public citizen and the Sierra club, which raised concerns over the impact of the genetically modified foods to the human and environment (par.4). Consequently, the aspect of labeling of GMO products rose among the stakeholders.
Unlike naturally grown food products, there has been a heated debate over the necessity of labeling GM foods as such corn. Through the US subcommittee on agriculture, the legislators passed a law compelling biotechnology industries to label adequately the GMO products (Gewin 8).
Secondly, the EPA instructed companies, which specialized in promoting Bt corn to ensure farmers install a buffer zone in order to protect the butterflies (OSTP 2010). On the other hand, 81% of the consumers requested the labeling of the GMO products for easier identification (Lynch and Vogel par.7).
Due to the continuous campaigns against the GMO products, food production companies like the Frito-Lay, McDonald, Gerber and McCain declined to purchase raw materials, which had undergone genetic modification (Lynch and Vogel par.8).
Nevertheless, from 1996 a third of the corn grown in America is through genetic modification (Reilly par.3). According to the 2010 report from the office of science and technology policy by the late 20th century, 60% of the grains found in store have undergone genetic modification.
Therefore, U.S is one of the regions, which has fully embraced biotechnology.
International agreements related to export/import of GM products (corn)
Internationally, the Biotechnology regulation interservice committee (BRIC) monitors the release of genetically modified products on the market (Lynch and Vogel par.13).
However, due to the diverse policy between the European Union and the U.S, controversy arose especially in regards to the exportation of the genetically modified corn to the international market (Lynch and Vogel par.14). At the end of 1996, the European Union allowed the U.S to export its genetically modified products especially corn.
However, this move created worldwide discussion and public awareness about the human safety and environmental impact of the GMO products (Adler 85). Furthermore, Adler and other anti-GMOs groups pushed for the establishment of regulatory bodies to ensure the importers/consumers of GMOs are safe (85).
Eventually, the need of labeling genetic products also arose internationally but the U.S was the main producer of this crops. Consequently, the international marketing of GMOs and the Novel Food Regulation are some of the bodies established to assist in the monitoring of the genetically modified products (Lynch and Vogel par.12).
Eventually, in 1998 all the DNA and protein engineered corns had to be labeled adequately for easier identification.
In brief, scientists have devised ways to ensure there is high food production in the society. The ever-growing population has pushed for technological advancements and the use of genetically modified products is among them.
The production of genetically modified corn occurs through the infusion of Bt, a bacterium (gene), which curbs the invasion of the plants by the stalk borers. Therefore, the GM corn is either herbicide resistant or pesticide resistance.
Consequently, the production of maize is high. Nevertheless, environmentalists and health officers cite that the GM corn may posses’ dangerous gene, which persist even after maturity. Consequently, human being risk contracting diseases such as allergies, which arise from the gene the new genes introduced in the plants.
However, the United States of America as the major perpetrator of GMO technology has faced both internal and external objection from consumers, agriculturalists and environmentalists/ecologists among other stakeholders.
Locally, U.S has established bodies such as FPA, USDA, EDA and OSTP among others, which make and implement policies in regards to the GMO technology.
Finally, internationally there are regulatory bodies such as European’s Biotechnology steering community, international marketing of GMO and the Novel food regulation among others.
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